Gimme Five: Solo albums from members of Pink Floyd

Nobody is going to accuse Pink Floyd — whether collectively, or apart — of inundating the market with product. The group has only issued three projects in the last 30 years, while its members have been just as stingy with solo albums.

In fact, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and the late Syd Barrett and Richard Wright, between them, only issued 11 total studio recordings over the first 45 years or so after Pink Floyd’s debut.

Wright’s most recent project, before he passed four years ago, had been back in 1996. Mason hasn’t put out an album under his own name since 1981. Barrett, the damaged early leader of the band, last issued a studio effort in 1970 before his own death in 2006.

Roger Waters, the group’s middle-period creative mastermind, has been — perhaps unsurprisingly — the most prolific of all of the members of Pink Floyd. But even Waters (with nine solo albums) has hardly been a productive juggernaut lately, having most recently released a new studio rock project in 1992.

Again, perhaps unsurprisingly, these solo efforts tend to get overlooked in a world where Dark Side of the Moon stays on the charts for nearly a generation, and Waters tours The Wall for what seems like another. That’s where we come in, with our list of the the Top 5 solo albums from members of Pink Floyd …

No. 5

ROGER WATERS – RADIO K.A.O.S. (1987): Commercial flourishes like sequenced drums and programmed keyboards all but sunk this project, which today comes off as a plasticine bid for MTV acceptance.

Sort through those aural missteps, however, and you find in tracks like “The Powers That Be” modern versions of Waters’ patented call to arms against bloated bureaucracy and war-mongers — “they like fear and loathing; they like sheep’s clothing” — and a memorable, driving horn signature.

Elsewhere, “Home” featured some of Waters’ most biting commentary, despite the dated production. Here, he challenges us all to stand up to the creeping indignities that eventually coalesce into true injustice. Waters then hits a riff, talking about any number of unexpected personalities who might one day provide the greatest danger to our every day lives — neatly presupposing the sweeping fear that eventually gripped this nation in the wake of September 11, 2001.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: As legendary psych-rockers Pink Floyd and EMI launched an exhaustive re-release campaign, we took a look back at a few key cuts.]

No. 4

DAVID GILMOUR – DAVID GILMOUR (1978): Arriving as it did between two Waters-heavy Pink Floyd releases (Animals and then The Wall), Gilmour’s self-titled debut is destined to forever be compared to them — yet the record holds its own as a smaller, personal statement.

Loose and collaborative, with some interesting instrumentals, David Gilmour is recommended because it’s neither trying to sound like Waters or (like, say, the Gilmour-led albums in the band’s third-act) trying to “sound like Floyd.” Instead, everything feels familiar and comfortable. Credit goes, I think, to Gilmour’s backing band — old buddies who had been members of Bullitt, an early Gilmour solo group.

Together, they construct what stands as Gilmour’s most varied offering — from a tough, ominous rocker in “There’s No Way Out of Here” to a somber and sweet vocal showcase in “So Far Away,” from the driving “Short and Sweet” to the closer “I Can’t Breathe Anymore,” which builds off a simple reading on isolation into a soaring guitar solo.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Everybody went through a Pink Floyd phase, right? But, the child is grown; the dream is gone. Let’s face it, some of this stuff, well, sucked.]

No. 3

SYD BARRETT – BARRETT (1970): Recorded while his old band was holding tandem sessions for what would become Atom Heart Mother, Barrett’s second solo album would be co-produced by Gilmour and Wright, who also served as sidemen on the date. Yet, in many ways, Barrett doesn’t sound anything like what you might expect.

Gone are Pink Floyd’s early, more whimsical atmospheres. In fact, there’s almost none of the punky psychedelia that marked the Barrett-composed breakthrough songs “Arnold Layne” or “Apples and Oranges.” In its place are undercurrents that might rightly be ascribed to the Beatles, though Barrett’s music could be much heavier. Despite his well-documented mental state, Barrett’s wild-eyed whimsy was evolving into pop songcraft of the highest order.

In no way was this morose flower-power stuff, even though it has a vague elegiac tone. Believe it or not, Syd sounds tough — and incredibly modern. The whole of Barrett, and in particular “Baby Lemonade,” “Maisie” and “Gigolo Aunt,” could still fit easily into a college-radio rotation.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Henry McCullough discusses a series of legendary moments, from Wings’ “My Love” and “Live and Let Die,” to Pink Floyd’s “Money” and Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help.”]

No. 2

DAVID GILMOUR – ON AN ISLAND (2006): A wee-hours recording, utterly controlled — even when it rocks a little — and completely mesmerizing. On an Island was just Gilmour’s third solo project ever, and first in nearly 20 years. It was worth the wait.

