In the ’70s Pink Floyd evolved from a relatively popular psychedelia-and-experimental-noise band to the superstar album rock heroes they are known as today. The key albums in this transition were Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and Animals. With the dawn of the ’80s came the band’s popular apex and death knell, The Wall. Coincidentally, I recently got around to picking up the CD versions of Meddle, Wish You Were Here and Animals, finally.
My beloved Meddle, released in 1971, was the band’s transition album from the Barrett-influenced ’60s to the Waters-Gilmour Floyd of the ’70s. “One of These Days” romps along on classic pulsing triplets and Gilmour’s careening slide guitar — interrupted only by Waters’ frighteningly distorted declaration “One of these days I’m going to chop you into little pieces” (which I never exactly understood until I saw him say it in the Live At Pompeii DVD).
Following is Gilmour and Waters’ gentle “A Pillow of Winds,” a lilting and unabashed love song to both a person and the night, with psychedelic remnants of the Barrett era. The still gentle, but slightly more forceful “Fearless” is lovely with a memorable rising guitar figure and a sample (in 1971!) from “You’ll Never Walk Alone” thrown in for dislocating effect – always one of my Floydian faves.
Waters’ breezy “San Tropez” is rather too twee, and the desultory blues number “Seamus,” complete with dog howls from the guest of honor, is harmless but pointless. But then a pillar of Floydian experimental rock greatness, “Echoes” begins pinging and continues apace for over 23 minutes of purposeful meandering, ingratiating harmony vocals from Waters and Gilmour, choogling organ from Richard Wright, atmospheric axemanship from Gilmour, drifting whale noises, and a world of confident creativity. You can hear the fertile seeds of Dark Side of the Moon here.
Then came Dark Side – no need to discuss here.
Wish You Were Here was the follow up to the elephant in the room, Dark Side, and as such was doomed to unfair and moslty unflattering comparisons when it was released in ’75. I hadn’t listened to it in its entirety in at least 20 years, and I am pleased to say that it has grown greatly over the years: it is a brilliant, ruminative, ambient, long-form look at the disintegration of band founder and ’60s icon Syd Barrett, intermingled with Roger Waters’ souring view of the world, and in particular the music industry.
Without the necessity of flipping vinyl sides, the album now flows, a great aural river from the long, slow entry of “Shine On YOu Crazy Diamond (Part One)” with exquisite guitar work from David Gilmour (surely one of the ten greatest rock guitarists: endlessly inventive, supple, apt, often perfect), to the dark mechanization of “Welcome to the Machine,” “Have a Cigar” with guest vocals by Roy Harper (I had forgotten that), the beautiful poignancy of the title track, and a final nod to lost soul Barrett, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part 2).”
It is seamless, moving, musical and is every bit the stand-alone monument that Dark Side was and is.
After all of this crunchy goodness, Animals, released in 1977, was a palpable disappointment for musical reasons and for the sourness of Roger Waters’ lyrics, which he now monopolized. A kind of musical Animal Farm, Waters compares people — again seemingly the music industry — variously and unflatteringly to “Sheep,” pigs (“Pigs On the Wing, part 1 and 2,” “Pigs (Three Different Ones”) and “Dogs.”
“Dogs” is the worst song the Floyd recorded in the ’70s: 17 minutes of tuneless vitriol, only slightly mitigated by some interesting lead work from Gilmour (but of course). 17 minutes is very long time for such ickiness, and what may have been merely unpleasant is overwhelming at such length.
“Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is a success, albiet a Grinchian one, creating a genuine porcine feel within a memorable tune, cowbell beat (“gotta have …” ah forget it) and guitar that feels like it was processed through a washing machine – in a good way.
“Sheep” begins with a bucolic, engrossing electric piano solo from Wright, before segueing into a rolling triplets rock groove (not unlike “One of These Days”) that conveys the pursuit of sheep by marauding dogs. After a victim is caught, the tumult dies down into some very atmospheric electronic work, followed by more turmoil and revolt capped by some classic Gilmour descending chord work.
Animals ends as it began, with Waters and his acoustic lamenting rather uninterestingly. It is not difficult to see that The Wall, Waters’ appalling plunge into self-pitying introspection, was just around the corner – pity.