ALBUM REVIEW – “The Endless River” by Pink Floyd

If nothing else served to justify the existence of another Pink Floyd album, it was the news that The Endless River had unseated One Direction’s Midnight Memories as the most pre-ordered album in the history of Amazon UK. In a deeper sense, mind, there were things left unsaid (as the album’s opening track clarifies) in the story of progressive rock’s greatest force, particularly in the wake of keyboardist Rick Wright’s passing. Fine album though it was The Division Bell only felt satisfactorily conclusive in its dying moments, with its sole masterpiece ‘High Hopes’. Twenty years later the retooling of previous recordings into a fresh body of work has surprisingly formed a fitting epitaph for a group who defined a genre.

Despite being a clear tribute to Wright, it’s unsurprisingly David Gilmour who takes the reins and it’s his interpretation of what Pink Floyd represents that reigns supreme as The Endless River winds. Dreamscapes of shimmering guitars and soothing wordless vocals are thus the order of the day, underpinned by restrained percussion and beds of keyboards that accentuate rather than dominate, aside from on the doomsday organs of ‘Autumn ‘68’. That the albums is largely instrumental is something of a dual blessing given that since the departure of erstwhile songsmith Roger Waters their lyrics have often lacked gravitas, and as closer ‘Louder than Words’ acknowledges, music in its most elemental form can say more than anything the human mind can conjure up anyway. Only this last track can be described as a song in a conventional sense, its lyricisation of the core of the band’s history acting as a fitting epilogue.

For the most part though The Endless River is a very distinctly Floydian quartet of atmospheric space-rock symphonies, the division into short tracks of which is largely superfluous. Its third ‘side’ in particular is a wholesale echo of the past, harking back to both The Division Bell’s ‘Keep Talking’ Stephen Hawking cameo on ‘Talkin’ Hawkin’ and ‘Run Like Hell’s guitar strut through both parts of ‘Allons-Y’ – it’s an effective compliment to the more summative feel of side four. Throughout, the mastery of dynamics by a veteran group is obvious, the stitched together nature of the music belied by the seamlessness with which the whole thing sits.

The angst and darkness of high-era Floyd is nowhere to be found, moments of high tension (‘Skins’) acting only as an inhale before the inevitable exhale of a lilting, major key rhapsody. At times the whimsy reaches asinine levels, most notably in the opening strains of ‘Anisina’ before a glorious saxophone melody burns away any feeling of distaste. If anybody’s short-changed by the composition of this record it’s drummer Nick Mason, who unflinchingly sinks into the background and does little more than prop up the ambient layers of each tune. While a more conspicuous performance may have threatened to break the dreamy mood layers, the percussionist has previously shown a better-judged balance of flair and restraint, which if used here could have made a good album even better.

Twenty years on from their penultimate bow and nearly half a century removed from their initial lineup’s formation, Pink Floyd in its most benevolent incarnation has made a fitting final farewell to the faithful. Many will grumble about the lack of Waters’ presence but in truth there’s no real need for his personality (from a songwriting perspective at least) on The Endless River and its heartfelt salute to a fallen friend. A fitting epitaph for both Wright and the Floyd, it’s a lovely last hurrah for a musical entity bigger than any one man who’s been a part of it, and a really quite beautiful album.

Rating: 8 / 10

Michael Bird

 

Floyd

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