He completes a transformation here from the alternately pissed off and/or diffident figure of the late Waters years (best heard on “Comfortably Numb” and “Not Now, John”) back into his early-period persona. This album is, in fact, as un-extravagant as it can be — poles apart not only from the Wall/Final Cut era, but also the over-thought, occasionally stuffy things Gilmour later did as frontman with Pink Floyd on Momentary Lapse/Division Bell. That’s its lasting charm.

Critics said On an Island sounded too much like it was: a pet project constructed by this semi-retired 60-year-old multi-millioniare Brit, hanging out with his wife and buddies (Wright, David Crosby and Graham Nash, Phil Manzanera) aboard a houseboat on the Thames. I say, listen closely and you’ll hear for the first (last?) time in forever a complete return to the cerulean placidity that made pre-Dark Side era Pink Floyd recordings so special.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: You could call this 1994 Floyd concert “Rain Like Hell,” as the grandest effect of all was provided courtesy of God — actual creator, you are reminded, of the moon and its dark side.]

No. 1

ROGER WATERS – AMUSED TO DEATH (1992): Like the great Pink Floyd albums released so many years before it, Waters finds his greatest success as a solo artist through a collaborative bond with a forceful and equally artful guitarist … this time, Jeff Beck.

Waters again focuses on the problems of modern life — needless war, out-of-control capitalism, mindless entertainment consumption. Sounds familiar, right? But Amused to Death stands today as the most coherent reiteration of Waters’ mindset since he left Pink Floyd: We have maybe his best take on the conflicts within organized religion (and that’s saying something) during “What God Wants, Pt. 1.” Equally trenchant is Waters’ contempt for warlords in “The Bravery of Being Out of Range.” His duet with the Eagles’ Don Henley, a meditation on the 1989 Chinese youth movement against Communism called “Watching TV,” is the most sadly beautiful thing Waters ever attempted — while “Three Wishes” might be the best song Pink Floyd never did.

After the too-wordy, too-synthy Radio K.A.O.S., Roger Waters was, quite simply, back on his game. He needed a strong partner like Beck, not to mention long-time orchestral collaborator Michael Kamen (The Wall, The Final Cut). Together, they crafted music that matched Waters’ lyrical intensity once more.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs, 1970: Aptly titled, these sessions threatened to go off the rails over and over again; yet, there are still these shiny-diamond moments. What a loss. … Nick Mason – Fictitious Sports, 1981: Really a Mason solo album in name only, fans of keyboardist Carla Bley will find an inviting song cycle. … David Gilmour, with the Orb – Metallic Spheres, 2010: Gilmour again returns to his roots as a narrative instrumentalist, with a band that always owed a huge debt to Pink Floyd.

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS …

Richard Wright – Wet Dream, 1978: Amateurish and, as with the title, at times garish; Wright was so important to Floyd, yet he often seemed lost without them. … David Gilmour – About Face, (1984): Guests like Pete Townshend and Toto’s drummer weren’t able to save this too-slick trifle; it even includes a belated pass at disco called “Blue Light.” … Roger Waters – Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, (1984): A drab, mid-life-crisis record, something its high-concept presentation in “real time” can’t disguise.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Christopher Nollett

    Nick DeRiso is dead wrong on Richard Wright’s “Wet Dream”. And its insulting to Mr. Wright’s memory to not make mention of his second solo effort “Broken China”. Both of these records have solid songwriting (and yes that means not only the lyrics but that happy little noise in the background that those of us who play call music) and are above and beyond better records than either David Gilmour’s first solo effort or Roger Water’s “Radio KAOS”, which like much of Water’s solo work is nearly unlistenable. In fact Gilmour’s “About Face” is also a stronger record than these. It might also be worth DeRiso to realize that Richard Wright was an accomplished songwriter who had sold some of songs to publishers while his fellow band members where still finding their feet as writers. Wright’s work is hardly amateurish. DeRiso’s journalism I’m not so sure about.

  • Keim

    Overall a nice review of solo output. I can quibble, but you back up your opinions well. How do you come up with 9 Waters solo albums? I count 7: 1. Pros and Cons. 2. When the Wind Blows (Which I think is vastly underrated, and a neat in-between of his KAOS and ATD sounds) 3. Music From the Body 4. Amused to Death 5. Ca Ira 6. In the Flesh 7. Radio KAOS

    Am I missing some Waters goodness?

    • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

      There’s also 1970’s ‘Music from The Body,’ a very obscure soundtrack album to a documentary film; and I counted 2002’s ‘Flickering Flame: The Solo Years Volume I’ too. It’s a compilation album, but there were enough tasty obscurities — “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” from the film ‘The Dybbuk of The Holy Apple Field'; an original demo of “Lost Boys Calling,” from the movie ‘The Legend of 1900′; and “Towers of Faith,” from the ‘When the Wind Blows’ soundtrack — for it to qualify as a must-own for committed fans. Like me, heh.

