Oh By The Way... The Endless River

>> Friday, November 14, 2014

If they could have released this album in 1994, it might have settled a lot of stupid arguments about who was Pink.  But I doubt they knew how.  I don't think they had it in them; no, specifically, I don't think David Gilmour knew he was allowed to do a largely instrumental album before he did Metallic Spheres with The Orb in 2010.

Sounds stupid: he's a big rock and roll god, richer than Croesus, thirteen (now fourteen) studio albums under his belt as the voice and guitar of Pink Floyd, three solo studio records, tours and tours and tours, too many production gigs to count, guest spots on other artists' records galore.  No, I don't think he knew how to do this, didn't know he was allowed: this was the problem with Pink Floyd ever since The Dark Side of the Moon, know that.

Did you know they wanted to follow Dark Side with a musique concrète record, a bunch of found noises, banging on tables, running their wet fingers round the lips of wineglasses, twanging rubber bands?  A perfect follow-up, would have been, to Atom Heart Mother, would have been, but Atom Heart Mother was 1970 and Pink Floyd a cult band with a loyal quiet following who toked up and politely applauded when the band had tea parties on stage, and this was '73, '74, in the wake of an album that would spend fourteen years on Billboard's album charts and Pink Floyd a dinosaur stadium gargantuan act with loud drunks screaming, "Play 'Money'!" from the pit; no, you needed to do a record with actual songs and everything on it instead of something artsy-fartsy and odd.

Yet  they still ended up with Wish You Were Here anyway, in spite of that.  Forty minutes of instrumentals, but there were songs and structure.  There were things you were supposed to do if you were Pink Floyd.

And I think in 1994, what you were supposed to do if you were Pink Floyd was, you were supposed to release an album of songs, songs that sounded like Pink Floyd and songs that showed you didn't need old what's-his-name who used to be in band (not the first guy, the other one).  And don't get me wrong, good songs, I like, maybe I love that record.  But I don't think you were allowed--I don't think you knew you were allowed--to do a record of instrumentals.

I think if you were David Gilmour, you didn't work that out 'til you were hanging out with a couple of electronica/ambient guys and saying, "Hey this is kind of cool."

I think everyone wondered why the 20th anniversary box of The Division Bell seemed so thin on features, no Immersion edition, no outtakes and features even though everyone knew there was a whole Big Spliff of material in the vaults waiting to be rolled up and lit.  And it turns out the reason is Messrs. Gilmour and Mason were secretly working on the record they could(n't) have done in 1994.

They were working on Richard Wright's eulogy, turns out.

Because this is the other reason they couldn't do The Endless River twenty years ago, sad to say but I think it's true: he was right there in the room with them and easily taken for granted, someone to argue with, someone who was fired from the band for a bit and it took legal wrangling to get him back in, someone who maybe was even a little bit of a mascot when he first came in, "Look, Roger, of course we're Pink Floyd, we have Rick, don't we?  Three out of four of what the fans would call the classic lineup, two of the founding members and we fired the other one who wasn't you, in 1968, remember?"

Fuck cancer.

Richard Wright was in Gilmour's touring band in '06, right?  When Gilmour was promoting On An Island.  And--I never got to see this in person, I just saw it on the DVD and heard it on the bootlegged shows--and Gilmour would do the band introductions towards the end of the set, and the audience would clap for Phil Manzanera and Guy Pratt and everybody, but when he'd get to Rick Wright, a standing O every night, the crowd wild with love and affection and just joy that he was onstage with David Gilmour.  I'm reminded of this bit in the old Star Trek episode "City On The Edge of Forever" where Edith Keeler, this lady running a Great Depression-era soup kitchen who Kirk and Spock have run into traveling through time to keep history from changing, says she doesn't know where Kirk belongs but she can tell Spock belongs at his side; well, it was kind of like that, Richard Wright being onstage with David Gilmour, if you get what I'm trying to say.  Oh, and this was a year after Live 8, when Pink Floyd reunited with Roger Waters and that was a tear-jerker for an old fan, possibly for anyone, seeing Rick and David and Nick with Roger for a short set.

And then in 2008, he went away.

But there was that music in the vault.

The Endless River is Rick's record, really.  In the sense that there's so much of his work on the keys, that's the foundation and point of the whole thing.  And in the sense that this is a record about him, in much the same way Wish You Were Here is a record about Syd.  Richard Wright driving the bus on every track, and the whole thing is about the Rick-shaped hole of his absence.

And there's David Gilmour doing great David Gilmour things, and Nick Mason doing Nick things.  It's a beautiful Pink Floyd record, the one that says who Pink was--turns out it wasn't Roger (at least not for writing a lot of lyrics), and it wasn't David, it turns out Pink was always--strike that, was often the guy who isn't there (I guess solely in that regard, Roger was Pink insofar as The Division Bell, with all its songs about miscommunication and absence and getting past anger and growing up already, is an album about Roger; and I'm sure Gilmour would say it isn't about Roger Waters at all, notwithstanding the most obvious way to take "Lost For Words").  At some point, the answer to "Which one's Pink?" ends up being that Pink is the shadow on the wall, he's the guy we picked up the phone to call up only to remember he's not answering, Pink is on permanent holiday, Mr. Floyd sends his regrets.

Right now, Rick is Pink.

It's a beautiful Pink Floyd record, so I'm not sure anyone will like it.
There were people recently congratulating Roger Waters for it, I'm not making this up, and he's now been an ex-member of Pink Floyd for longer than he was ever in the band.  I think twice as long as he was in the band if you count back to '66 or '67 when they stopped being various assorted not-Pink Floyd band names and stuck with the one you know, unless my math is even more useless than I think it is.  I'll bet those people are already complaining it's too pretty and not snarky and mean enough.

And then I won't be surprised if there's a lot of people who won't think it's very interesting, because it's dreamy and sleepy and purposely goes out of its way to remind you of old songs, old days, of memories.  So it isn't fast and loud, and it isn't some cutting-edge blaaatttting that's meant to force you to confront your musical prejudices.

It's pretty, and comforting and sad.  I miss a keyboardist I never met, who I never knew but for the records he made and the fights he was subject of that I read about in interviews and memoirs and band histories.  I Wish He Was Here.  I think The Endless River has a good chance of being a record I go back to again and again; I don't know that I can honestly say it has a chance of displacing The Dark Side of the Moon or Meddle or Wish You Were Here, because, hey, those are masterpieces.  Or of displacing Animals, because I've known Animals nearly as long as I've known my parents.  Or Atom Heart Mother because, goddamn, every time I listen to that record I realize how much better it is than its makers ever gave it credit for being.  But a go-to record, a credible comfort and solace, a spiritual communion with the missed and beloved.  I've only listened to it once, now, but I think I will love it.  I think it will be dear to me.

I think I will go put on Broken China.


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