On November 4, Pink Floyd released what seems certain to be their final album, The Endless River. Built mostly from outtakes from the band’s previous release, The Division Bell, the mostly instrumental album is being touted as something of a tribute to the band’s late keyboardist, Richard Wright, who died in 2008. Whatever its genesis, The Endless River is the first new Pink Floyd material in 20 years, and so several Popdose writers jumped at the chance to weigh in with their reactions.
Dan Wiencek: Listening to The Endless River reminded me of an interview with Roger Waters I read years ago. The writer was pushing him to admit that the “Waters/Gilmour partnership” produced work of a caliber that maybe Waters couldn’t quite reach on his own. Waters’ reply was, “There was no Waters/Gilmour partnership. What would happen is he would come up with a guitar phrase or a chord sequence, and I would make a song out of it.” That last clause is the key, and it’s why I really can’t get into this album on any but a superficial level: these are not songs. They’re … sketches. Ideas. Bits and bobs. Things that might have made Roger Waters go, “Hmm, let’s do something with that.” But not songs.
What makes this more irksome for me is that David Gilmour’s decision to release the tracks in their essentially unfinished state might reflect a desire to preserve the authentic flavor of the music as he, Wright and Mason originally played it. Or just as likely, it’s an instance of him giving into his well-documented insecurities as a songwriter and lyricist and just avoiding the whole stressful business. Gilmour is not an unintelligent man, but he appears to have very little to say as an artist. That and, let’s face it, he doesn’t really give a shit about Pink Floyd anymore.
I know that Gilmour has been fairly up-front about what River is, basically managing expectations for those jazzing themselves up for another Wish You Were Here. But I can’t help thinking about all those people who made the album the biggest advance seller in the history of Amazon.com, and how they’re going to feel once they tear off the plastic and play their long-awaited new Pink Floyd album. I don’t think they’re going to be very happy.
So, do I like the album? Well, I don’t dislike it, really. It’s nice enough. A few of these tracks, like “Anisina,” could have been really good Pink Floyd songs. (“Louder than Words” is an OK Pink Floyd song.) But on the whole, it’s like reading the first draft of someone’s short story; it could be really good, once it’s finished.
Beau Dure: I was a little cynical about this. The interviews gave the impression that David Gilmour made this out of guilt for not giving Richard Wright enough respect while he was alive, and I wasn’t optimistic that anything good could come out of a mix of that motive and some 20-year-old tapes. But curiosity (and the ability to check out anything I want on Spotify) led me to listen.
In most respects, it’s exactly what I expected, for better and for worse. They’re not so much breaking new ground as they are wrapping up their career — or at least the Gilmour/Wright/Mason aspects of it. “Side 1” sounds like an extended take on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” — pleasant in a nostalgic way and a good comfortable fit for the “ambient music” genre, but not essential. Side 2 brings a few new sounds to the palette, including a whole lot of drums on the appropriately named “Skins”. Side 3 gets into the ridiculous at times, and I’m not sure why they bothered to bring Stephen Hawking’s voice onto a song and then play over it so you can’t really hear what he’s saying.
By the time Side 4 started, I felt like I was done with the whole thing. How many times can you hear that same old Floyd chord progression — slow tempo, eight bars on a minor chord, four bars on a major chord, then back to four in the minor. Restate the chord on a keyboard to restart, and away you go … again. And again.
But then you get to “Louder Than Words,” the finale and the only song with Gilmour singing. It’s not going in heavy rotation in my household, but it’s a solid final entry in the Floyd archive.
It’s a curiosity. I can’t blame them for doing it, and I can’t blame them for calling it “Pink Floyd,” even though it’s clearly not at all inspired by Barrett and Waters. It could’ve used Barrett’s lunacy or Waters’ cynical wit to take the edge off the somber settings. I liked the labeling of “Side 1, Side 2, etc.” — a more pretentious band would’ve called them “movements,” but there’s nothing at all wrong with a bit of vinyl nostalgia from these guys.
