Pink Floyd – The Endless River
In the case of the post-Waters era of Pink Floyd, the parts have always been greater than the sum. 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason and 1994’s The Division Bell had a few genuine classics on them (“Learning to Fly”, “On the Turning Away”, “What Do You Want From Me”, “Keep Talking”, “High Hopes”), but overall are not the “journeys” that defined the band’s earlier efforts. That’s not to say they should be dismissed entirely. On the contrary – from any other rock legends, they’d be more than sufficient. But Floyd always seemed to be able to pull off the nary impossible feat of doing what they wanted artistically while making music than connected to their fans (and the general public) on a grand scale. “Reason” and “Bell” put them in to the Grateful Dead territory of being more about the brand name and live experience than actual music. Good records, sure – just not bonafide classics like they made with Waters.
After keyboardist/founding member Richard Wright passed away in 2008, it seemed that any chance of “new” music was lost to the inevitability of life. Maybe Columbia would issue a massive career-spanning box set (as they did in the 1990’s with Shine On) with demos and unfinished tracks, but that’s likely all fans would get. When it was announced earlier this year that David Gilmour and Nick Mason were heading back in to the studio to put together a new album, fans were shocked. When it was later revealed that these tracks were unfinished pieces and outtakes from The Division Bell sessions, the excitement waned. The band hardly needs the cash-grab, maybe “retirement” was making them restless. Twenty years is a long time to be away from their majestic legacy. They were forthright in the press, letting fans know that the album would be primarily instrumental filled with ambient pieces reminiscent of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, “Echoes”, and the Animals album. Not necessarily their most popular work and certainly not what casual fans would be clamoring for to be sure.
Composed of eighteen tracks (twenty-one if you purchase the Collector’s Edition) with the single “Louder Than Words” being the only one with a lead vocal by Gilmour, The Endless River is essentially a concept album. Very rarely in music does album cover art convey what lies inside. With the passing of longtime collaborator/cover artist Storm Thorgerson in 2013, 18 year old Egyptian artist Ahmed Emad Eldin was commissioned by Hipgnosis co-founder Aubrey Powell to design the album art. Depicting a man with an open shirt punting across a river of clouds towards the sun, it perfectly encapsulates the journey listeners take on The Endless River. All of the tracks flow perfectly together, seamless in their order. They are listed individually and broken down in to groups as per “side” of an album (i.e. – Side A, Side B, etc.). Some critics (and fans) have complained that the songs are short or just scraps of larger works composed for The Division Bell. I can understand that argument even though I completely disagree. Listing eighteen tracks for the album is somewhat of a caveat – why break them down individually when they are further grouped on album “sides”? Confusing but irrelevant. With all of the tracks melding in to one great work, it’s essentially pointless. Maybe listing four tracks (as if each “side” were individual tracks) seemed like retail suicide to a record exec. After all, would the promise of four new Floyd “songs” really be something that can sell in today’s market? Would being broken down like Animals was, listing each of the four tracks with their total length (all over 10 minutes) make more sense? The point is moot. This is not an album listeners will put on to listen to one two-minute instrumental passage. This is a journey to be taken in full, totally committed to the experience, or not at all.
And what a journey it is. While these tracks may have been conceived during The Division Bell, their hearts are firmly rooted in Wish You Were Here territory. There are echoes (pun intended) of every Floyd era, sound, and groove. By providing a (mostly) instrumental album, Gilmour and Mason have made The Endless River a piece that fits perfectly in the puzzle that has always been Pink Floyd. It’s by far the best post-Waters era album and one of their best works overall. This is the soundtrack of life – the voyage to whatever destiny we all reach on this mortal coil. It’s warm, beautiful, and familiar in the best way possible. If this is indeed the end of rock’s most intriguing act, it’s a perfect elegy to a monumental career.
Shine on, Pink Floyd.