12. Pink Floyd (part three of three)

We wrap up my exploration of Pink Floyd here, in the third of three entries, discussing Wish You Were Here (1975).  My intro to the previous Pink Floyd post (Dark Side of the Moon, post #08) was somewhat verbose, so I'll keep this one short.  Did the first few Pink Floyd albums feature a singer named Syd Barrett?  Did he go crazy after too much LSD or something?  I'm pretty sure that's the story.  Seems like this album is a tribute to him, with two very long songs (more than 25 minutes total) both called "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", plus the album's title track, which all seem to reference Barrett.  But then we have two cuts about the music business itself "Welcome to the Machine" and "Have a Cigar".  So our lyricist (I want to say Roger Waters writes all the words?) is reflecting on his old bandmate and friend(?) as well as the new massive success brought to this band after Dark Side of the Moon.

As always, I'm listening to this album for the first time ever, and have not done any research into this band or this record at all before listening today.  The writing is entirely my stream-of-consciousness first impressions, and was only edited for spelling and clarity.  For info about this blog's mission and background, see the CONTEXT post (post #00).

Pink Floyd
Wish You Were Here (1975)

"Shine On You Crazy Diamond Pt."
Like Dark Side of the Moon, this one begins with about eight seconds of near-silence.  Anticipation.  Then these keyboard pads.  The production here is already ramped up a notch from Dark Side, which wasn't at all badly produced itself.  These ambient keyboard layers feel like they're a decade beyond Dark Side, but really it's only been two years.  Pink Floyd really did push synthesizers forward a bit.  Ten months before this album came out, Kraftwerk released Autobahn and made synthesizers the point, then went on to invent techno-pop/synth pop.  But what Floyd are doing here is exploring where synths could go in a rock context.  There's a Krautrock kinship here, a bit of Neu!, and certainly some overlap with the New Age genre (Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, etc.).  A scant three years later, Post Punk and New Wave bands would begin to take this and run with it... with great success.
Now a little bluesy guitar.  As an album opener, this one is taking risks.  Instead of drawing us right in with a big hook, it's taking its sweet time to unfold.  Nearly four minutes in - the entire length of a longish pop hit - nothing has happened, but it's still fairly engaging.  Then we hear solo electric guitar, the toms build, and now we are into the song.  Or the intro after the intro, at least.  A bluesy guitar solo on top of the bluesy guitar licks.  The solo is mixed a little hot.  Overwhelming the band.  I'm not thrilled with what he's playing.  This song went from tense and mysterious to just kind of common.  Six and a half minutes in, it chills again, and we get a synth solo, playing a kind of brass-lead-type sound.  Ack, then another over-loud guitar solo.  Eh.  
This song had me intrigued, wondering where it was going to go, but let me down when it got there.  There's nothing here that would be compelling to hear again.  Ah, it's 8m 45s into the track, and we finally get to a lyric.  Seriously there is no reason why this song wouldn't be improved by editing a good four or five minutes out of the intros/solos.  The song would still be like eight minutes long, but might work better.  It just doesn't have all that many ideas in it.  Oh, now a sax solo.  Sounds terrible.  So much for good production.  This sax is all mid-range, nasal, murky.  Then guitar arpeggios start, and they're fighting with the sax.  They need to be tucked under a little to let the sax do it's thing.  Ok, then a brighter sax solo starts, but it's even quieter, and the arpeggios are even more distracting.  Yeah, someone fell asleep at the console here.  Were they trying to do a contrast thing with the two sax tones?  I get the idea, but it doesn't work.  The dark sax solo resolves into the bright one.  That's the concept.  The reveal of the brighter sax is not worth it if the dark one just sounds like ass.  Creeping up on the thirteen minute mark, things get reverberant and floaty into a fade... and guess what, machine noises.

"Welcome To The Machine"
I could really do without that last track.  It just didn't have enough ideas to sustain itself for thirteen minutes, and the many solos were all pretty uninspired.  They needed to have either really nailed those solos or else just made the song half its length.  Ok, this song finds the band diving back into some of the musique concrete and experimentalism heard on Dark Side..., then some creepy synth effects.  Is this song truly about the music biz, or is it just some kind of existentialist look at life in general?  Dark and weird in either case.  My attention is being held by these synth-scapes with just enough guitar under them to pull things toward something that could be loosely be called a rock song, and just enough cymbal crashes to lock in the drummer's performance royalties.  Is the idea here that the synthesizer is a machine?  Are Pink Floyd foreshadowing Throbbing Gristle or Einsturzende Neubauten here?  It's probably heavy handed and hyperbolic to say that this song might be thought of as a deep roots industrial influence.  But Frank Tovey and the guys in Cabaret Voltaire must have heard it at some point...  Objectively, this is a pretty bizarre song.  But I do recall hearing it on the radio from time to time as a kid.  As I lamented when discussing Dark Side in post #08, it would be great to once again live in a time where stuff this risky was able to get mainstream radio play, and even sell more than 20 million records (which this album did in fact manage to do).  The song wraps up with some more found sound, reminding me a little of the end of side two of Sgt. Pepper.  
More lyrics, ok, for sure, this one is indeed about the music biz.  

