Review of A Saucerful of Secrets
A Saucerful of Secrets
[released 29 June 1968]
Let There Be More Light
Remember A Day
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
Corporal Clegg
A Saucerful of Secrets
See Saw
Jugband Blues

   It's a very intriguing situation: your lead singer, guitar player, and primary motivating artistic force, is suffering from accelerating debilitation, brought on by overuse of psychotropic drugs, and extreme creative pressure.  Your band wants to continue its recording career, but must consider phasing out this man. Though he is your only proven marketable feature, you believe that your group has the potential to succeed without him.  That will require all the current band members to take on additional roles, and you will be forced to find a new lead guitarist.  Pink Floyd decided to resolve their problems by nudging Syd Barrett out the door, bringing in David Gilmour to take over lead guitar, and having Roger Waters take on lyric-writing, singing, and organizational leadership. Though the band here is largely searching for its post-Syd identity, the final track confirms that Syd is gone, just as Set the Controls... and Saucerful... herald the dawn of a new Floyd.
    Among Floydomaniacs this album has a certain cult status, but is probably generally underrated.  It is a very uneven collection, as might be expected, considering the state of flux in which the band found itself.  Still, two of the pieces are absolute musts for any Floyd collection, and each track tells a story (though not all the stories are good ones).  There are generally fewer ambient sounds in this album than we might expect, but that's OK, considering that so much of the music is sufficiently experimental to keep us intrigued.
    Let There Be More Light kicks off the set, and we see right away that Roger has changed greatly as a songwriter.  Lyrically, the song is rather obtuse, and seems designed to perpetuate the band's reputation as a "space group", but the active listener will have to wonder if the references to people and places has significance.{CPFS}  Without being overly analytical, I think it's logical to imagine that somehow the title refers to the effects of LSD.  If the chemical causes people to believe that they have seen "more" (or at least, a new kind) of light, that helps explain the title.  The mention of "Lucy in the Sky" cannot be coincidental.  Musically, there are several interesting overtones here.  The beginning reminds me of the start of The Doors' L.A. Woman; I know the chord pattern is generally the same, and I am tempted to play both simultaneously just to see what happens.  That segues into a section that sounds somewhat like Argent's Hold Your Head Up, albeit with the usual Pink Floyd twists.  Roger is moving away from the need to write songs here, but there's still enough structure (ABABABAB) to be a 60's sound.
Remember a Day is a Rick Wright contribution, and really doesn't carry the same weight as some other pieces on the album because he seems unwilling to leave the 60's style that got bands played on the radio, and move on with the band into a musical future.  Part of this is evident when the center section echoes the mouth-made ambient sounds {CPFS} from Pow R Toc H on PIPER.  Syd plays slide guitar on this one, and you'll never get better evidence of how much better the band is with David Gilmour taking that role.{CPFS}  Lyrically, the piece is harmless, and Nick does some spiffy drumwork.
    Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun is, to me, easily the best piece on the album, and it owes that distinction to several factors.  Dave Gilmour takes most of the guitar parts here, and sets a mood that has subtle effects {CPFS} on the development of the music.  Nick continues to do nifty drumming, and Rick adds the perfect strange organ effects.  Roger took the title from a William S. Burroughs novel that he was intrigued by, and most of the lyrics are from a book of Chinese poetry he had read.  Even if you claim that these influences override Roger's creativity, you have to be interested in the resulting combination.  The music here reminds me somewhat of an Alice Cooper piece called Black JuJu, but once again, the effects are quite different.
    Corporal Clegg is very out of place on this album.  It is quite different from anything else here, but bears an eerie similarity in its conception to songs that would later appear on THE WALL and THE FINAL CUT {CPFS}.  It is likely that Roger actually knew someone who was similar to the character in this song.  You can easily see the song as a group of kids taunting this man, who has returned from the war decidedly "changed".  The use of kazoos symbolizes the worsening insanity.{CPFS}   It's a little like Paul McCartney's Admiral Halsey, but with a lot more bite to it.
    A Saucerful of Secrets is a three-part piece that Dave says was the first element that led to DARK SIDE OF THE MOON.  The band seemed proud of having actually thought this piece out to the extent that they made a "map" of where they wanted it  to go.  It's the longest piece on the album, and you may have a hard time not simply seeing it as a collection of musical "noises" that have only a little bit in common.  It may be easier to appreciate if you interpret it as a Flying Saucer Full of Secrets.  It is supposedly divided into 3 distinct parts: Tension (fear); War; and Requiem.  (Maybe this is their "War of the Worlds")  The first part definitely can create some tension, due to its free-form nature and unusual sounds.  The second part begins, logically, with pounding drums, and uses pounding piano chords and guitar squeals to achieve its effects.  The finale is fairly pedestrian when it comes to requiems, but a pretty nice example of things people think rock bands can't do.  It would make a nice piece to play at your funeral, considering that is has rapturous organ chords and choral effects.  It also proves that the guys knew a little bit about Classical music.
    See-Saw is another Rick Wright piece, and makes you realize that it's a good thing that he didn't write too many more.  Even the band considered it boring.  It is very much like Remember a Day in style and structure, and may (possibly) (might) (could) be a sentimental idea about an older brother watching his sister grow up.  It might also be a serious glimpse at manic depression, but I'm probably over-thinking that.  I wonder if Rick was overly effected by Syd on this album, because both of his songs have these disconnected interludes in them that seem to reflect Syd's state of mind at the time.
    Jugband Blues is all that's left of Syd, and it's not really easy to take.  It seems that he knew it was going to be the last song on the album, almost an afterthought, and he's not taking it well.  Surely he knew that the band was leaving him behind at this point (or that he was leaving them in the "normal" world).  It's very much like 4 or 5 parts of songs (ABCDEF), smushed all together into an odd farewell.  When he says "I'm almost obliged to you for making it clear that I'm not here", you can't help but be sad that he's realized that writing/recording/touring are over for him (at least temporarily), but the music also sends you the message that  we really aren't missing that much.  Obviously, you can tell that I am not among those who think of Syd as the tragic genius without whom Pink Floyd lost their guiding light.  In fact, I can't imagine that the band could have ever done their best work with Syd along for the ride, even if he'd stayed mentally healthy.
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