Pink Floyd – The Endless River (2014): On Second Thought

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The Endless River isn’t just the last Pink Floyd album. It’s one of the first actual Pink Floyd recordings since 1975’s Wish You Were Here, since it was constructed together in a room, collaboratively. Most every project since then has been nothing more than a solo album dressed up to look like a group effort, with the worst offenders being 1983’s The Final Cut and 1987’s Momentary Lapse of Reason.

In the intervening five years, Pink Floyd had undergone a tidal shift, as Roger Waters departed in the mid-1980s. The chief criticism thereafter, from Waters and from a number of like-minded critics, was that the David Gilmour-helmed albums (which also included 1994’s The Division Bell) spent too much time trying to mimic Waters’ 1970s-era successes. Both Momentary Lapse and Division Bell, in their lowest ebbs, were seen by some as nothing more than facsimiles, clever forgeries — even though they typically featured stalwart members Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason, the latter of whom has performed in every successive incarnation of Pink Floyd.

The Endless River, out today from Columbia Records, is different. Not just because it focuses on throwback jams from that remaining core trio (after all, The Division Bell grew out of these same sessions), but also because it stays away — save for the towering finale — from vocals. As such, Pink Floyd has returned to an often-forgotten period of great importance to David Gilmour: his first years with the band.

Between 1969-72, Gilmour played a key role in some of its rangiest experiments. This was before Waters’ ascendency and before 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon, meaning before the sharp glare of fame put so much pressure on them to make a record that sounded like, well, Pink Floyd. They tried things, made mistakes, sang little, intrigued often. All of it led, however, to Dark Side, which turned into a cultural phenomenon. With that, Pink Floyd morphed into a far more focused, far more narrative arena-rock construct that eventually moved Waters toward a wholesale rejection of it all on 1979’s The Wall.

In some ways, Waters’ frustration makes sense. They’d become something of a brand, right down to the lasers and the pig — an image. The struggles to break free from that, or else to live up to that, would likewise bedevil Gilmour.

Along the way, they fought, they split up. And ultimately, that’s what’s made so much of their work after Wish You Were Here, the last completely collaborative moment from this group’s celebrated four-man edition, feel like lesser entries. As they fractured, Pink Floyd was never the same. Wright’s broader contributions were badly missed on both The Wall and Momentary Lapse of Reason. Gilmour wasn’t heard nearly enough on The Final Cut. They could have used a little of Waters’ edge on The Division Bell, sessions from which ultimately produced The Endless River.

There were times, through it all, when everyone seemed to be simply trying too hard. Gilmour, alas, will never be the lyricist that Waters is. But then Waters’ music rarely reflects the cinematic sweep of Wright’s or (in particular) Gilmour’s imagination. They were better, to be sure, together. Still, save for a one-off moment at Live 8 in 2005, a reunion never happened — and, with Richard Wright’s unfortunate passing three years later, now never will.

So, what could we reasonably hope for from a farewell release, featuring completed versions of Wright’s last group performances? Certainly not that it echoes the amplitude and meaning of Dark Side of the Moon, much less Wish You Were Here. That has been, if we’re being honest, the problem with too many of the Pink Floyd albums that have followed. Instead, we should probably ask that it find Gilmour, Mason and Wright making an honest statement, that it play to its own strengths, that it tell us something new — and, more importantly, something true — about its moment in time.

The Endless River does that. This is the Gilmour-led Pink Floyd album that he should have made in the first place, rather than the guest-packed pastiche of Momentary Lapse, one which reflects the camaraderie (both musical and otherwise) of Gilmour’s earliest, most free-form, most personal period in the group. One which reflects his own strengths, thrillingly combined once more with Richard Wright’s and Nick Mason’s.

Achieving all of that makes The Endless River the best kind of goodbye. David Gilmour has closed a circle, and he’s done it (finally) his own way.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, 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 U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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