Thursday, January 3, 2013

Pink Floyd, Part 3

Album artwork
The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Rating: 15
"I'll see you on the dark side of the moon"
Best Song: Brain Damage
Worst Song: On the Run

       And here we are. The album that everyone knows and owns. But you see, I had a somewhat strange experience with this album -- I bought Wish You Were Here first! Early in my album buying days, I read somewhere (read: Pitchfork) that WYWH was a better album, and that DSotM was overrated. Well, Wish truly is a good album, but I'm still not convinced that Dark Side is that overrated. Is it the best album of all time? No, but it's pretty close, in my opinion. 
        So, why don't I take a few minutes to address some of the complaints that most people raise about the album? Firstly, most people claim that the actual songwriting and melodies aren't that great, and the generous sound effects are used to try and cover up that fact. I admit, the sound effects do make up a large amount of the appeal of the album, but hey, the songs are friggin' excellent! Take "Time", for instance. Sure, the clocks at the beginning are cool, but man...the part after that? The real intro? That thing blows my mind every time I hear it. It just builds a mood like almost no other song I know. I mean, it literally feels like you're floating in the album cover, doesn't it? That minimalistic, but extremely effective drumming? That dark, mind-blowing riff? Those little keyboard tinkles? Ughghghg, it gives me shudders just THINKING about it! I can't think of a single other piece of music (well, maybe the "Moonlight Sonata") that inspires THIS much of an feeling of infinite, awe-inspiring, beautiful darkness. Just plain, simple darkness.
       And that's most certainly not all! The jaw-droppingly gorgeous piano theme to "The Great Gig in the Sky", the mind-blowing choruses of "Us and Them" and "Brain Damage", the rollicking instrumental break in "Money" -- the album's just chock-full of amazing moments like these.
       Now, the only song that in my opinion truly matches up to the "poor songwriting, great sound effects" description would be "On the Run". Sure, it fits into the story (I'll get to that in a bit), but it’s nothing but a decent keyboard loop accompanied by some basic drumming and sound effects! And this goes on for THREE MINUTES! No variation, no changing, just that same loop, over and over. But, as you can see, this still isn't enough for me to knock the score down to anything lower than perfect. 
        Another problem that some have with the album is that they think that the concept/storyline isn't too great. Heck, some (read: Cap’n Marvel) even think that there isn't a story at all! Well, I think that there's a story, AND I think it's fantastic. So, if you need help deciphering the story, look no further. Reagan's here to help. 
       We start off with "Speak to Me", which is nothing more than a sound collage of the various effects used throughout the album. If you can tell me what the meaning of the title is, I'd be more than obliged, but from what I can see, it's nothing more than an "Overture" of sorts, and it has no real relation to the story. "Speak" then segues into "Breathe", which I like to think of as our narrator giving us his advice on life. He kind of comes across as an old man, telling us the lessons he's learned over the course of his life. From this sort of intro track, we go into "On the Run", which kicks off the main body of the album's story, i.e., a list of things that would cause a person to go insane. "On the Run" is about the hustle and bustle of modern life. From here on out, the various songs represent other things that would cause someone to go crazy: Time, Money, Death, Conflict, and Decision Making (Hopefully you can figure out which songs each correspond to). 
        After that, we come to what is, in my opinion, the highlight of the album: the "Brain Damage" / "Eclipse" suite. Side note: The first time I heard "Brain Damage", I was shocked. I had no idea the actual phrase, "Dark Side of the Moon", was used on the album at all, and for some reason, the song had (and still does, to some degree) a major effect on me because of that reason. Anyway, back to the story. So, "Brain Damage" signals the return of our narrator, as he tells us the different ways that, well, brain damage enters our lives. The news, lobotomies, and more! So, once we finally cross over into the world of madness, we enter what the Floyd calls The Dark Side of the Moon. So, in case you're wondering, the phrase "Dark Side of the Moon" means, it's essentially a euphemism for insanity. At this point, most people seem to think that this is essentially the end of the story, and that the album is essentially very pessimistic. But there's still an entire song left! That's right, "Eclipse" is actually a happy ending! Let me break this down a bit. 
               So, what's going on here is that our narrator is listing all of the GOOD things in life. "All that you touch, all that you feel", "everything under the sun", etc. Now, let's think about this. If we take that "under the sun" line literally, then we see that the sun represents everything good in life. SO, we arrive at the last line: "And the sun is eclipsed by the moon". Think about that. If the sun is eclipsed by the moon, then that means the moon moves in front of the sun. NOW, if the moon's in front of the sun, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? That's right! The sun LIGHTS UP THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON! HALLELUJAH! So, in essence, everything listed in "Eclipse" is what COMBATS the Dark Side of the Moon, aka insanity. 
       And that, my readers, is the storyline of Dark Side of the Moon. Oh, and the music's pretty good too......All joking aside, my main goal here was to do a review of Dark Side that was different than the other thousands of reviews out there. But, let's be honest, if you're reading a rock album review site, you probably already have Dark Side, and you don't need to be convinced to buy it....but if, on the other hand, you DON'T have this album.....get it, now. And that, my friends, is The Dark Side of the Moon. I'll see you there.

