Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pink Floyd- The Piper at The Gates of Dawn

Pink Floyd- The Piper At the Gates of Dawn: Released in 1967 for Columbia Records
Best Song- Astronomy Domine

In the beginning...
In 1963, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Richard Wright, Keith Noble, Clive Metcalfe, and Sheliagh Noble formed a sextet entitled Sigma 6. The band changed their name to The Meggadeaths (No relation to Megadeth), the Abdabs (No relation to the dab), the Screaming Abdabs, Leonard's Lodgers, and The Spectrum Five, before settling on The Tea Set. Metcalfe and the Nobles left the band, with Chris Dennis becoming the new lead singer, and Bob Klose and Syd Barrett added on guitar. Richard Wright played keys, Roger played bass, and Nick played the drums. Dennis and Klose left in 1965, so Syd Barrett took vocal and guitar duties, in a band now known as the Pink Floyd Sound, then just Pink Floyd. The lineup stabilized as Syd Barrett on vocals and guitar, Roger Waters on bass, Richard Wright on keyboards, and Nick Mason on drums. The band played R&B covers at the time (Yes, PINK FLOYD did R&B) but by 1966, they started composing originals, with a much more psychedelic sound.

In 1967, the band signed with Columbia Records. After releasing two hit singles ("Arnold Layne", and "See Emily Play") they went into EMI Studios and recorded their first album, produced by Norman Smith, which is the topic of today's review.

For those of you who know of Pink Floyd for their classic progressive rock albums, such as The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, you'd definitely be shocked to find that this album consists of straight-forward, spacey psychedelic rock. This is due to the influence of Syd Barrett, who wrote every song on this album, except "Take Up Thy Stethescope and Walk" (What a delightful title) written by Roger. And for those of you who know them for angsty lyrics like "All you touch and all you see, is all your life will ever be", you'd be shocked to find the lyrics of this album are mostly in the vein of "I've got a bike, you can ride it if you like" or "That cat did something I can't explain".

Okay, enough of that, time for the quality. Well... it's patchy. There's a lot of good stuff, but lots of weaker, more fillerish stuff. Oh well, everyone's gotta start somewhere. Syd Barrett has a great guitar style, and Richard Wright is already an excellent keyboardist. Syd's singing isn't the best, but it isn't bad, and his voice mixes with Richard Wright's very well.

The album actually gets off to a great start. We start off with the fan favorite and live staple "Astronomy Domine". The opening radio transmissions (Provided by manager Peter Jenner) do a great job of building tension, which then leads into a great, menacing four-note riff, before we go into the main song itself, driven by great chugging guitar lines, Syd Barrett and Richard Wright's harmonised singing, and powerful drumming. After a verse, we go into a bridge, with a cool, spacey descending guitar line leading the way. Then, when you would expect another verse to come in, we instead go into an instrumental jam, with some more cool guitar sounds, a ripping, spacey guitar solo with tons of cool sounds in the background, before we go back into the main verse, which finally slows down into a effective resolution. A great start to the album. 

Next up on the agenda is "Lucifer Sam", which is about a cat (Yes, they did a song about a cat) and it comes very close, but doesn't quite reach the level of "Domine".  It is driven by a AWESOME descending guitar riff which almost sounds like something out of James Bond, backed by Syd's menacing vocals, WICKED percussion and bass effects. We then go into a VERY cool bowed bass (!) solo, before more repititions of the verse.  It could be a bit longer, and the chorus is kinda dumb, but oh well.

Next is another Wright/Barrett duet, "Mathilda Mother", a song about a mother reading fairy tales to her kid. (Reminder that this song was made by Pink Floyd) The verses are led by a great, hypnotic organ theme, with Wright's affected vocals on top. The chorus is more upbeat, with a great repeating guitar line joining Syd and Rick's pleasant harmonised vocals. There's also a cool, heavily distorted organ solo. We end with some trippy harmonising. Another good song. 

