IF I hadn’t grown up on the 1970s albums of Pink Floyd, I would have loved ‘The Endless River’. If I hadn’t spent so many hours listening to ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’, ‘Animals’ and the better half of ‘Meddle’, I’d have loved ‘The Endless River’. If I wouldn’t have been mesmerised by instrumentals like ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, ‘One Of These Days’, ‘On The Run’, ‘Any Colour You Like’, ‘Terminal Frost’ and ‘Signs Of Life’, I’d have loved ‘The Endless River’. Oh, if I hadn’t idolised David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Richard Wright, Nick Mason and Syd Barrett, I’d have loved ‘The Endless River’.
Now, it wouldn’t take a genius to realise that the latest Pink Floyd album, released almost two decades after its previous ‘The Division Bell’, isn’t on my list of favourites. At least, I wouldn’t give it four stars or five stars as many across the world have been doing, or hail it as the best piece of ‘ambient’ and ‘new age’ music created in centuries. On the other hand, I wouldn’t slam the effort totally, or give it a one-star rating like the reviewer of ‘The Independent’, London.
Reviews are more often than not subjective, and so it be with mine. Though a couple of tracks like ‘It’s What We Do’, ‘Anisina’, ‘Sum’ and ‘Calling’ definitely have the Floyd class, ‘The Endless River’ hardly moved me in toto. Yes, there are many instances of instrumental genius, but that’s a given in any Floyd album. On a generous day, I would settle for two and a half stars, and on a mean day, I would stick to two.
Before listing down my main problems with ‘The Endless River’, here’s a small brief about the album. Released as a tribute to Wright, who passed away in 2008, it contains 17 instrumental tracks and one vocal number. Most tunes fall in what is described as the ‘ambient’ category, though some of them have the quintessential psychedelic rock bearings that Floyd popularised four decades ago.
My main issue with ‘The Endless River’ is that it just seems like a collage of sounds of the past. Gilmour’s guitar riffs, Wright’s keyboard effects and Mason’s drumming patterns have mostly been heard before, often reminding you of portions from ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Dark Side’, ‘The Division Bell’ and ‘Meddle’. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that half the pieces sound like ‘Signs of Life’, the opening track of ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ has been dumped into a mixer-grinder and hurled around to create many splinter tunes.
Secondly comes the album’s format itself. Over the years, though Floyd has released instrumental tunes here and there, especially in early albums like ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’, ‘Atom Heart Mother’ and the ‘More’ soundtrack, it hasn’t done an out-and-out instrumental album. In the past, the wordless songs have come between the vocal ones, and have often provided some diversion to the overall effort. In the case of ‘The Endless River’, we have 17 instrumentals with more or less the same formula, making things sound monotonous.
Third, some of the Floyd instrumentals of yesteryears have been classics in their own right. The psychedelic wizardry of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ (from ‘The Pipers At The Gates of Dawn’), the double-tracked bass of ‘One of These Days’ (‘Meddle’), the infectiousness of ‘When You’re In’ (‘Obscured by Clouds’), the stunning effects of ‘On the Run’ (‘Dark Side’), the majestic build-up of ‘Any Colour You Like’ (‘Dark Side’ again), the jazz-filled saxophone splendour of ‘Terminal Frost’ (‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’) and the laidback elegance of ‘Cluster One’ (‘The Division Bell’) all give them a unique charm and character. The tunes of ‘The Endless River’ are pleasant on their own, but that X-factor so characteristic of Floyd is missing. The same is true for the vocal track ‘Louder Than Words’, which has a sound we have heard since the 1970s.
Next we come to the length of the tunes. Of the 18 cuts, nine are less than two minutes. And almost all these nine seem to be incomplete attempts at trying to do something and yet heading nowhere. The pieces start in trademark Floyd style, one hears a swanky riff somewhere, and just when you think the actual song is about to begin, it’s over. A related complaint has to do with the fact that most pieces have rather abrupt endings at a time when you’re just getting a hang of them.
Finally, there may be individually brilliant portions, but the sum just doesn’t add up. I can hear two or three tunes at a time, but beyond that, things drag. Half the time, I want to go back to earlier albums like ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Dark Side’, ‘Animals’ or even many people’s favourite ‘The Wall’. Surely, ‘Mother’, ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ and ‘Vera’ sounded leagues ahead.
Oh, if I had been born 30 years later than I was and had just been introduced to Floyd three months ago, I would have loved ‘The Endless River’. If I had been swayed by all this hype surrounding its release, I’d have loved ‘The Endless River’. If I had just believed in blindly following the latest fads, I’d have loved ‘The Endless River’.