Obscured by Clouds by Pink Floyd

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Obscured by Clouds by Pink FloydOne of the lost treasures of classic rock and, by far, the most overlooked album in the Pink Floyd catalog during their classic era, Obscured by Clouds acted as a mere warm-up for the more ambitious and highly-regarded Dark Side of the Moon. In fact, by the time Obscured was released in June 1972, the band had been performing material from Dark Side (then titled “Eclipse”) live for many months and had already entered the studio to start recording the 1973 classic. Many die-hard Floyd fans don’t even consider this a “real” album by the band, just the last in a series of soundtracks the group scored between 1968-1972. It is, in fact, a soundtrack for the French film La Vallée (The Valley) by Barbet Schroeder, but far surpasses the previous three; The Committee (1968), More (1969), and Zabriskie Point (1969).

The band itself largely disregarded the Obscured by Clouds album, starting with the rough production, which includes odd sequencing and abrupt endings. At times the album feels like a high-end demo tape and few tracks were ever played live in subsequent tours. Another element in the string of strikes against the album’s success was early pressings of the album were defective with excessive sibilance.

Despite all of this, the album is quite good musically. The band composed to a rough cut of the film, creating pieces that were intended to be cross-faded at various points in the film. But in the process, they managed to create a significant number of complete songs. The instrumentals float pleasantly, filled with interesting textures, but it is the proper songs which are the real standouts on this album, which in a lot ways completes the work started on 1971’s Meddle.

 


Obscured by Clouds by Pink Floyd
Released: June 2, 1972 (EMI)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Strawberry Studios, Château d’Hérouville, France, Feb-Mar 1972
Side One Side Two
Obscured by Clouds
When You’re In
Burning Bridges
The Gold, It’s in the…
Wot’s, Uh…the Deal?
Mudmen
Childhood’s End
Free Four
Stay
Absolutely Curtains
Group Musicians
David Gilmour – Guitars, Vocals
Rick Wright – Keyboards, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Synths, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion

 
The album begins with a couple of under-cooked instrumentals, although the lead-off title track does have an interesting synth pulse throughout and a general guitar lead piece by David Gilmour (one of many elements which would recycled on Dark Side of the Moon). “When You’re In” contains a more rock-oriented riff and may be the final track credited to all four band members. It contains some nice fills by drummer Nick Mason but sounds as though it is an incomplete attempt at building a proper rock song.

“Burning Bridges” is a ballad which would have fit nicely on any Pink Floyd album. Vocally, it is a duet by Gilmour and keyboardist Rick Wright, who co-wrote the song and provides its mellow organ riff and melody. This became sort of the “movie theme” on the album as it is reprised later on side one with the instrumental “Mudmen”.

The Valley film promoAnother sign that the band did not take this album too serious was some of the odd naming of tracks, even some of the most interesting tracks on the album. “The Gold It’s in the…” is a pure rocker with a cool and hip early seventies, post-Beatles rock vibe. This particular song has produced polarizing opinions among fans and critics, with some purists feeling it was a shallow attempt at a contemporary rock sound, while others argue it shows their ability to diversify (I tend to agree with the latter). This song’s lyrics are also full of adventure and idealism, another rarity among Pink Floyd themes.

“Wot’s… Uh the Deal?” is as sweet a song as Pink Floyd had ever put out as well as the most totally underrated ever. Again, this may be in part to the obscure title (wot’s…uh the deal with that?). It is an acoustic ballad with double-tracked vocals by Gilmour and lyrics by bassist Roger Waters. The song features and extended piano instrumental which is then complemented by a fine slide-guitar solo. The lyrics are desperate and emotional, but not to the extent of being melodramatic or sappy.

“Free Four” is an absolute gem by Waters and, in truth, one of the best Pink Floyd songs ever. Thematically, it may be Waters’ first summation of the life and death themes he would deeply explore in Dark Side and beyond. It is also the only song on Dark Side of the Moon that features Waters on lead vocals, a role he would later dominate on his final three albums with the band. Unlike the other nonsensical titles, “Free Four” is easily attributed to the rock count-in and persists as an upbeat acoustic folk tune with great layered electric guitars by Gilmour and clap-like percussive drumming by Mason. “Free Four” was the first Pink Floyd song to get significant airplay in the USA.

