Review Summary: A Tribute to a fallen friend and a former leader.
Pink Floyd is a band that will never need an introduction. They reached commercial and critical success in the late 60s, although their success didn’t peak until the 70s, playing progressive/psychedelic rock music. They combined philosophical lyrics and experimental instrumentation to create a unique and unforgettable musical experience for any listener.
Even though each Pink Floyd album enjoyed a certain amount of success, with their entire discography besides A Saucerful of Secrets charting on the Billboard 200, it took them eight attempts to really become worldwide sensations (although to be fair a couple of those albums were soundtracks). Dark Side of the Moon was released in 1973 and became an instant success, peaking at number 1 on the Billboard 200 charts. Lloyd Grossman, who worked for Rolling Stones magazine at the time, described the album as"There is a certain grandeur here that exceeds mere musical melodramatics and is rarely attempted in rock." Dark Side of the Moon proved to be an important album for the band, as not only did it propel them to super stardom but also from here on Roger Waters would be the main creative force for the band, until his dismissal in 1985.
Pink Floyd started working on the follow-up to Dark Side of the Moon in 1975. Alan Parsons, who had produced quite a few of Pink Floyd’s previous album, decided to decline the offer to produce the follow up album as he formed his own band, The Alan Parsons Project. The band recruited the services of Brian Humphries.
The initial development of the band was slow and troubled, Richard Wright later described these early sessions as "falling within a difficult period" and Waters found them "torturous". Due to the lack of creative inspiration, the band decided to focus on a couple of musical composition they have written during their tour in Europe. These compositions triggered a conceptualization process in Waters, and it motivated him and the band to focus on former lead vocalist Syd Barrett for the subject matter of the album.
Syd Barrett was the founding member of Pink Floyd, and his influence can be seen on the band’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Barrett was a main contributor to Pink Floyd’s early psychedelic and spacey musical style. After the release of the band’s debut album, Barrett mental health seemed to start declining mainly due to drug use, and even though he contributed to the band’s second album, he had to leave the band in 1968 and be hospitalized. Pink Floyd named their 9th album Wish You Were Here and dedicated to their friend and former inspiration Syd Barrett.
Wish You Were Here was released in September 1975, and reached number one in both Britain and the United States. The album is highly rated now-a-days, but at the time of its release it received mixed reviews. Ben Edmunds (1975), a writer for Rolling Stones, criticizes the album and specifically the Barrett tribute song ‘Shine on Your Crazy Diamond’ saying that “they give such a matter-of-fact reading of the !@#$%^&* thing that they might as well be singing about Roger Waters's brother-in-law getting a parking ticket.” He also commented that the band lack passion. Melody Maker, a weekly music newspaper, showed disappointment in a lack of imagination by the band.
Despite some early disappointment, Wish You Were Here is now consider one of the best albums of all time, and is constantly voted onto ‘Best albums of all time…’ lists, including Rolling Stones list of 500 best albums and IGN’s list.
‘Shine on Your Crazy Diamond’ is the main force on the album, overall clocking in at 26 minutes, although the song is divided into 9 individual parts. The song was originally meant to be one full composition, similar to their previous track ‘Echoes’, because of that the parts flow incredibly well, and at times it hard to tell when a new part is about to begin. The first five parts open the album, beginning with a fade-in with a dense synthesizer, an Organ and what sounds like wet fingers rubbing the rims of wine glasses. Gilmour delivers a bluesy solo, as the harmony of the track changes key towards the end of part 1. Gilmour plays another solo in each of the following two parts; also Wright has a Minimoog solo in section three and part 5 has a brilliant sax solo. Part 4 is the only section that has lyrics in the first section; the lyrics are powerful and haunting and there is practically a direct call out to Barrett at the end before the sax comes in. A machine-like hum closes part 5 leading into the following track.
‘Welcome to the Machine’ follows the opening epic, and is a direct criticism of the music industry as money making ‘machine’. The song follows the story of an aspiring musician who is joining a record company, called ‘The Machine’ in the song. It focuses on how personal identity in this industry is nothing more than an illusion, with verses like;
‘What did you dream"
It's alright we told you what to dream.’
‘Welcome to the Machine’ is a great song that incorporates heavy use of synthesizers and futuristic sounding guitars. An acoustic riff plays in the background for most of the song, which really adds to the feel of the song. This song is also filled with a variety of tape effects.
‘Have a Cigar’ follows, and features guest singer Roy Harper on lead vocals. The lyrics were written by Waters and they follow the theme found in the previous track, focusing on the greed found in the music industry. ‘Have a Cigar’ is also a much more straight forward track than what came before it, focusing on a more simple and ‘normal’ rock sound, being built around a catchy electric guitar and bass riff. An electric piano and once again synthesizers are also used.
‘Have a Cigar’ also contains the famous lyric: ‘So Which one of you is Pink"’ something the band used to be genuinely asked back in the day. A guitar solo closes off the song.
The title track is one of the best song’s Pink Floyd have ever written. ‘Wish You Were Here’ is a powerful and relatively simple track which deals with Syd Barrett and also Waters general alienation from other people. Gilmour uses a twelve-string guitar to perform the intro before a fuller acoustic solo starts to play over the intro. This intro riff is repeated continuously throughout the song, and it generally leads to further solos by Gilmour. The track ends with a violin solo that is unfortunately all but muted by the ending wind effects that were later added.
The album finishes off with the final four parts of ‘Shine on Your Crazy Diamond’. Continuing from the howling wind found on the previous track, Gilmour and later Waters come in with bass riffs and later a few synthesizers are added to the mix. After several rhythm guitar parts and drums are added, a Minimoog synthesizer solo is played. Gilmour plays a brilliant solo is section 6, which lasts for about three minutes and he constantly increases the intensity of the song by the raising the octave for each section. Part 7 is the only lyrical section, containing a similar but shortened passage to part 4.
Section 8 starts off with Waters playing an electric guitar, before a two minute funk influenced section comes in. Towards the end of section 8, Wright's keyboard starts to dominate creating a melancholy and depressing mood.
Gilmour describes the final part of this epic as "a slow 4/4 funeral march... the parting musical eulogy to Syd". Wright’s keyboard creates the somber atmosphere, with Gilmour only providing a bit of guitar work. The keyboards play for the final minute before fading out. At the end of the song a short part of one of Barrett’s best songs ‘See Emily Play’ can be heard, as the album comes to a close.
‘Shine on Your Crazy Diamond’ is often criticized for having too bit of lyrics, and too long instrumental sections. Even though the lyrics are good, the instruments are the real tribute to Barrett. Pink Floyd has always been able to speak volumes with their instruments. The guitars, the synthesizers, the sax, the drums and every other instrument are played in such a way, to demonstrate the rise and unfortunate fall of the band’s founding father. The final section, with the slow dominating keyboard captures the feeling of sadness the band must have felt while recording this masterpiece.
Pink Floyd followed this work of art with two more brilliant albums, Animals and the bands bestselling album The Wall. Despite the band’s success, a rift was starting to form between Waters and the rest of Pink Floyd, and in 1985 he left the band. The rest of the band released two good, but not quite great, albums after that and pretty much called it quits. 25 years later and Waters and Gilmour seem to have mended their relationship, as they’ve played a couple of shows together in recent years.