This week is a huge week in music. The releases slated for this week focused on the return of some VERY big, well-renowned names in the industry. When I say big, I mean big. Names we can throw around in this week’s releases include the likes of Bob Dylan, Marianne Faithfull, Damien Rice, Foo Fighters and last, but not least of all, the fifteenth and final studio album from Pink Floyd created by the remaining members Nick Mason and David Gilmour with recordings from the late keyboardist Richard Wright.
The result: The Endless River, is the group’s swan song.
20 years following their last release, The Division Bell, The Endless River follows in a much similar fashion. The 17-track album is split into a vinyl double EP which splits the album into 4 sections (or sides) and cordons off the album appropriately. One might say it is not really 17 tracks, but really only 4 tracks that can be broken down and identified with individual and unique sections to them and that is how I will dissect them.
Side 1 begins and comparisons can be made immediately within the opening track Things Left Unsaid, to its predecessor, The Division Bell with its inclusion of a similarly recorded vocal sample in the same manner and format. While Pink Floyd has never shied away from vocal samples (and quite rightly may actually be more famous for the inclusion of them in their music) this opening piece feels wholeheartedly like an opening track. The album title and ongoing theme seems to be captured effortlessly in the guitar and keyboard arrangements as the track has the feel of a slow-moving, calm and relaxing river. The following track, It’s What We Do reminds me of the track Welcome To The Machine from Wish You Were Here due to the similarity in its keyboard and guitar arrangements. While the new iteration lacks vocals, the comparisons are vast. The final part of the first side, Ebb And Flow offers that smooth transition out that Pink Floyd fans have also been accustomed to. Let me just state, I am not against these comparisons, nor do I feel that they diminish the album in any way. With the passing of Richard Wright, Gilmour and Mason were only granted a limited amount of recorded performances from their late keyboardist and chose to make the most of what was available rather than leave them alone and I, for one, am greatly appreciative of it.
The second side begins with a completely different dynamic. Where side 1 offered a dynamic duo of keyboard and guitar, side 2 introduces a much more percussion heavy focus. The first part, Sum offers a rich drum and percussion driven sound to accompany the ever-present psychedelic guitar playing from Gilmour. The seamless progression into Skins continues this percussion-rich framework and then also reintroduces the interstellar sounds popular among the groups repertoire of sonic expression. Once again, a seamless transition into Unsung with its dark wailing guitar and tense keyboard bridge. before closing the side with Anisina which provides the first saxophone accompaniment on the album.
Side three might draw the most comparisons to The Division Bell for a number of reasons. The seven-part side takes the effects applied to the acoustic guitar (which is also found on the comparison album) and expands on them, especially when it comes to The Lost Art of Conversation. Also, the tracks Allons-y (1) and Allons-y (2) feels like direct extensions from the album and could easily be interspersed within that The Division Bell without any difference noted. Allons-y (2) also transitions into Talkin’ Hawkin’ the companion piece to Keep Talking, which both include Stephen Hawking samples.
We move onto the fourth and final side of the album, and with it brings a darkness and sadness. While Calling emits a feeling of being lost, Eyes To Pearls feels more nomadic and directional with its acoustic guitar strumming progression. The utterly seamless transition into Surfacing with its classic David Gilmour-led era of Pink Floyd is a welcome piece before diving into Louder Than Words, another companion piece to The Division Bell’s Lost For Words, both of which end in a similar ringing of church bells. This track is also the first vocal track since the album opening, and really, might be classified as the only lyric track on the entire album.
Now, one might think with the 4 sides coming to completion the album would effectively end. However, with The Endless River that is not the case. Three more tracks are still in tow for the album, TBS9, TBS14 and Nervana. The first two are partner pieces with elaborate arrangements, reverb effects pedal usage and distinctive bass lines. The latter, and closeout track to the album that is destined to be the band’s last is what I feel is a perfect send off to what can be said, with no exaggeration or hyperbole, to be one of the most influential bands coming out of the 60s and 70s with its wholly unique and imaginative sound and visual accompaniment. Nervana is a heavy blues instrumental ballad almost completely unique to the entire Pink Floyd discography. A departure from the normal wailing single-string guitar picking performance and more of an homage to the 60’s (and more so 70’s) rock that surrounded the band in its peer group (think Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and other similar British acts of the day), Nervana closes out the recorded collection of Pink Floyd on a new high note. The swan song does not disappoint and truly ends in a celebratory fashion with a bit of raucous exuberance. The Endless River will last as a necessary part of the band’s discography and not as an asterisk on what has been a historic career of an iconic band. I, for one, am glad for its creation and inclusion among an already stellar and diverse music library. This album is well-deserving of multiple listens on a hi-fi system and could even potentially be deserving of album of the year in my book.
Also out this week was the hotly anticipated, much-hyped 8th album from post-Nirvana spin-off Foo Fighters. Their latest album, Sonic Highways is an 8-track adventure that has been recorded all over the US.
Coupled with the album, the band also released a HBO documentary miniseries spotlighting each of the 8 cities that played a part in the creation of this album, and the band’s commentary pertaining to each. The album is surprisingly mild (and in this listeners opinion, resulting in a much more enjoyable experience) considering the band’s more recent harder releases. Kicking off with the opening track and lead single Something From Nothing, the songs on the album are well-contrived and well-paced, with pristine production value.
This first single is swiftly followed up by two additional tracks of equaling quality, The Feast and The Famine and Congregation. The album strolls along and as the 7th track Subterranean begins to drag and then finally come to a close it flows right into the closing track I Am A River. The final track begins with an optimistic riff that is eerily reminiscent of The Who before it truly comes into its own. The seven-minute song may very well end up being my favorite track on the album and is not one to be missed. Despite the white-washing and lambasting that Pitchfork gave it in its review (which mostly compared the music to the corresponding documentary and graded it on that curve), the album is one to truly lend your ears to and enjoy the sprawling, dynamic musical pieces that have been created on Sonic Highways. While Pitchfork may be correct in the statement that the cities that inspired the tracks are often under-represented in the tracks themselves, the music as a whole is what needs to be admired and enjoyed by listener and critic alike.
I don’t want to undermine the significance of the return of Damien Rice either with his first album in 8 years in My Favourite Faded Fantasy, as it is a fantastic addition to his already sterling musical repertoire.
I will however, refrain from going into in-depth detail about this album and only encourage all of my readers who have historically been Damien Rice fans to listen to what he has put together for this new album.
Lastly, because I also acquired two albums this week that released earlier this year, I will share a track from each of them for your enjoyment.
And now, as always, here was everything acquired on this New Release Tuesday:
- Glass Animals – Zaba
- In The Valley Below – The Belt
- Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
- Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy
- Pink Floyd – The Endless River
Now Playing: In The Valley Below – Stand Up
Glass Animals – Love Lockdown (Kanye West Cover)