When Pink Floyd, or rather David Gilmour and Nick Mason, announced to the world that they were going to release a new album, made up of what was left behind on the cutting room floor back in 1994, my response was lukewarm at best. Fast forward a few months and The Endless River has finally been released, shattering sales records everywhere. But is Pink Floyd’s swansong worth the hype? Let’s find out.
Did we really need a new Pink Floyd album? That’s the question which has been foremost in my mind in the weeks leading up to the release of The Endless River. Surely not, I said to myself. Both A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell, to me, are mere echoes of what Pink Floyd was capable of in the seventies. Perfectly fine, pompous station rock fit for an eighties’ and nineties’ crowd; music for middle-aged school teachers who smoke pipe, who have long since shed their rebellious skin. And in a way, the complete antithesis of what Pink Floyd stood for when helmed by an increasingly omnipresent Roger Waters just before he departed from the band. Both The Wall and The Final Cut wallow in cynicism and anger, and where The Final Cut can be described in many ways as Waters’ first solo album, so can A Momentary Lapse of Reason be equally regarded as a Gilmour solo release. Gone is the rage, the anger and that ever so slight hint of madness Waters’ brought to the fold, to be replaced by a more mellow and musically very ambient approach.
After Pink Floyd ended The Division Bell tour, the group as an active, creative collective was silently put to rest. Without any fanfare at all, Pink Floyd shuffled back into the shadows to never emerge again. When poised the question of a possible next album or reunion, David Gilmour has since repeatedly stated that no, we should not expect anything from Pink Floyd anymore. The well is dry, the pressure too high and the will simply not there. And other than playing the odd Floyd song on solo tours and the famous Live 8 one-off which saw Gilmour and Waters finally reunite on stage under the Pink Floyd moniker again, the man has kept word. Until now.
The Endless River is, disrespectfully put, a collection of leftovers from the The Division Bell sessions. It’s very easy to dismiss this album as nothing more than that. A cheap cash-in for Gilmour and Mason, over the back of the deceased Richard Wright. Because why would you suddenly release an album of material you didn’t want anything to do with for twenty years, and couldn’t be bothered to work on while Wright was alive? Of course, we’ll probably never know the true answer to that, but here it is anyway, The Endless River. Hailed and marketed as Pink Floyd’s true swan song. Or at least that of half of the classic line-up, because Roger Waters, who has seemed the most vocal and willing in his desire to do something together again, does not appear on this album. Richard Wright, however, dead as he is, does. In a way, The Endless River is not only a last hurrah to Pink Floyd and its legacy, but a tribute to Richard Wright, who is all over the album.
To disassemble The Endless River into reviewable chunks would be an almost impossible task. There is only one real song on here, being the poignant Louder Than Words (more on that in a minute), but other than that it’s a forty-five-ish minute, instrumental stroll down memory lane. The Endless River is full of little (and big) nods and hints to the band’s past, from the Shine On You Crazy Diamond keyboards of It’s What We Do to the typical Run Like Hell riff around which Allons-y (part 1 and 2) is wound, and Echoes’ whale sounds in Unsung. Though I do like the occasional wink to Floyd’s history, these moments are more than a little blatant here, and perhaps too abundant as well. They cheapen what is otherwise fine music in favour of playing for cheap sentiment. The Endless River is a solid album full of intro’s and outro’s that, although it really gels in places and forms a perfectly listenable collection of ambient music, but comes across as too safe and too full of fan service.
Then again, there is some truly wonderful music on here, especially later on, where the material gets a little more instrumental. It’s here that the band dishes out more brooding stuff like Eyes to Pearls, Talkin’ Hawkin’, which is set around a gloomy piano melody and features both the vocal work of Stephen Hawking (in what’s obviously leftover material from The Division Bell‘s Keep Talking) and some of Gilmour’s better guitar work on the album. Then there’s the spacy Calling, which, in part due to Wright’s haunting melodies, ironically sounds like a leftover track from Brian Eno and Toto’s soundtrack for the David Lynch film Dune, a science fiction novel adaptation that at one point would have featured the music of Pink Floyd. There’s a great jazzy track in the form of Anisina, with some wonderful saxophone solos in it, and Skins, which is quite heavy on Nick Mason’s pounding drums. There’s a lot for almost anyone to enjoy on The Endless River, and that diversity serves as the album’s biggest redemption.
The album, and very likely Pink Floyd’s musical career, is brought to a close with Louder Than Words, a bombastic ballad, and the only song on here with vocals on it. It is an unremarkable closing track of the type you have heard ad nauseam on the previous two Floyd albums and Gilmour’s solo work. The lesser said about Polly Sampson’s lyrics, the better. It’s a bit of a low note to end an otherwise fine collection of music with, let alone to simmer down your career on. Not that it matters, because The Endless River has already sold in record breaking numbers, and fans of the band will already have the album in their collection in one or more versions anyway. It really makes reviewing an album by such a legendary group a pointless affair. On that note, then, let me leave you with this:
Release date: out now
- Things Left Unsaid (4:27)
- It’s What We Do (6:18)
- Ebb and Flow (1:56)
- Sum (4:49)
- Skins (2:38)
- Unsung (1:08)
- Anisina (3:17)
- The Lost Art of Conversation (1:43)
- On Noodle Street (1:43)
- Night Light (1:43)
- Allons-y (1) (1:58)
- Autumn ’68 (1:36)
- Allons-y (2) (1:33)
- Talkin’ Hawkin’ (3:30)
- Calling (3:38)
- Eyes to Pearls (1:52)
- Surfacing (2:47)
- Louder than Words (6:37)
- David Gilmour – guitars, vocals, keyboards, piano, EMS VCS 3, bass guitar, voice samples
- Nick Mason – drums, percussions, voice samples
- Richard Wright – Hammond organ, Farfisa organ, pipe organ, piano, Rhodes piano, keyboards, synthesiser, vibraphone, voice samples