Gilmour and Wright each also had a showcase song on side two. Gilmour’s “Childhood’s End” is the last song he would write independently while Waters was still with the band and contains a dramatic beginning (echoed in later years by U2) and rapid, rhythmic ticking which would be later recycled and perfected for “Time”. It was one of the rare tracks from this album to be performed live, often containing extended lead sections to feature Gilmour’s guitar playing. Obscured by Clouds is also the final Pink Floyd in their classic era to feature lead vocals by Wright on the melancholy love song “Stay”, a very well done ballad with more interesting guitars, piano, and organ. The album concludes with the experimental track “Absolutely Curtains” (which may have actually worked better as an opening track). The only really instrumentation comes from Wright, with some sparse percussion by Mason, through first three and a half minutes before dissolving into a vocal chant by Mapuga tribe of New Guinea (featured in the film).

Originally titled “The Valley”, the album was re-titled as Obscured by Clouds when the band fell out with the film company. This may be yet another reason why this great music has been so grossly understated over the past four decades.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

A Momentary Lapse of Reason
by Pink Floyd

A Momentary Lapse Of Reason by Pink FloydThe first Pink Floyd album not to feature founder and bassist Roger Waters, A Momentary Lapse of Reason represented a definite transition to a new phase in the band’s long history. It came in the midst of a tumultuous period of lawsuits and name-calling between Waters and his former band mates, led by vocalist and guitarist David Gilmour. Waters officially left the band in December 1985 and tried to officially “dissolve” the Pink Floyd name with his departure, but Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason wanted to continue with new projects by the then-two-decades-old band. Later in the A Momentary Lapse of Reason sessions, former band keyboardist Richard Wright was brought on to give the album “more legitimacy” as a Pink Floyd album (although Wright was not re-instated as an official band member until later).

After the band’s previous release of The Final Cut in 1983, Waters, Gilmour, and Mason each composed solo albums, with Waters and Gilmour following up with respective solo tours. It was during Waters’ 1985 tour for The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking that Mason approached him about his desire to continue with a new Pink Floyd project. However, Waters had already decided to break up the group and was not swayed even after Gilmour threatened to continue without him. Lawsuits ensued over the use of the Pink Floyd name, images, and the performance of certain songs, which were not settled until late 1987, after the release of A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

The album’s music originated from sessions for a new Gilmour solo album in 1985, which were recorded primarily on Gilmour’s converted houseboat, called Astoria, anchored on the River Thames. Gilmour changed his mind in 1986 and decided to use the material for a new Pink Floyd album when Mason joined the project. Bob Ezrin, who co-produced the band’s 1979 blockbuster The Wall, was brought on to produce shortly after he had turned down a similar offer from Waters to produce his new solo album, Radio K.A.O.S., which added further fuel to the feud. Ezrin used new digital technologies, MIDI synchronization, and drum machines throughout the album, a significant change from the more traditionally recorded previous Floyd albums.
 


A Momentary Lapse of Reason by Pink Floyd
Released: September 7, 1987 (Arista)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin & David Gilmour
Recorded: Astoria Houseboat Studio, England, October 1986-May 1987
Side One Side Two
Signs of Life
Learning to Fly
Dogs of War
One Slip
On the Turning Away
Yet Another Movie / Round and Around
A New Machine (Part 1)
Terminal Frost
A New Machine (Part 2)
Sorrow
Primary Musicians
David Gilmour – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion, Vocals   |  Rick Wright – Keyboards, Vocals
Tony Levin – Bass   |  Bob Ezrin – Keyboards, Percussion

 
There is no doubt that part of the “Pink Floydization” of the album was to nod back to previous song names, themes, and structures. This is evident in the song titles “A New Machine” (a song “Welcome To the Machine” appeared on 1975’s Wish You Were Here and “Dogs of War”, which is a quasi-sequel to the Roger Waters Animals track “Dogs”. Co-written by Anthony Moore, “Dogs of War” suggests the silent hand behind all war is money, describing political mercenaries in particular.