  • Keim

    I did include The Body, but not Flickering Flame in my 7. My guess was you were making a sly jab at The Final Cut.

    • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

      Sorry, Keim — It wasn’t first on your list, and I ran through the rest of it too quickly. I also had ‘The Wall: Live in Berlin’ as a solo project, since none of the other Floyds are on it.

      Here are my 9 … 1970 — Music from The Body; 1984 — The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking; 1986 — When the Wind Blows; 1987 — Radio K.A.O.S.; 1990 — The Wall: Live in Berlin; 1992 — Amused to Death; 2000 — In the Flesh: Live; 2002 — Flickering Flame: The Solo Years Volume 1; and 2005 — Ça Ira.

      P.S.: Although the case can certainly be made for ‘The Final Cut’ as a solo record simply performed by Waters with Gilmour and Mason, I still count it as a Pink Floyd recording, since they released it as such.

  • Christopher Nollett

    Briefly, Mr. DeRiso you may want to consult Webster’s definition of journalism. It is by no means confined to reporting. But as a musician it amuses me that a music critic has such a response to my commentary. I have no doubt that Richard Wright viewed his first solo effort in less than ideal terms. Artists quite often have a markedly different perspective on the value of their creative output and this period of Wright’s career was a difficult one for him. I still wholeheartedly stand by “Wet Dream” even if it is at variance with the artists’ opinion, particularly considering it came out during the rise of punk, which saw its fair share of “amateurish” if not mediocre music. Wright’s value as a musician in the context of Pink Floyd was that his ideas were harmonically more sophisticated than say Roger Waters. While Waters is a great talent at writing lyrics, the lack of Wright’s harmonic input in the more Waters dominated Pink Floyd material caused the material to suffer. Perhaps not from a commercial stand point, but definitely from a purely musical standpoint. And to be fair, Waters himself and Gilmour were both frustrated by Wright’s lack of contributions. Yet I would say that the rest of Pink Floyd needed Wright to back them up more so than the other way around.

    • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

      Though I worked in the newspaper business for more than 25 years, I thought it would be instructive to follow your advice and refer to Webster’s — so I could get the definition of journalism exactly right: “Writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/journalism)

      I will direct you back now to my original comment: The above item is not in any way “journalism.” It’s my opinion, not “reporting” — or a direct presentation of facts. It is, in fact, an attempt at interpretation, or the exact opposite of Webster’s definition of journalism.

  • Keim

    The Wall Live in Berlin-How’d I miss that? Geez…

  • First Time Commenter

    I have to agree with the peanut gallery about Rick Wright’s “Wet Dream.” I love how piano heavy the album is. “Summer Elegy” is one of the uncovered gems of Floydian music. The album captures so well what Mr. Wright was going through at the time. Rick Wright was famously soft-spoken and modest. Is it any wonder that he didn’t beat his chest over “Wet Dream”? I think it’s a great album.

    And, Mr. DeRiso, I recommend a little more humility in responding to your readers. Defensiveness does not come across well on the interwebz.

    • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

      Thanks for your well-constructed thoughts on Mr. Wright’s ‘Wet Dream.’ As for the comment directed toward my interactions with readers, I’d say you get what you give. Here, as elsewhere on the “interwebz” and, in fact, out in the world, people are typically responded to in a fashion commiserate with their tone. When they offer opinions, as you did, in a straight-forward fashion, without name calling or non sequiturs about “journalism,” we often have intriguing conversations.

      For what it’s worth, I tend to find a moment or two that make Wright’s solo albums worth the effort — but, in the end, I have to admit that I’ve always wanted to like them more than I ever actually could.

  • Dominic

    Wet Dream was Ok but hardly comparable to the song Rick provided for Pink Floyd, there were not many but they were of a higher quality. I felt Wet Dream a bit self indulgent. I’m surprised About Face gets less of a mention than Gilmour’s first solo album, which had only 1 good song on it. About face had at least 2 even if they were Written by Pete Townsend.

    I would not describe the Wall Live in Berlin as a solo Album as it was mostly other musicians, but it does contain what amounts to some of the best cover versions of Floyd songs ever, Van Morrison singing the chorus of comfortably numb is better than the original Floyd version in my humble opinion.

  • Charles McGarry

    PF is my favorite band all-time, but I have to agree the solo output paled in comparison. And even though I think Gilmour should not have continued the band, his debut album is far and away the best solo album from a PF alum. Wet Dreams is better than described here, too, as it was a good representation of Rick’s stylings.