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Pink Floyd
The Endless River Joe Banks , November 7th, 2014 13:28

Pink Floyd have served as a bête noire for generations of bands in opposition to one thing or another, but as even John Lydon (famously once the wearer of a home-made "I hate Pink Floyd" t-shirt) admitted in this piece from the Quietus in 2010, "you'd have to be daft as a brush to say you didn't like Pink Floyd." And of course, he's right. You almost certainly won't like everything they've done, but their influence is undeniable. Pop psych pioneers, inventors of space rock, inspirers of krautrock, prog-funk kings of the world, forefathers of chill-out, prophets of cold existential numbness, the list goes on.

But really, does the world need another Pink Floyd album? Is it just brand maintenance, a chance to throw the spotlight once again on the back catalogue in lieu of Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour agreeing to play live on the same stage again? Is it money-for-old-rope, because regardless of what I or anybody else writes about it, it's destined to sell by the warehouse-load (it's already Amazon UK's most pre-ordered album ever)? Or maybe we should take their own stated reasons at face value, that they had music in the archive they felt was worthy of an audience, and that it acts as a tribute to Rick Wright, one of rock's finest and most under-appreciated keyboard players, who died from cancer in 2008.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Endless River is the band's decision to release and promote it as an instrumental album, save for one vocal track at the end. There can't be many bands of their stature who could get away with this, particularly given the way that Waters' bleak lyrical vision came to define them from the mid-70s onwards, but it's as an instrumental unit that the band are ultimately most regarded. This is an essential truth that Gilmour realised when, despite Waters declaring the band "a spent force" in 1985, he correctly gambled that, even without its erstwhile leader, a version of Pink Floyd that re-booted the "classic" Floyd sound would find favour with the fans – and so it proved.

The album's development is also interesting. Based on 20 hours of unused music from The Division Bell sessions in 1993, some of which had previously been compiled for private consumption as The Big Spliff (ahem), Phil Manzanera initially sifted through the material and put together the album's basic structure, four suites of thematically connected tracks. Gilmour and Nick Mason worked on it further and recorded new parts, before Martin Glover – aka Killing Joke's Youth – was brought in to produce. Gilmour has stated that they wanted "to make a 21st century Pink Floyd album", which seems an odd thing to say given that it's based on music from over 20 years ago – odd also because, of all bands, Floyd have an instantly identifiable, "timeless" sound. Yet there's some sense in his words too.

The brash and often lethargic sound of Floyd's mid-80s/90s period has been cleaned up and revitalised to create an album that at times credibly harks back to their peak Wish You Were Here period, only occasionally tipping over into self-parody. This is particularly true of the first, and best, of The Endless River's four suites. Opening with 'Things Left Unsaid', we fade up into a New Age vision of the afterlife, all droning digital pipes and the occasional distant detonation of a bass drum. Unsurprisingly, given their debt to the Floyd oeuvre, it recalls the more horizontal moments of ambient house acts such as The Orb, Global Communication and Future Sound Of London. It's also similar to something from Eno's Apollo, especially when Gilmour's rattling backwards guitar comes in.

But it's the sudden segue into Wright's Hammond organ at the start of 'It's What We Do' (the album's original title) where things get interesting. Like a mash-up of WYWHs 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' and 'Welcome To The Machine', it immediately engenders that uniquely Floydian sense of majestic ennui, the creation of a vague sense of import and an invite to contemplation, though of what is never clear. Mason's intensely functional drumming is a feature in itself, keeping time and minding its own business in the background, while Gilmour's soloing is tasteful and pinpoint precise, and there's some nice Rhodes and synth work from Wright. As with their best songs, nothing is over-played, the ability to conjure space in music being one of Floyd's greatest assets.

There's nods to the past everywhere. 'Sum' has Gilmour's roaring guitar accelerating and decelerating as per 'One Of These Days', 'Skins' has echoes of Mason's reverbed toms from 'Time', and 'Anisina' has the ghost of 'Comfortably Numb' lurking in the mix before the unwelcome arrival of a sax, highlighting that when Floyd try to do celebratory, it usually sounds like the party's already winding down and everybody's feeling a little tired and drunk.

'The Lost Art Of Conversation' returns to WYWH's evocative synthscapes, with some lovely wandering piano, before the two-part 'Allons-y' recaptures the quintessential sound of The Wall, the faux-dramatic pulse of the echoplexed guitar like the missing soundtrack to a chase scene in some 80s blockbuster. Sandwiched in between is 'Autumn '68', Wright playing a pseudo-classical theme on the Albert Hall's giant pipe organ that's nevertheless quite affecting. Then the final suite confirms that the band have always been more interested in inner rather than outer space, with 'Calling' like a submarine moving slowly through the creaking ribs of sunken wrecks, sad fronds of synth and guitar waving in the current. Even the final vocal track 'Louder Than Words' isn't too bad, Gilmour's pleasingly husky voice working well with the slightly querulous, uncertain melody.

Ultimately, The Endless River is another Floyd album about the inability to communicate – it doesn't "say anything" or "go anywhere", but maybe that's the point. While it's unlikely to win the band many new admirers, the casual Floyd fan will find much to enjoy here.