Review Summary: An album of pure, uncompromised inspiration.
In the spring of 1967, Pink Floyd had already made a bit of a name for themselves by releasing two successful singles and performing memorable shows in the drug-abusing underground-circles of London. Lead by the eccentric singer and guitarist Syd Barret, the group carried on to record their first EP, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The album was almost completely a brain-child of Barret, whose musical career, as well as mental health would soon take a turn for the worse, leading to his sacking from the band and total reclusion from the music business.
At the time of the recording, Barret was absorbing enormous amounts of marijuana and LSD, and had already started his slow collapse to madness. However, the songs here are not the melancholy-ridden, incomplete sketches that can be found on his later solo recordings. This is the work of a remarkable mind, a man whose songwriting is imaginative and instinctive. The songs here are surreal, naïve (in the best possible meaning of the word) and, most importantly, fun. There is no question about it: Syd Barret was a happy man when he wrote the music for this album.
Fairly simple songs like Flaming and The Gnome, in which Barret hilariously sings about a garden gnome, provide the listener with warm melodies and an irresistible feeling of happiness. Elsewhere, Pow R. Toc H. and Interstellar Overdrive see the band at their wildest, throwing themselves in free jam sessions, which somehow manage to come out as surprisingly coherent pieces of music. The latter of these starts with an exceptionally catchy and quite heavy guitar riff, which is followed by 7 minutes of somewhat random noodling. Then the starting riff returns, while the music sways from one side to the other, creating a sensation of the song melting away. Although the middle part can feel somewhat dragging for some listeners, you don’t need to take drugs to feel completely tripped out by this piece of music. The Bike, the last song of the album is Barret at his best. In three minutes, the band moves through multiple time changes, while Barret sings some of the weirdest lyrics in the history of music. His topics include his borrowed bike, a mouse he calls Gerald and a clan of gingerbread men. Go figure. The song ends with a minute of different noises, the kind of stuff which I am normally not a fan of, but here these sounds seem like the perfect way to end the album.
The only weaker moments are Roger Water’s slightly dull Take up Thy Stethoscope and Walk (the only track written by someone else than Barret) and Chapter 24, a slow track that lacks the fun of the other songs. Barret’s lyrics are hard to figure out as always, but here they are delivered without much excitement, and the track doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Although none of the members could be described as technically talented musicians, they make the best of the skills they do have. Rick Wright’s delicate synths are a huge part of the albums appeal, while Nick Mason and the future-band leader Roger Waters do an excellent job of backing up Barret’s surreal ideas.
All in all, this album is psychedelic music at its best, full of truly surprising and inventive music, which the band would, mostly unsuccessfully, try to replicate for years after Barret’s departure. This is an album that can be warmly recommended to anyone with an open mind. I guarantee you this is a ride you won’t regret having taken.