Review Summary: Ambitious, but not necessarily momentous.Ummagumma
brings out a different side to Pink Floyd, revealing a new direction- a more artistic one. When Syd Barrett left the group, he not only sequestered his musical contributions, but stripped Pink Floyd of an identity. The Piper At The Gates Down
was Syd's album, and its Psychedelic content was the foundation of which Pink Floyd stood upon. The music was certainly experimental, but only in spirit. The musical structure in the content of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn was highly accessible, especially during the time of its release when Psychedelia was at the peak of its popularity in the mainstream. Under Syd's direction, the music of Pink Floyd was jubilant, coated with infectious melodies that reflected a sense of optimism. But there was also an undefinable element within the music that composed The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. An irresistibly alluring quality that managed to captivate our attention and seduce our enthusiasm. And whatever that "element" may be, Pink Floyd have been struggling to recreate it since A Saucerful Of Secrets
Songs like, "Careful With That Axe, Eugene"
and "A Saucerful Of Secrets"
, from the live section of Ummagumma, reflect the direction that was taken in the recording sessions of the latter portion inside the album. A musical approach that expresses an enthusiasm for experimentation and lengthy instrumental passages. Pink Floyd's approach to Ummagumma is a very unique one. Deciding to isolate themselves from one another to comprise their own material. And then unionizing all of the different pieces to compose the album. It's a very interesting approach because through this meditative process, each member gets to discover their own potential and expand their creativity. We can really see Pink Floyd diverging away from the Psychedelic influence of Syd Barrett, and embracing a more abstract agenda. Ummagumma is a journey, one in the hopes of discovering the meaning of true art.
A song like Richard Wright's "Sysyphus"
, for example, is a voyage through musical experimentation. The content of "Sysyphus"
, like most of the album, is a test. An experiment to simply see how far they can push the limits of traditional musical orchestration. Music is an artform. And just like other artforms, it has to be bold and it has to stand out so it can captivate attention. And in order to do that, the artist has to take risks. And that's the purpose behind this album. Ummagumma is a question within itself, "What is "music"? And what defines what "music" is?" This is a challenging album because the content requires a real commitment from the listener to truly grasp the meaning of this album. And the meaning is, that it has no meaning. Art has no meaning. It exists as a challenge for the artist to stimulate their creativity and produce something worthwhile that is derived from the body, mind, and soul of the artist. Art is expressionistic. Another form of communication that describes what cannot be said in mere words. The music of this album is an experiment just for the sake of experimenting, surpassing boundaries and discovering possibilities in the hopes of better understanding the language of music itself.
But there are moments when Ummagumma returns to the norms of modern music. In David Gilmour's "The Narrow Way"
, we find the music existing in a free-form environment. The music transcends through different genres, while incorporating several sounds from a variety of instruments that unite to induce a truly surrealistic atmosphere. "The Narrow Way"
is also the most accessible piece of the album because as we descend further and further into the track, we find ourselves arriving to familiar territory. The first two acts of "The Narrow Way"
display the similar experimental structures as the rest of Ummagumma. They are a voyage through cosmic dimensions, but unlike the other compositions, it takes us to a destination. In the third act of "The Narrow Way"
, we arrive to a traditionally comprised piece of music. It is a delicate ballad decorated with psychedelic ambience, but orchestrated in a traditional format that even features singing, which deviates it even further from the agenda of most of the other compositions.
In the end, Ummagumma, within its essence, is an exploratory odyssey. One in which Pink Floyd discover new musical realms and take themselves to even stranger dimensions. This is certainly one of their least appreciated efforts, and it's far from being a classic, but it was a necessary step in their career. This was the road that Pink Floyd had to take to not only discover themselves as musicians, but to develop a unique sound that would separate them from the rest of their contemporaries. Ummagumma provides an enriching experience not just because of the more artistic route of the music, but because we get to see Pink Floyd evolve as a band. Witnessing as we follow them through the directions they took that helped them grow into the legendary group they are remembered as to this very day.