Review Summary: Syd half-gone, Dave half-in and no one really wanting to take over the main songwriting duties. The Floyd's 1968 sophomore album is a disjointed mess, but a good one at that.4 of 5 thought this review was well written
You know the story. Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's eccentric mainman went insane on acid and had to semi-leave the band in 1968, which forced the Floyd to recruit prettyboy (at the time) axeman Dave Gilmour as a backup, and ultimately replacement. With this bizarre lineup they, against all odds, recorded a followup to '67's psych-pop masterpiece The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, called A Saucerful Of Secrets. And it turned out way better than it likely could have, the band, now decentralized in terms of songwriting, trying out a variety of stlyes new and old, but succeeding for the most part, especially considering the circumstances. So no 60's equivalent of The Doors Of The 21st Century here, folks, but an extremely talented group of young musicmakers in search of direction (I wonder how today's Floyd would sound if they replaced Waters with Sting... yeah.)
A cool, drivin' bassline, some reverbed drums and a jazzy organ start out the album's first track, Let There Be More Light. Trust me, that thing really grooves acid-trance-remix-worthily for about a minute, before it unexpectly slows down and transforms into a considerably dark, trippy rocker, one of the new directions pursued on this album, and the one the band would largely settle on later. Until Dark Side Of The Moon, that is.
Track two, Remember A Day is keyboardist Rick Wright attempting to emulate Syd's trademark psych-pop style. It's quite a pleasant, mellowishly dreamy song, but it never reaches the eccentric playfulness of a Barrett original. This is actually one of the parts where the album coulda sucked major ass, but didn't at all, which is one of the things I find amazing about it, as I said.
Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, the third song on 'ere, is my personal album favorite. Another dark, trippy number, but almost ridiculously mysterious and introverted this time, written by Roger Waters. Dark, fluent bassline, spacey organ, tribal drumming by Nick Mason (a criminally underrated drummer, BTW), almost whispered vocal, and Syd's there too, playing a jerky, wah-wah drenched guitar. Real nice. It's got all sorts of weird bells and various other spacey LSD noises in the background too, which makes it even nicer. There's live versions of this that are better (by which I mean freakier) than this studio recording (check out the version on the Ummagumma live disc), but it still kicks yo mama's dirty white ass.
The following song, Corporal Clegg, is the second worst on the album though. The first of Waters' many "I-hate-the-army-cos-my-daddy-who-I-didn't-even-know-died-in-WWII" songs. Seriously, can someone stop this guy from whining? Clegg is a "comical" attempt at the whole thing though. The song has a dumb military-kinda-beat and some hilarious marching band bits. Waters tries out a "bitterly comical" sorta vocal, but terribly fails and Gilmour does a half-decent Jimi Hendrix impersonation on his amplifed six-string instrument. Other than that, the lame "repeat till fade" outro is dragged out way too long. Uhmmm... thanks, ol' Rog.
When the title track comes in after that, you notice how disjointed this album is. I mean, why on earth would you want to follow up a ***ty-ass faux marching song with an 11-minute avant jazz inspired dark psych suite of doom? I have no idea, but the song kicks, that's fer sure. It opens up with some dissonant organ and strange reverbed noises that sound like Sun Ra. After a couple a minutes, a tribal drumbeat and dissonant piano come in and the thing still sounds like Sun Ra (is that guy an acknowledged influence on the Floyd, cos I wouldn't wonder if he was...). If I'm not mistaken, Syd lays down some cool noise guitar here aswell. It ponders along that way for some time, repetitive tribal drumming and occasional outbursts of guitar/piano, before diminishes into a single bass-laden, delayed noise, which transforms into some churchy organ chords. Seems as if Rick Wright is kinda the leadman here. A (fake?) choir emerges from the depths of sound too, giving it an even more churchy feel. It ends aprubtly, which is the only downside of it. If they included some cool outro and slow fadeout or something, I would've liked it even more.
Unfortunately, the next track is the album's absolute low point. See-Saw, another psych-pop song by Rick Wright, but horribly pretentious this time. It feels like he wanted the song to switch between several different sections or something, but it never really goes anywhere. Instead, it frustratingly jerks around between several boring melodies and very goofy-sounding noise sections. Come on, Pink Floyd, you just proved you could make really cool avantgarde noise in the last track, and now that? Upon listening to this album as a whole for the review, I was glad when it was over, despite its relatively short length of only four-and-a-half mins.
Saucerful ends with Jugband Blues, Syd Barrett's last officially released song (if I remember correctly) for the Floyd. Sounds a lot like his solo stuff in terms of melancholy and insane lyrics, but it's more elaborately arranged with whistles and flutes and the like and a Yellow Submarine-esque, extremely weird horn section. The ending almost makes me cry. You can really feel how he's on the verge of nervous breakdown and acid-induced insanity. Oh well, there goes a coulda-been genius.
After all, A Saucerful Of Secrets is a very inconsistent and disjointed, but surprisingly good album, that's worth a spin every once in a while.