Mason played a big role in the opening track, “Signs of Life”, by adding some synthesized effects and spoken word in the background. It sets the houseboat scene beautifully with the underlying sound of a boat rowing down a calm river, which was an actual recording of Gilmour’s boatman rowing across the Thames. The result is a cross between the early Pink Floyd experimental sound collages like “Speak to Me”, and the mood-setting long intro to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. “Signs of Life” serves to set up the listener for the sudden and sharp contrast of “Learning To Fly”, where the rock n roll portion of the album really begins.

Perhaps better than any other recording, “Learning to Fly” has the absolute perfect mechanical sound, built to perfection during the verse rhythm by Ezrin, who co-wrote the song along with Gilmour, Moore, and Jon Carin. The theme was inspired by Gilmour’s passion for flying, as he is a licensed pilot, but also symbolizes his new role as the undisputed leader of the band after Waters’ departure. The song put Pink Floyd back on the radio as well as music television for the first time with a professional music video, and reached #1 on the Billboard album rock tracks chart.
 

 
The album’s first side wraps up with a couple of radio-friendly, pop-influenced songs, something very rare on previous Pink Floyd albums. “One Slip” contains a synthesized arpeggio in similar style to some tracks on The Wall. Co-written by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, the lyrics describe a one-night love affair (another rare theme for Floyd), with the chorus hook providing the title for this album. “On the Turning Away” is another #1 album rock tracks song, with lyrics that explore deeper issues of poverty and oppression, and the tendency of people to forget about those afflicted by such conditions. Musically, the song starts of very calm and ballad-like but transitions to sections of extended biting and wailing signature guitar leads by Gilmour.

The album’s second side contains much less rich songcraft and much more ethereal soundscape and experimental tracks, harkening back to the band’s mid-era prior to Dark Side Of the Moon. These include a mixture of instrumentals and non-traditional sounding pieces, including “Yet Another Movie”, which features some dialogue lifted from the classic film Casablanca. The electrically distorted, noise-gate and vocoder dominated “A New Machine” bookends the smooth-jazz-like instrumental of “Terminal Frost”, which features dueling saxophones by Tom Scott and John Helliwell, the latter of Supertramp fame. The album’s closer, “Sorrow”, contains an opening guitar piece by Gilmour which was recorded live in a large, empty arena, with the sound piped through the public address system. The rest of the song diverges, with a steady beat and electronic effects providing a backdrop for the slicker lead guitars and calm vocals.

After the release, of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Roger Waters derided his old bandmates’ material on this album as “third rate”. A bit of a rivalry ensued through the subsequent year when both acts toured and sometimes ended up in the same city at the same time. Waters continued his fight on this front by threatening to sue several promoters if they used the Pink Floyd name. In the end, the overwhelming fan response to the Pink Floyd tour, which sold out several large stadiums, re-established the new, truncated lineup of this long established band as an entity, which would carry on for several more years.

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1987 Images

 

Animals by Pink Floyd

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Animals by Pink Floyd One of the more underrated classic albums, Pink Floyd‘s Animals is set up like an epic movie with three self-contained sub-chapters and sub-plots that somehow all tie together in the end. This latter fact is all the more remarkable when you consider that two of the three extended tracks were actually re-made versions of songs that were excluded from the band’s previous album, Wish You Were Here. The “concept” for the album was constructed by bassist and chief songwriter, Roger Waters, who used farm animals as analogies to represent differing personality types, much in the same fashion as fellow Englishman George Orwell used in his literary classic Animal Farm.

Beyond the lyrical content, the album is also very unique musically. It is the most hard-rock oriented of any Pink Floyd album of the era and is the last to have extended instrumental sections and 10-minute-plus tracks. In a sense it is a bridge between the total group albums of the past and the Waters-centric albums that dominated from the late seventies until Waters departure in 1984. Although Waters had written a large part of the band’s material on previous albums, guitarist David Gilmour had been the primary vocalist since replacing original member Syd Barrett in 1968. With Animals, the proverbial “torch” was passed as Gilmour only shared partial vocals on one song while Waters sang lead everywhere else.

The album’s theme was a reaction to the state of rock music just as the new, raw genre of punk began to explode in London. Part of requirements of this simplistic new movement was to rally against artists of longevity and Pink Floyd was a frequent target of such ire. Despite this, some members of the band welcomed this new movement as a return to the underground scene from which the band had grown.

