Wow, this album never lets up. Here’s a new Pink Floyd classic, one that is almost entirely instrumental yet complete and wonderfully lyrical in it’s own way.
Setting the scene with a long, slow mood piece is a Pink Floyd trademark. Think “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” from Wish You Were Here, “Cluster One” from The Division Bell, “Signs Of Life” from A Momentary Lapse Of Reason… here THINGS LEFT UNSAID does the honours, a slowly unravelling four minutes of sweet synth washes from Wright, with delicate electro-acoustic guitar lines from Gilmour. It’s a fine start.
A few seconds into IT’S WHAT WE DO, I was taken aback. With the return of Wright’s layered Hammond, Farfisa, Rhodes and Polysynths and crisp, acoustic strums by Gilmour – we are back in Wish You Were Here territory. When Mason kicks in with his trademark shuffle around the 1:25 mark, and Gilmour fires up his Strat to play some clear, lyrical licks to this hauntingly powerful and beautiful tune, there’s no mistaking…Pink Floyd are back!! A sublime and majestic moment – one of the finest in the band’s history.
Completing an astonishing Side 1, EBB AND FLOW neatly settles things down with some sweet-bell like Rhodes piano tones from Wright and more slick acoustic pickin’ from Gilmour.
SUM kicks off Side 2, briefly sampling “Cluster One” before Wright’s Farfisa riff starts up, Gilmour comes in with some epic, screechy Wall-era guitar and some fine, gentle-but-firm percussive style fills from Mason. Indeed, his presence is a highlight throughout the album – no longer replaced by session hacks as he was on A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, or sounding restrained by the limitations of click-track as so often on The Division Bell, his knowing, assured, never overplayed style gives this album an extra dimension of “Floyd-iness”.
Pleased to note that Mason gets his own solo moment on SKINS, which is great fun, and works very well musically, with suitable accompaniment from the others (including co-producer Youth) which recalls the spaciness of “One Of These Days”. UNSUNG is an atmospheric vignette with a feeling of coldness of isolation to it, it’s a short piece which links to the wonderfully moving ANISINA with it’s elegant “Comfortably Numb” style string arrangement, poignant tenor sax and clarinet (played by Gilad Atzmon) and Gilmour’s inevitably awesome ‘yearning’ soloing. Another amazing side!
Side 3 focuses on atmospherics and textures for quite a while, with THE LOST ART OF CONVERSATION, ON NOODLE STREET, and NIGHT LIGHT giving Wright centre focus with some fine acoustic and electric piano pieces, this is the ‘chill-out/ambient’ side of the album. But wait, what’s that?
Before you know it, ALLONS-Y (1) comes storming through, with it’s awesome powerhouse riffing, soloing and slide from Gilmour a la The Wall. This has to be to turned up to “11” to be appreciated! It is fantastic!! Crashing perfectly into AUTUMN ’68, a deep ethereal pipe organ solo from Wright (recorded in 1969), the moods this side conjure up take you on an emotional rollercoaster. When ALLONS-Y (2) re-enters with even more incredible guitar work it’s almost too much.
TALKIN’ HAWKIN’ (featuring Steven Hawking) resamples some of “Keep Talking” from The Division Bell into a sweet, hopeful ballad. An incredible 15 or so minutes, the side I am currently coming back to most often.
On to the concluding Side 4. CALLING recalls (pun intended) Wright’s 1996 solo albumBroken China, with it’s moody atmospherics evoking an image of a disappointed, hurt man. Gilmour enters in EYES TO PEARLS with some ‘spangly’ meditative arpeggios further embellishing the picture of a lost, troubled soul (Syd Barrett perhaps?) Redemption arrives in the shape of SURFACING, with it’s “Poles Apart” – like layered acoustic chords, some delicately-mixed slide and beautiful, airy harmonies from Durga McBroom.
Before you know it the album’s conclusion is here with LOUDER THAN WORDS. With excellent, ‘observant’ lyrics by Gilmour’s wife Polly Sampson, it works perfectly as the only ‘song’ on the album. The coda is magnificent, with another elegant, ‘flying’ Gilmour solo, whilst the strings and backing vocalists pull out all the stops. And save for a few sound effects at the very end, that’s it.
The album is culled from 1993 jam sessions featuring Rick Wright (left, keyboards), David Gilmour (centre, guitars) and Nick Mason (right, drums). In 2013 Gilmour and Mason added overdubs to complete the album as a tribute to Wright, who died in 2008. It was produced by Gilmour, with Phil Manzanera, Youth, and Andy Jackson.
Much has been made of the CGI created cover (by 18-year old Egyptian Ahmed Emad Eldin). I think it does it’s job perfectly fine, and actually sits well with the rest of the catalog. In an age when computer software can recreate practically anything, it would probably be considered somewhat ‘outlandish’ to set a man on fire (Wish You Were Here), fly an inflatable pig over Battersea power station (Animals) or shift hundreds of beds onto a Devon beach (A Momentary Lapse Of Reason).
Furthermore, the absence of Roger Waters, the lyrical and conceptual genius behind the group’s blockbuster albums, The Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall (who acrimoniously quit the band in 1985), is not conspicuous here. By returning to their roots as a ‘jam’ band and playing instrumentally, Gilmour, Wright and Mason more than make up for any perceived shortfall, and do so superbly.
THE ENDLESS RIVER is hands down their best album since The Wall in 1979. And if grand concepts and bitter lyrics about life’s injustices aren’t your thing, you’d have to go back to 1975’s Wish You Were Here to experience a better Pink Floyd album.
It’s a magnificent postscript for one of the biggest and greatest bands in rock history – an unrelentingly masterful album of seemingly endless musical highs and deeply moving codas.
Rating : 10/10