"Flaming" is up next. While it might come as a tremendous shock to hear the band sing "watching buttercups come to life" or "Sitting on a unicorn" the song itself is good, driven by a driving organ theme, with upbeat drumming in the background, which then goes into a more pleasant chorus, driven by a nice upbeat guitar line and cool sound effects in the background. A nice slow organ solo follows, with more wacky sound effects, with some great piano and guitar parts, before the chorus again. 

So far, we have what seems like a 5/5 album. Great songs wall-to wall, even if there's significant unintentional comedy value from the lyrics. Unfortunately, the album gets much patchier from here on out. The first sign of trouble comes in "Pow R. Toc H.". The "song" if you can call it that, is essentially just Roger and Syd making tons of dumb sounds which almost remind me of kids imitating monkeys at the zoo, and there's almost no coherency to the melody either.  A pleasant enough piano solo in between the tomfoolery, and the ending's nice, but that's the only redeeming quality. A disaster of a song.

Thankfully, the next song is better. "Take Up Thy Stethescope and Walk" is penned and sung by Roger Waters, the only song on the album to be that way. His voice is completely different from the one we know, sounding almost exactly like Syd. It starts off with powerful drumming over which Roger sings stupid lyrics, but what really makes the song great is that soon turns into a WILD jam, with KILLER, super fast organ soloing from Rick and CRAZY guitar soloing from Syd. This jam only lasts 2 minutes or so, but it could last much longer. We end with a reprise of the opening melody. A great song that eases the pain from the terrible last track. 

Sadly, the next song is worse than even "Pow R. Toc H.". "Interstellar Overdrive" actually starts off great, with a cool descending guitar riff leading the way which turns into a great guitar led jam, with cool organ noises as well. That's the first 2 minutes. However, afterwards, it fades out, and the remaining eight minutes are just a meaning-less avant-garde jam with no rhyme, reason, or melody, just... noises. For EIGHT MINUTES. Why, Syd, why?

"The Gnome" comes next, a silly story about a Gnome. This song contains a pleasant enough acoustic guitar melody, as well as cool reverbed vocals in the "look at the sky... look at the river" section, but it's nothing special. At least it's better than "Interstellar Overdrive".

"Chapter 24" follows, with lyrics taken from I Ching (!). It's much better than the last two, with a hypnotic vocal performance by Syd Barrett being backed by equally hypnotic, lazy guitar and keyboard parts, which make this a great song to fall asleep to (That's not an insult), and the harmonies in the "sunrise, sunset" section are beautiful. Great organ soloing from Richard Wright as well, as well as a wonderful portion near the end where Syd and Rick alternate their pleasant vocals with a brilliant countermelody. A great song that eases the pain (Though "The Gnome" isn't really painful per se) of the last two. 

"Next up is another very short song, "The Scarecrow", which clocks in at a mere two minutes, about a Scarecrow (Another reminder that these are the men who made The Wall, sans one). It starts with a neat, easterny organ riff, which alternates with another passage featuring a great guitar riff, good singing from Syd, and nice harmonies joining in from time to time. A cool, high pitched organ solo follows, and then... nothing? After the solo there could easily be a few more choruses, but it trails off into nothingness, with no resolution at all! That kinda hampers my enjoyment of the song, but it's good while it lasts.

And then, there's "Bike", which ends the album on a VERY low note. The main melody and vocals are just STUPID, the backing instrumentals are almost non-exisistent at parts, the sound effects throughout are lame, the song somehow manages to be overlong and rambling despite being only two minutes long, and the remaining minute adds to the pain by just featuring a bunch of cartoony sound effects. A very low end to a quite patchy album.

Overall, this album is very inconsistent, with lots of weak songs, and some that are among their worst.  However, there's quite a few good ones, and a few that I love. However, there's still lots of bad, so a 3/5 seems in order. Get it for the good stuff, and skip the bad. Sadly, it wasn't until 1972 when they finally gained more consistency, patchiness abounds over the next few.

However, those next few albums would be missing a very crucial figure...

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