Animals was, by most accounts, a very stressful album for most of the band, as each was focused on personnel or other interests with the exception of Waters, who happily took the reigns and molded the album in his image. Despite this, it is the band’s most sonically rewarding effort outside of The Dark Side of the Moon and consistently ranks near the top of the pack for the most avid Pink Floyd fans. Although this is not for the casual listener, for the true music lover, there is a very appealing “oddness” to this album which keeps its sound fresh through the decades.
 


Animals by Pink Floyd
Released: January 23, 1977 (Columbia)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Britannia Row Studios, London, April-December 1976
Side One Side Two
Pigs On the Wing (Part 1)
Dogs
Pigs (3 Different Ones)
Sheep
Pigs On the Wing (Part 2)
Band Musicians
David Gilmour – Guitars, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Richard Wright – Piano, Keyboards
Nick Mason – Drums

 
In 1974, Pink Floyd embarked on the “Wish You Were Here” tour, playing new material in advance of the 1975 album of the same name. Two of the songs played during that tour were ultimately left off that album and later re-written for Animals. One of these was a jazzy acoustic piece by Gilmour called “You Gotta Be Crazy” that was slowed down with re-written lyrics and renamed “Dogs”.

Right from the jump, “Dogs” is something unique and off the tracks even for the vast Pink Floyd catalog. With that progression of odd acoustic chords by Gilmour and just the right touch of organ and synth effects by keyboardist Richard Wright, the layered music builds with ever greater intensity as it progresses through the first three verses. When the first guitar lead breaks in, it is clear that this is a Gilmour signature song, with the slow progressions through the first instrumental break being one of the best Pink Floyd jam ever. The biting and cynical lyrics are a concoction the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sol Alinsky, and Vito Corleone, and offer no counter-weight in the pursuit of pure power. At about 8½ minutes in, there is a long synth and “dog barking” section, which I used to consider filler but have to appreciate in my old age, especially when you consider how completely transformed the song is on the other side. Waters is now singing and, even though the acoustic is strumming the same exact chords, the music contains a completely different vibe.

“Dogs” is also a back link from the future song “Hey You” on The Wall, with the whole concept of the bad blood “stone” being revisited in that song which introduces the concept of that album. With the outro “who was…” section that concludes this 17-minute piece, Waters borrows from the famous Alan Ginsberg poem “Howl” as he goes off into a tangent about himself in what is like a window into The Wall.

“Sheep” is the other track that dates back to the 1974 tour, when it was a mainly instrumental piece called “Raving and Drooling”. It is a driving, synth-heavy piece with a wild effect on Water’s voice trailing the verse lines. The lyrics are at once violent and scolding;

Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well-trodden corridors into the valley of steel…”

The ten-plus-minute song contains a middle section which harkins back to “Dogs” by reviving the “stone” theme and effect before it progresses into a bizarre section that includes a re-written bible quote spoken by drummer Nick Mason through a heavy vocoder. It then bursts out into the climatic third verse where the “sheep” level their revenge against the “dogs”.
 

 
Animals is considered by many to be nihilistic, while others point to the two short pieces that bookend the album as an optimistic “wrapper” of hope. “Pigs On the Wing” is pure acoustic folk, like a slowed down Bob Dylan tune but with distinct vocals of Roger Waters. It was recorded as a single song with a guitar lead between the verses by the band’s touring second guitarist Snowy White. But in what turns out to be a rather shrewd and cunning move, Waters split the song into two parts of nearly equal length, omitting the guitar lead and also significantly increasing his album royalties as they were on a per-song basis. This move was deeply objected to by Gilmour who actually received half the royalties from his 17-minute piece “Dogs” than Waters received from this split song that was less than 3 minutes in total.

Pink Floyd, 1977

Not to be confused with “Pigs on the Wing”, “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is the third major piece on the album. Musically is where this song really shines, especially the array of key parts performed by Wright along with the sharp, biting guitar crunches and cool sound effects throughout. The song also includes the world’s first and only “pig lead” as Gilmour using a talk box for some great effects during a long instrumental section. Lyrically, Waters takes aim at those with wealth and power, in what is really an updated version of “Us and Them” but with full concentration on the “Them”.

