Pink Floyd music Pink Floyd Roger Waters David Gilmour Nick Mason Rick Wright Pink Floyd Pink Floyd Pink Floyd
[Released Oct. '69]
Album I - Live Tracks
Astronomy Domine
Careful With That Axe, Eugene
Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun
A Saucerful of Secrets
Album II - Individual experimentation
Grantchester Meadows
Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathering in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict
The Narrow Way
The Grand Vizier's Garden Party

    Pink Floyd does NOT do "Greatest Hits" albums, so this is something entirely different.  In the throes of losing Syd, and struggling to find their true identity, the band sat down and asked themselves, "What can we do next?"  Well, one of the things they could do was to spread to the general public a taste of what it was like to be at a Pink Floyd concert (Album I).  The other was to give each band member a chance to "test his wings", by composing an experimental {CPFS} piece (Album II).  Half of it worked marvelously.
    Album I gives us just a little taste of what it must have been like to attend a concert, since a lot of the special sound effects the band made work so well live just don't translate fully to plastic.  By now, the band had figured out how to surround their audience with music, creating the effect of listening to your headphones right there in the auditorium.  The four pieces chosen for this album are all good for demonstrating the innovative instrumental techniques of the Floyd.  You may be somewhat disappointed that the live versions do not differ greatly from the studio recordings, but when you're the Floyd, that's a feat in itself.  The only negatives here are that the vocals did not record terribly well, and that the four songs chosen are very similar in tempo (slow), so it can be a good album to go to sleep by.  Part of the vocal recording problem was that Roger and Dave were just not really ready to sing strongly enough to front the band - they lacked some of the uninhibited quality that lead singers must have (as Syd surely did).  Still, the live version is often much better than the original cuts.

    Astronomy Domine is certainly different without Syd doing the vocals, but not necessarily "worse".  The live version gets a new intro, takes on a little more edge, and allows a little more jamming in the middle.  It only takes to the end of the first verse for you to recognize how much better a guitar player Dave is than Syd was - the clarity of his playing changes this song considerably for the better.  Lyrically, it suddenly seems to make more sense than it did before.  Already, you can hear the nuances {CPFS} in the music that will result in DARK SIDE OF THE MOON and WISH YOU WERE HERE.  One of the most impressive things is that Nick Mason really gets to show off a little, and is probably a much better drummer than you thought.  [See the review of the original album cut HERE.]
    Careful With That Axe, Eugene is a tune that had been part of the Floyd live repertoire for a long time, but stayed primarily a cult favorite until the RELICS album.  It has a peaceful, aimless sort of quality that allows its ethereal eeriness to sneak up on you.  Since I've heard it so much, I can't really recall how I felt the first time through, but now, every time, I can feel the tension building in me throughout the first 3 minutes.  The double entendre title supposedly comes from a time when a stagehand moved one of the guitars rather carelessly, and someone spoke the line to him.  (In musical parlance, a person's instrument is often called his "Axe")  Twisted as they are, the boys soon got to laughing about the inference in such a line, and the song was born.  Generally, it's a pretty harmless collection of loosely connected musical ideas.  (Another irony.)
      Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun is pretty much identical to the album version, with a little improvement in the "jam" section, but there is a rather annoying techno-jam with Rick at the center.  It is much slower than the original version, and begins with a long cymbal-roll.  The lyrics are also slightly altered, with a decrease in meaning, I think.  It's the one piece on this album that doesn't seem to benefit greatly from being done live, so I'll stick with the album cut.  (See the original version reviewed HERE.)
    Saucerful of Secrets gets the most drastic alteration, probably because it was so free-form to begin with.  Is it an improvement?  I guess that depends on your tastes.  Again, I think the active listener will derive a good bit of pleasure from the nuances in the instrumental forays.  The piece seems to have "matured" since its' original recording.  Still, it can get a bit tedious.  (See the original version reviewed HERE.)

    Album II is a noble conception.  Let each member take his turn showing us what he can really do.  They would never make this mistake again.  While The Who was experimenting with TOMMY, Pink Floyd was basically wasting studio time.  It could not have worked out much worse if Roger had intentionally said, "I'm going to let the rest of you prove that you're not songwriters, so from now on you'll let me take more control."  Essentially, we are indulging a band that has earned enough rope to hang itself.  If you're interested in musical experimentation {CPFS}, there are lots of "How'd they do that?" sounds on this album.  If you just like to listen, no chance.  The cover photography, however, is a work of art.  (You have to love the picture in a picture in a picture... concept.)
    Rick Wright said he wanted to make "real music", but then he did Sysyphus to us.  After the first part, which is actually rather intriguing (though repetitive) it disintegrates.  Schoenberg would probably consider this "real" music, but then, I don't consider Schoenberg "real" music.  It's four movements of atonal banging and plucking on some poor, defenseless piano.  At least he doesn't insult us by giving the parts names, as though they actually meant something.  (Well, how do you differentiate between one aimless bang/pluck sequence and another?)
    Roger Waters puts two pieces here, and they turn out to be the two most interesting experiments.  Grantchester Meadows is a sort of ho-hum ballad, but the nature-oriented ambient sounds{CPFS} are pretty cool.  Once again, the necessity for headphones arises, but after awhile, the chirping that dances from one ear to the other gets a little annoying.  (The fly is awesome, though.)  Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict holds some sort of record for song titles, but ironically, it sounds exactly like what it says it is.  I don't see how he could have named it anything else, and it will make you laugh out loud.
    David Gilmour say he was pretty much just his way around the guitar for his section of the album, The Narrow Way, and that's pretty much how it comes out.  Part 1 is a bit of acoustic rambling, with some interesting high-string effects tossed in.  Part 2 is electrified, and you'll expect Ozzy Osbourne to burst out with a screaming vocal line any moment, but it never comes.  Part 3 has words!  (Don't expect to find them in the booklet.)  It's a nice chance to see how Dave's voice is different from Roger's, but that's a lesson that won't really come home to roost until THE WALL comes out.  This one will make you realize why, in the post-Roger era, Dave will seek out assistance in writing his lyrics (even though that proves to be a mistake also).
    Finally, Nick Mason regales us with the tale of The Grand Vizier's Garden Party, and makes us glad we didn't attend.  I usually find extended drum solos pretty boring after a short while, and this collection of bangedy-bangs and thumpety-thumps wears on me really fast.  It takes everyone a minute to enter (to sweet-sounding flute); the party itself lasts just over 7 minutes (and is 'way too long at that); and then it takes 38 seconds to exit (but we'd have been out the door much sooner!)  Still, it's a fair example of a Pink Floyd loop.

    In the end, the band has learned some very valuable lessons, which they will apply on later albums to much better effect.  The record companies probably learned a valuable lesson here too - don't give too much leeway to any band, no matter how big a cult following they have.  In spite of that, if you got your money's worth out of the first album, the second doesn't really matter anyhow, does it?
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