Perhaps in many ways the most important album for many people in the world this year will be The Endless River, Pink Floyd’s swan song and final offering under such a ubiquitous marque. A predominantly music orientated album David Gilmour has still managed to tackle the issue of in-fighting and turbulence within the Pink Floyd machine with the aid of samples and old recordings. This review is of the vinyl version of the album and i am pleased to report that as with all product and merchandise associated with such a brand it is of the highest quality in both presentation and musical reproduction. The art work is impressive and good to see that Aubrey Powell was involved as creative director and a fitting obituary to the late Storm Thorgeson was made. The front cover image by young artist Ahmed Emad Eldin is appropriate, imaginative and in keeping with Pink Floyd’s unique livery. Great attention to detail has been given to both outer and inner record sleeves with nautical images giving reference to David Gilmour’s floating studio Astoria were the bulk of the recordings were made. The 12″ x 12″ booklet is well laid out and contains some great photographs and collages of the sessions. A great piece of memorabilia.
From the outset the album reflects the huge impact that the late Richard Wright had on the bands sound both old and new. Fitting then that his voice is one of the first to be heard on the album in the intro of Things Left Unsaid. An old recording of his voice along with band mate David Gilmour can be heard amongst the atmospheric swirls of modern software and Wrights signature Hammond sounds which morphs into the following sequence It’s What We Do. Gilmour’s use of EBow makes it’s first appearance here and keeps cropping up throughout the whole journey. Side one of the album is brought to an end by the sounds and musical texture that i think epitomize the Pink Floyd sound with Ebb And Flow. This is very much a hint of a Shine on You Crazy Diamond for the millennium. With elements of Marooned and other soundscapes obviously culled from the much reported Division Bell sessions this piece benefits greatly from Richard Wrights beautiful Rhodes sound.
Turning the record over finds the band in a more rhythmic mood with the very full on Sum. Magical to hear Rick Wright’s Farfisa organ and Gilmour’s VCS3 sound effects. However, i did find the drums plodding and slightly back in the mix which may well have been intentional so as to create the original early Pink Floyd sound. On the whole i think Doug Sax’s mastering for the vinyl version of the album very good with one exception on the final song. Melting into the next piece as what happens throughout The Endless River, the following two pieces Skins and Unsung serves to remind all of heady days harking back to Saucerful Of secrets et al possessing as it does an improvisational feel to it. The concluding segment Anisina seems more anthem like and cries out for lyrical content.
Side three of the album begins with Rick Wright’s minuet The Lost Art Of Conversation and makes you wish that he had included a little more of this talent into his limited solo output. I found it refreshing just how many of the pieces on the album had been co-written with Richard Wright or indeed written buy himself. On Noodle Street Wright doing what he does best playing Fender Rhodes whilst Floyd touring honchos Guy Pratt and Jon Carin add solid bass and keys to the mix whilst Night light returns to Gilmour’s EBow theme. Allons-y (part 1) sounds rockier and more like David Gilmour’s solo projects. Placed in the middle of this piece is a recording of Richard Wright playing the pipe organ at The Royal Albert Hall in the year of the title, Autumn 68. This much written about event is well documented here and an important inclusion to the proceedings before returning to the off beats of Allons-y (part 2). The more solid timbre of Guy Pratt’s bass is further employed in Talkin Hawkin. Gilnour’s searing Strat is backed Durga McBroom’s haunting backing vocals which i have to admit to causing a few goose bumps. Great to hear the Stephen Hawkin plea again too.
Turning the LP over for the last time brings us to Calling a song co-written with Anthony Moore who features on keyboards. Some powerful keyboard sounds and great sound effects by Andy Jackson flow into Eyes To Pearls featuring Richard Wright’s nostalgic Farfisa organ and Nick Mason playing some great drums and gong. This leads nicely to the penultimate piece Surfacing. Heralding the first time David Gilmour’s singing voice can be heard albeit a backing vocal it really does give the impression that the whole series of events are coming to the surface before the final piece and only song on the album Louder Than Words. Ably assisted by Durga McBroom The haunting nature of Surfacing really does give you the impression of preparing for take off and a hint of sadness that the following track is the last you will here from such legends. Co-written with beautiful wife and author Polly Samson Louder Than Words laments the break down in communication and argumentative nature of some past members of Pink Floyd and coveys the frustration caused by it all. Polly Samson’s lyrics are simple and straight to the point. There are no nebulous edges or hidden meanings, no apology, no explanations. Just a statement of how things were and perhaps are. All credit to her for that. I mentioned earlier about an exception in the very high quality of Doug Sax’s mastering of this album and it happens right here. I found David Gilmour’s vocals rather anaemic and edgy, something that i found only marginally better on the digital download of the album.
In the aural movie of Pink Floyd’s long and checkered career The Endless River is without doubt the dream sequence. A reflection and celebration of what they did best. Much of what is contained here within could have been recorded by any one of many contemporary musicians with todays technology though they would not have had access to the recordings and rights that make the some of the parts whole. I can’t help thinking that winding up such a musical institution such as Pink Floyd without all of the living contributors being involved is an act of heresy and that bridges should have been made to complete such a mission. The Endless River should be listened to in the context of the artists intention and parallels to much earlier Pink Floyd albums should not be made. This is a fitting tribute to the late Richard Wright and as such is well worth the pride of ownership. The nature of the vinyl release is noble in it’s intention though ultimately has a very safe sound to it. There are some minor flaws and i can see that due to nature of the musical content would lend itself more to a modern experience IE 5.1 and the likes.
Is this really the last Pink Floyd album? Only time will tell. I think it probably will be given the age and enthusiasm of it’s survivors. Will the endless tension between the critical components ever subside, well, pigs might fly. Dyed in the wool Floyd fans may well fall in love with this album. Though i would say to it’s dissenters it must be given a chance in much the same way that many of the Floyd’s popular albums were. It may well pay off.