Measuring Pink Floyd by its lyrics is unfair. Yes, Roger Waters could put together the words in the same way Gilmour can play guitar. But that incarnation of the band is done just as Syd Barrett’s psychedelic band is gone. This is a symphonic, atmospheric band that fills your head with some great noise, appealing to very different emotions with The Endless River than The Wall or even Dark Side of the Moon.
At what point do you stop being you? When you lose an arm? Your eyes? Your memories? How much of you has to disappear before you are no longer you but a collection of parts? When does a family stop being a family? When the parent dies? When the nuclear family splits and individuals come into their own?
When does Pink Floyd stop being Pink Floyd and end up being a collaboration between David Gilmour and Nick Mason with recordings by the late Richard Wright? If The Endless River were a significant departure from past endeavors with the kind of innovation we came to expect from the band thirty or forty years ago, I might call this a Gilmour solo album using Wright’s solo tracks. Mason only appears on two tracks of The Endless River as writer (“Sum” and “Skins”) but he performs percussion throughout whereas Gilmour’s solo album On an Island also featured Wright on the album and tour. If Wright is not present to guide the album except by his solo contributions made before his death in 2008, how can this truly be a “Pink Floyd” album?
What makes this a purely Pink Floyd album is the familiar sound of Pink Floyd from ages past, before the Waters-driven decade when the music drove the sound instead of the message. The 1990s Pink Floyd sound is there, too (Stephen Hawking’s talk-box even returns on “Talkin’ Hawkin'”), but there isn’t the awkward and awful lyrics that weighed down the ethereal tracks of The Division Bell and Momentary Lapse of Reason. The only exception is “Louder Than Words” which seems to fill the role of “Bad Floyd Track from the 1990s” in the band’s exploration of musical nostalgia. Wright’s keyboards make their own statement on the album, echoing not only the 1990s, but Animals, Wish You Were Here, and Dark Side. This latest album feels like outtakes from that era dressed up with some new ideas, but definitely Floyd in style and sound.
So you have Richard Wright front and center (which was not always the case, particularly during Waters’ leadership) and Gilmour’s unmistakable guitar (so familiar that there are template tracks like “It’s What We Do” that I thought someone was going to break into a verse of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”). In one sense, it feels like assembly-line rock music, but also what happens when an oldies band realizes that the only thing audiences want to hear any more are the classics. So deeply rooted in its own history is this album that some tracks like “Allons-y” seem thirty-years dated. Each track makes me want to tie it to another album and then makes me want to just go listen to that album instead.*
This endless river through familiar territory seems like the next best thing to a Greatest Hits or Live album for Floyd — it’s a re-engineering of old rock tropes by one of rock’s greatest bands, a dream about the past and faded glories. It’s an album that dismisses the idea that Pink Floyd was ever a band with a message.
Pink Floyd – The Endless River on Spotify.
(*An exception is the track “Calling” which sounds like Pink Floyd doing the soundtrack to Resident Evil 2.)