"Have A Cigar"
Opening side two, the shortest track on this record (at 5m 08s) was clearly meant to be the single.  Yes, by 1975, Pink Floyd could get a 5m 08s single played.  Never before have I truly appreciated the arrival of AOR (album-oriented rock, kids) to this degree.  After a fairly accessible 1970s funk groove free of endless solos, synth effects, studio processing, or any other Floydish noodling, we get into another classic song exploring the timeless theme of "biting the hand that feeds us" and / or "slapping the hand that reaches into our pockets".  Having worked in the music biz for three decades, I've seen people exploited all over the place.  Just as often, I've seen naive kids sign things they don't understand, and end up complaining when their record label overlords fulfill - to the letter - a contract that works in the label's favor.  Of course they do.  Why wouldn't they?  It's label's job to make money, it's the band's job to make art.  The band enters into an agreement then complains when the agreement doesn't work in their favor.  Well, if you don't understand the agreement to begin with, hire someone to explain it to you (a manager, perhaps) or else you don't get to complain when you get screwed.  Anyway, there's a great pantheon of songs about this.  My favorite is "Flick of the Wrist" by Queen.  That one's a real heavy banger, really one of Queen's finest moments, but it's tragically under-discussed.  But "Have a Cigar".  Yeah, someone didn't make as much money (it's a hit) off of Dark Side's raging success as they expected to.  Have a sour grape.  Pink Floyd's keyboard player gets a ton of mileage out of what must have been some kind of beastly modular rig.  Could also have been an Minimoog, but some of these sounds seem a little bit past what a Minimoog could do.  I noticed that on Dark Side too. These records are much more synth heavy than I noticed in the past.  That is, of course, because until today, I did my best to ignore these records. (The keyboardist... is his name... I'm struggling here... Nick Mason?  Is that it?  I'm also thinking one of them was called Rick Wright.  No, he's the keys man.  I think.  I just know Dave Gilmour on guitar and Roger Waters on bass for sure...).  Right, this song is ending.  It's a nice rock song.  Competently played, competently produced, has a few good ideas.

"Wish You Were Here"
Hey, wait, is The Wall the life story of Syd Barrett?  
Pink Floyd fans out there are laughing their asses off that I just figured this out.  
Fine, go ahead.  

The previous song ended by band-limiting the whole mix to get a sound that people associate with an old radio.  Then we hear some radio voices (more concrete) and then this one starts with the same band-limited effect.  So a little radio transition thing there.  Of course, this song is the album's anthemic ballad.  The deeply heartfelt number that had all of the heshers waving their lighters in the air during that year's concert tour.  And several subsequent tours, no doubt.  The past three songs have all been familiar to me though, so someone was doing something right.  AOR.  This band was custom-made for AOR.  These long songs that were just a little too weird and a little too long for pop radio, but were nonetheless just catchy enough to keep people tuned in.  AOR loved that.  Right.  This song.  It's fine.  There is nothing about it I hate.  There is nothing about it I love.  But the wind effects at the end: I ripped into Steve Miller for this (way back in post #01), and I think Marillion got called out for it too.  Pink Floyd gets no pass on this one either.  The synth weather effects are always lame.  Yes, even when the new wave bands do it (Classix Nouveau, I'm looking at you).

"Shine On You Crazy Diamond Pt.2"
Like the first song with this title, we've got a listenable ambient opening and then a synth solo that seemed to have inspired Vangelis quite a lot.  Or vice-versa.  The guitar, bass, and drums are keeping a tense and mysterious groove going.  It's kind of a nice feel.  If your whole song is vamping and noodling, this is a more pleasing version of that than what we heard on side one's version of Shine On....  Then the intensity picks up, and we get a guitar solo that is mixed better and played better than last time too.  Side one contained a diamond in the rough.  This one is more polished.  Long guitar solos are such a hard sell for me, but this one is definitely more tolerable and even likable compared to the others on this album.  Until 4m 40s, when the song changes and goes into something more pedestrian... but not for too long.  The vocals kick in.  Same choruses as in Part One.  Yeah, just like last time, when this song becomes a song, I'm just not drawn into this song.  If most of the instrumental parts of this song were trimmed off and just the vocal parts were left, it just wouldn't be an interesting song.  Then we go into some guitar arpeggios and Rhodes piano, a new but dull groove, which morphs into something much more interesting at 7m 0s when the clavinet and spacey synth bends come in.  It turns into some kind of other galactic funk thing.  Sounds like the Space: 1999 soundtrack (season two, of course).  This is cool but also kind of funny.  I don't think it's supposed to be.  I'm amused.  In a good way.  But it's fading, really slowly... and something new and less interesting takes over.  
This kind of reminds me of "Echoes" from Pink Floyd's Meddle album (see post #03) in that it just seems to be a bunch of unrelated ideas strung together.  Some of them I like, some I am less thrilled with, but it seems transparent that they just made this medley out of half-baked song ideas and then stuck the verse and chorus of an otherwise unremarkable song into the middle of it... then did it again on the flip-side of the LP.  They had "Welcome to the Machine", "Have a Cigar", and "Wish You Were Here" in the bag, but that's only half an album, so they soaked up a full 25 further minutes, more than half of the record's running time, with the two versions of "Shine On...".  There's nothing offensively bad about it, but it's filler, and way too much of it.

Selection for the IFHTB mix tape: hmmm, this is a rough one.  "Machine" is probably my favorite, but it's just too arty and weird to be effective on a mix.  "Wish" is a ballad, so I guess it's "Cigar".  But I'm not enthusiastic; Pink Floyd just aren't a mix tape kind of band.

Next: The Eagles, coming October 15, 2021.

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