There is an usual and unfortunate agreement when discussing Pink Floyd’s 1969 double album Ummagumma
; the live portion of the album is one of the greatest live albums of all time, while the studio album is potentially the worst thing that they have ever released (which is funny considering how uninspired their albums in the 1980s and early 1990s were). But I’m here to try and convert listeners and to spread awareness on one of the most overlooked records in the Pink Floyd discography.
The double-record splits an impressive 87 minute running time between four live tracks and five tracks of original material. The live side of the album stretches out a handful of tracks from A Saucer Full of Secrets
and The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
. The songs seem to build ever so gracefully over long stretches of time (usually doubling the studio tracks length), seemingly intending to create an uneven psychedelic atmosphere. The added jams worm their way into the original songs and add a tangible sense of menacing psychedelia that’s unique to Pink Floyd.
Tracks like “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” cover the listener’s natural senses with spacey sounding farfisa organ and tribal drums that are played with timpani mallets as they create a trippy wall of sound. The crown jewel of the live portion of Ummagumma
, “A Saucerful Of Secrets,” while given a gorgeous rendition, is injected with a slowly rising, constantly penetrating sense of dread near the two minute mark that could be the defining moment of the entire live portion of the album.
The studio portion of the album which includes five tracks was an idea that the band had come up with prior to recording; each member gets to write one full side of a vinyl record. The idea of each member getting their own song seemed to be a little self-indulgent but for a band like Pink Floyd it hardly was, especially when it worked to a great success with The Beatles on their later albums like Revolver
. For most of the album Pink Floyd float around rarely acknowledging the normalcy of typical pop song writing and instead use obscured, minimalist techniques. Most of the material on this side of the album can be difficult to enjoy if you're a new fan, or not used to such unusual songs and structures. Wright's four-part instrumental epic, "Sysyphus", ranges from horrific to Arcadian throughout its fourteen minute run time. Roger Waters' "Grantchester Meadows" is easily the most immediate track on the album, and strangely enough one of the very few non-psychedelic tracks of Floyd's psychedelic era, especially on this album which is widely considered their most experimental album. David Gilmour's three-part "The Narrow Way" shows his superb songwriting; both guitar and vocals. It is very easy to see here that he was the main reason behind Pink Floyd's mainstream success in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The final effort (and my personal favorite cut), "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party," is done by drummer Nick Mason and features a flute intro, extravagant drum solos, and strange effect during the middle of Part 2 that sounds like something Autechre would produce had someone given them an acoustic drum kit during their Confield
Pink Floyd's previous two records (three if you count the soundtrack for More
) were certainly psychedelic, and fairly weird but in comparison to the psychedelic beast that is Ummagumma
there really is no real competition. This is easily the defining moment for them and it sees Pink Floyd at their creative peak.