And the guitar jam “Nervana” in the bonus tracks isn’t half-bad. Completely out of character from the rest of the album, but it’s frankly a nice pick-me-up after listening to 60 minutes of melancholy.
It’s worth one good listen all the way through. And it’ll remind you to dig out the old albums every once in a while.
Chris Holmes: I would say the album is a fairly pleasant listen with some genuinely interesting parts. But if the purpose was to act as a musical eulogy for Rick Wright, Floyd would’ve been better off digging up some cool unreleased stuff from the entirety of their career rather than releasing what really amounts to “The Division Bell Sessions.” Or hell, even some keyboard-heavy remixes of old songs.
Dure: There’s no question Floyd — like Fleetwood Mac or a lot of bands with outsized personalities — is better than the sum of its parts. Waters can scoff at Gilmour’s contributions all he wants, but Waters clearly didn’t do anything half as interesting without him.
And The Endless River serves as a reminder that, while Floyd could (and more or less did) do The Wall without Richard Wright, they could not have done Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here without him.
Call Wright the Christine McVie to Gilmour’s Buckingham and Waters’ Nicks. I’d say he was the Derek Smalls — the lukewarm water between two geniuses — but Wright’s work is truly worth celebrating. Keyboardists never get enough credit unless they’ve managed to make multiple Yes albums.
Thierry Côté: I guess this makes Syd Barrett the Peter Green of the group?
Wiencek: I found myself wishing that if Gilmour didn’t want to finish off the tracks himself, he should have instead offered them to other artists and issued the results as an anthology, with “Louder than Words” remaining as the just-Floyd closing number. Imagine a Pink Floyd album with guest vocals and lyrics by Beck, or Tom Waits, or Stephen Merritt. (Or even fucking Billy Corgan — he’d at least be enthused by the prospect.) It would have elevated Endless River from fan curio to something genuinely interesting.
Rob Smith: I think it’s beautiful; I’ve listened to it a few times, front to back, and I like it. The track I like least, actually, is “Louder than Words.” Hearing David Gilmour use the word diss … just doesn’t sound right.
Dw. Dunphy: That’s what I thought about “Louder Than Words,” Rob. I thought it was trying too hard to be — what, inspirational, contemporary? I don’t know.
Wiencek: Thirded. Those lines do not match that music. Kind of like the gratuitous “they tell me to please go fuck myself” from “Lost for Words” on Division Bell; it’s jarring, and not in the way Sampson/Gilmour probably intended.
Keith Creighton: It’s like when Christoff says “that just happened” in Frozen — totally takes me out of the story.
Dave Lifton: All the things I love about Gilmour’s playing — the economy of notes, the bluesy phrasing, that perfect tone — is here. Unfortunately, that’s all there is. His guitar is supposed to be conveying the melody and instead all we get are those four-note patterns. Even on the comparatively uptempo songs where you think, “OK, this should put a little spark into things,” he kept reverting to the his fall-backs. “Allons-Y,” which tries to evoke “Run Like Hell,” is the perfect example. You’ve got a good opportunity for an extended solo and instead he gets into a guitar duel with himself.
It’s all very pretty and it flows together of a piece nicely, but it still leaves you wanting something to jump out at you.
Dunphy: Even so, I am left with the impression that this is a fairly sincere tribute to Rick Wright. There is an equal part of opportunism here as well, but at least there’s some semblance of balance of the two. I don’t get that same soul-sick feeling as I got from the recent Boston disc where you just felt Tom Scholz was thinking, “I paid for Brad to sing, and I’m going to get every last dime’s worth from it.”
Wiencek: The one thing I *don’t* fault this album for is being an insincere cash-in. Gilmour has demonstrated time and again that he has all the money he needs. The album may not be all that much, but what there is is at least sincere.
Dure: If Gilmour wanted to sell out, I’d think “guitar solo and a few shouted lyrics about inequality” would be a surer bet than “ambient variations on well-worn Floyd themes.”
Of course, good things can come out of aging entertainers needing money. See the Monty Python reunion show.