Oh By The Way: Obscured By Clouds

>> Monday, May 19, 2008

(Forgotten what the hell this is all about? Click here.)

I'm not sure why it's been a month since the last entry in this series. Maybe it's because while I listen to music constantly, the point of this series was to sit and listen seriously to all these old albums I love so much, and that actually takes time. This series isn't just me sitting around in the living room with a Pink Floyd album on in the background. This is me in the bedroom where I put the futon, TV and what passes for a home entertainment system in my place, sitting there and doing nothing much but typing these entries or researching them while I listen to these records all over again.

The irony in this case is that Obscured By Clouds is easily one of my favorite Floyd albums. Hell, it's possible it is my favorite Floyd album and I don't know it or fully admit it: I usually pick Wish You Were Here as my favorite Floyd album (sometimes as my favorite album, period), but if I imagine being on a crashing plane, standing by the plane door with my parachute strapped on and only able to carry one CD in my free hand--Wish You Were Here or Obscured By Clouds--in my mind, I hesitate. (Not that it matters--in reality, I'd probably have a choice between, I don't know, ABBA and Britney Spears or something like that. Or I'd be the audiophile version of Burgess Meredith, stumbling upon a cache of the Best Records Ever Made and no way to play them--"Time enough at last... to... stare at all these goddamn 8-track cassettes... fuck.")

Obscured isn't exactly the kind of record that leaps to mind as an "essential" Floyd album. On the other hand--I'm going to go ahead and say this now, why not?--The Wall is absolutely an essential Floyd album but it's still kind of a shitty record. Seriously: The Wall is kind of the musical equivalent of hate sex with someone you're trying to break up with, a hit rock'n'roll album about how much it sucks to be a successful rock'n'roller, and did we mention that our fans remind us of Hitler Youth, what with all the fucking clapping and yelling and carrying on even when we're trying to play a little song or two? The Dark Side Of The Moon's success kind of screwed The Floyd up, and the 1977 In The Flesh Tour kind of broke The Floyd up, but they needed money after their accountants got indicted so they went with Roger Waters's "Dear Fuck You Assholes" concept in 1979 because, well, you know, they were kind of sick of the whole Pink Floyd thing but they needed the fucking cash... and if the resulting record was kind of brilliant in a fucked-up way, well damn, funny how that happens sometimes.

But I get ahead of myself. Four albums ahead of myself, matter of fact. Let's talk about happier times.

The happier times in question were in 1972, when the band was touring a concept piece (sometimes called "Eclipse") that was becoming Dark Side Of The Moon whenever the boys could make it into Abbey Road to lay down a few tracks. They'd agreed to do another soundtrack for Barbet Schroeder (for whom they'd recorded More)--this time for a movie called La Vallée that I've never seen (it seems to be out on video; I need to rent it sometime). Obscured was therefore a distraction from the band's major project at the time, but it doesn't seem to have been an unwelcome one.

The sessions were quick and dirty, but that wasn't a bad thing. Obscured, while it might not be "essential," did capture the band at a special time--a fecund creative period during which they were working well together. With little time to work in, the guys didn't overthink things and they don't seem to have argued details. In short, Obscured is Pink Floyd during the exact period in which they were also writing and recording their masterpiece, writing and recording a toss-off record as something of a favor to an old friend. Boundaries are pushed even as the band settles into familiar grooves and exchanges--yes, I know how cheesy that sounds, what can I say?

So, as a direct result, Obscured is fun to listen to. Fun. More fun than any other Floyd record, even Floyd records that are better polished, more thought-through, better-written or better-produced. There are pretty songs and funny songs and loud songs and slow songs, weird instrumentals and straight-ahead rockers, sappy ballads and moody ruminations and tongue-in-cheek pop songs. Obscured is not only fun, but in some respect it's the band's Floydiest record.

Even as I type this, I find myself singing along with "Wot's... Uh the Deal," because it's just a fucking catchy as all hell song. (One of the treasures of David Gilmour's 2006 solo tour was that he revived the song as a recurring part of his setlist.)

It's also worth mentioning that it's one of the band's most collaborative records, with a good mix of the band's singers on vocals, nice trades on keyboard and guitar lines, some neat stuff going on in the rhythm section. After Obscured, Roger Waters would dominate the band's lyrics sheets (for better or worse) and David Gilmour and Richard Wright's credited writing contributions would increasingly diminish until reaching a nadir with The Final Cut--an album recorded after Wright was fired from the band and to which Gilmour would contribute nearly nothing, not even as an instrumentalist or vocalist (Cut would also mark the first time in the band's history in which a primary drum track would be laid down by someone other than Nick Mason).

I love this record. This record makes me smile.

Okay, maybe, maybe it really is my favorite Pink Floyd album. (I'm still going to say Wish You Were Here if you ask though. Okay?)

Side One
  • Obscured by Clouds (Waters, Gilmour)
  • When You're In (Waters, Gilmour, Mason, Wright)
  • Burning Bridges (Wright, Waters)
  • The Gold it's in the... (Waters, Gilmour)
  • Wot's... uh the deal (Waters, Gilmour)
  • Mudmen (Wright, Gilmour)

Side Two
  • Childhood's End (Gilmour)
  • Free Four (Waters)
  • Stay (Wright, Waters)
  • Absolutely Curtains (Waters, Gilmour, Wright, Mason)

BONUS: As much as I've generally wanted to avoid adding video in this series, how can I resist including this audience clip from David Gilmour's 2006 tour, a performance of "Wot's... uh the deal" from Hamburg, March 11, 2006? There's a slight break in the middle of the song, but it's still a cool video and the sound is surprisingly good. And Richard Wright's piano solo is intact.

Gilmour's touring band in 2006 not only featured Richard Wright, but it also included Jon Carin (who played keyboards on A Momentary Lapse Of Reason and The Division Bell and joined Pink Floyd on every tour after 1987--and toured as a part of Roger Waters's solo band), Guy Pratt (played on Lapse and Bell and every tour after 1987; also Rick Wright's son-in-law), Dick Parry (played sax on Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here; member of every Floyd touring band from 1973-onward except 1981 and a brief part of the 1987-1988 tour) and Phil Manzanera (performed on Momentary Lapse). I.e. Gilmour's 2006 touring band was one Nick Mason short of an official Pink Floyd tour (his drummer, by the way, was some guy named Steve DiStanislao, in case you wondered).


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