Following the release of Animals, the band embarked on their biggest tour to date, labeled the “In the Flesh” tour. This tour was Pink Floyd’s first experience with playing in large stadiums and they found themselves uncomfortable in such settings and much internal squabbling ensued. The tour also set the scene and setting for the story in the next album The Wall. That album would become vastly popular with a mainstream audience, something Animals would not achieve. Even so, Animals is a great album and totally unique among its rock n roll contemporaries.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

 

Meddle by Pink Floyd

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Meddle by PinkFloydIn 1967, Pink Floyd released their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a fantastic work led by the talented songwriting of lead singer & guitarist Syd Barrett. That album launched the band into instant form of super-stardom at a very young age. However, soon after that album was released, Barrett went mad, became erractic, was fired from the band, and was replaced by his best friend and understudy David Gilmour. Over the next several years, the group experimented with differing sounds and textures, forging many great moments but nothing as cohesive and groundbreaking as their debut album.

In 1973, the band would put out their absolute classic The Dark Side of the Moon, analbum solidified the band as an essential group in classic rock and may be one of the greatest albums of all time. But The Dark Side of the Moon resembles in absolutely no way Pipet At the Gates of Dawn. There was a serious evolution that took place in the band during those six years. In that time in between, Pink Floyd but out an array of six or seven experimental, avant garde albums and movie soundtracks that slowly forged their sound towards that on The Dark Side of the Moon.

Perhaps more than any other album during that time period, 1971’s Meddle finds the happy medium that threads these two successful yet divergent eras of Pink Floyd. It contains enough experimental music to make it interesting to the art lover, just enough melodic songs to be liked by the pop music lover, and a few brilliant moments of theatrical rock n roll to make it collectible to those who love The Dark Side of the Moon.
 


Meddle byPink Floyd
Released: October 30, 1971 (Island/Reprise)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Abbey Road & Morgan Studios, London, January-August, 1971
Side One Side Two
One of These Days
A Pillow of Winds
Fearless
San Tropez
Seamus
Echoes
Group Musicians
 David Gilmour – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Richard Wright – Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Vocals  

 
The first side of the album contains five standard-length tracks while the second contains the single, side long “Echoes”. This song forcasts much of what Pink Floyd would put out throughout the decade of the 1970s, save the shorter material on The Wall. The song begins with an experimental sound similar to a submarine “ping”, created by keyboardist Richard Wright, who fed a single note through a Leslie speaker. The song slowly works towards the standard verses and choruses before sliding into a very long “middle section” of blues jams and experimental passages then finally returning for a the last verse/chorus sequence. All in all it is a 23-minute piece.

Pink Floyd Meddle posterThe first side starts with the instrumental “One Of These Days”, which would become a concert staple for decades to come. It is driven by a constant buzzing bass, backwards-masked effects, and a howling guitar lead. The song explodes into a wind storm that leads into “A Pillow of Winds”, a soft acoustic love song much in the vein of those put out on albums like Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother. This second song could not be in more contrast to the first.

“Fearless” may be the best overall song on the album and talks about meeting challenges in the face of adversity. Musically it is highlighted by Gilmour’s calm yet strong guitar strumming and the odd beat from drummer Dave Mason. The odd ending to the song uses field recordings from an English soccer game, with fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Gerry & the Pacemakers in a heavily reverberated, eerie fade-out. “San Tropez” is a jazz-inflected pop song with a shuffle tempo, composed and sang by Roger Waters. It adds yet another diverse dimension to the album with its easy-going crooner-like melody and atmosphere. Side one concludes with the throwaway “Seamus”, a pseudo-blues novelty song meant to be a humorous filler with an annoying, howling dog throughout. The song is often ranked as the worst song ever by dedicated Pink Floyd fans.

Pink Floyd in 1971

Meddle received generally positive critical reviews and was a moderately well seller on both sides of the Atlantic, Going platinum in bothe the US and the UK and reach #3 on the English charts. The band would put out a fine soundtrack album, Obscured By Clouds in 1972 before reach the heights with Dark Side in 1973.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.