Know Your Enemy
Pink Floyd is dead. Long live Pink Floyd
The new album will be essentially refurbished music they recorded during The Division Bell.
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On November 10, Pink Floyd will release their first record album in 20 years. I've pre-ordered The Endless River, I asked Google News to alert me every time there's the smallest scrap of news about it.
I've even dusted out my battered copy of 1994's The Division Bell, the band's last album. I mean, come on. It is Pink Floyd.
Except, not really. It isn't.
I've moved robotically, goaded myself to look forward to The Endless River, tried to look forward to it. And I just can't do it anymore.
The best I can muster is a sentimental curiosity. Let's not kid ourselves anymore: This isn't Pink Floyd.
The band that made a sound, a phenomenon of pervasive, eerie brilliance, perished a long time ago. It was gone long before most people from my generation - certainly me - even began listening to them.
What's coming, the remnants of the band tell us in a touching campaign of mellow suspense, is essentially Pink Floyd's frontman and guitarist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason revisiting music they recorded during the making of 1994's The Division Bell.
What they've apparently done is re-craft the original tracks, and layered on some newly recorded instrumental flourishes. Nothing else.
That doesn't sound so bad, except for what Gilmour is quoted to have said in an interview about the album: that they've managed to make it "sound right" for 2014. Sound right? For 2014? You see what I mean about Pink Floyd ceasing to exist?
Sure, a combination of factors and interpersonal pulls transformed the band's sound over the years. But "sound right"? Please. That sounds like more of a subversion of the band's pioneering impulse for experimentation than anything else.
Pink Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett, credited with crafting the truly skin-crawling early sound of the band in its 1967 debut album Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, died in 2006. His influence would pervade the eerie feel of the band's next record, the thundering, haunting A Saucerful Of Secrets.
As I wrote in this obituary of Barrett in The Indian Express eight years ago, "Early Pink Floyd, some will tell you, was another band entirely. It indubitably was." Under the increasingly turbulent twin frontage of Roger Waters and newly drafted guitarist David Gilmour, the band went from being an underground European phenomenon to truly global.
The band's experimental 1971 album Meddle was thunderingly new. The two movie soundtrack records that Pink Floyd did at this time, More and Obscured By Clouds, comprise arguably some of the band's finest work. But nothing would prepare the band, or its fans, for the epic success of 1973's The Dark Side Of The Moon. Along with 1975's Wish You Were Here and 1978's The Wall, Pink Floyd recorded the songs they would forever be most associated with. And then it all came undone.
And that's the hard thing: to acknowledge that Pink Floyd really existed for only a little over a decade. Things began to disintegrate in the late '70s when co-founder Roger Waters, Pink Floyd's brilliant bassist/songwriter, had wrested control and was running the band like a personal project. In the early '80s, he left after the profoundly personal, brilliant, but totally self-indulgent The Final Cut, the band's last album with Waters.
By then, Pink Floyd's enormous appeal and commercial success ensured that everything the band did from then on proved relentlessly and colossally successful. From the stunningly mediocre Momentary Lapse Of Reason, the band's first album without Roger Waters, to the Pulse live tour, to 1994's The Division Bell, it was the remains of a dead band cruising along on the arrogance of an immortal name. And the new album that's out in November doesn't sound one bit like it'll be anything else.
Finally, the cover. I've given up trying to like it. Created by an 18-year-old Egyptian Ahmed Emad Eldin, it's like a cheesy collision between something from Peter Jackson's Rivendell and Life of Pi. It's like the cover of a world music record. Given the relentlessly confounding nature of every Pink Floyd album cover so far, this is like a sick joke.
But it's not dark yet. Frankly, two things hold promise for The Endless River. First, that it's a tribute to Pink Floyd's late keyboardist and songwriter Rick Wright. His death in 2008 amplified what had been known for years: the band whose mood and sound - from broodingly sad, atmospheric and screeching to dreamy and heavy-eyed - he had helped craft perhaps more substantially than any of the other members, has simply ceased to exist. And second, it is almost entirely an instrumental album.
Only one song has vocals, presumably by Gilmour, and with lyrics by his wife Polly Samson, who also wrote for the band's last album two decades ago.
It is, without doubt, a tribute to Pink Floyd's deathless allure, that a record with refurbished and upgraded studio takes from two decades ago, still gets millions, like me, to sit up bleary eyed. The band is dead. Long live the band.