Two men dressed in dark grey business attire stand in the grounds of a Hollywood film studio, facing each other and shaking hands. The man on the right's hair and clothes are on fire, but he seems oblivious to the fact. The upper right edge of the photograph appears singed.
Wish You Were Here (1975)
Rating: 12
"Remember when you were young? / You shone like the sun"
Best Song: Wish You Were Here
Worst Song: Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Parts I-V

       This is a very prettyenjoyable album. It's not necessarily gripping, or exciting, but it is indeed very pleasant, and even parts. You see, I quite enjoy the space-y noodling found in the first half (and final third) of "Shine On, Parts I-V", but I don't find it interesting enough to be worthy of a very high grade. It's almost like really, really awesome ambient music -- it's great in the background, but when you give it your full, it's just alright. It's fine, yes, but it's just not as hypnotizing as something like, say, the intro to "Time", which actually seems to be going for something similar to "Shine On", i.e., a strong feeling of catharsis. 
       Of course, I wrote that paragraph assuming that you already knew what the album was like. Let me explain, for those of you who don't know. The main point of the album was to honor Syd Barrett, as Waters felt that all of the new bandwagon jumpers who the band had attracted with Dark Sideneeded to know who the band's founding member was. He also wanted to use this album as a eulogy of sorts, forever honoring the man's legacy. The main bulk of this honoring comes in the form of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", a 26-minute, mostly instrumental piece of music. 
       Initially, the band wanted to put "Shine" on one full side of the record and put various other songs on the other side, but eventually someone in the band had the idea to split the song in half, putting one 13-minute segment at the beginning of the album and the other segment at the end. Very clever, if you ask me, as it makes the album have a very finished, "we've come full circle" feel at the end. 
       The actual music of "Shine On" mostly consists of mellow space-rock, but in my opinion, it's a bit more directionless than most of the songs on Dark SideAnimals, or heck, even "Echoes" from Meddle. It's very...floaty, and thus never really reaches the visceral level that most Floyd tracks do. Well, at least the instrumental parts don't; the sung sections are a different story. The melody is genius, the lyrics are touching, the choirs are earth-shattering...yup, these sections are just as good as the best stuff from DSotM. However, they sadly only take up or so minutes of the 26-minute song, so...uh...yeah, I wouldn't have done that. The band did, though, so now we have to sit through minute after minute of jazzy keyboard tinkles to get to the mind-blowing part. But hey, the keyboard tinkles aren't necessarily bad, are they? 
       Unlike most people, I actually prefer the latter part of "Shine On". I find the soloing to be much more interesting and lively, and while the lengthy keyboard coda is indeed overlong and a bit meandering, it actually works, since it's the actual end of the album. It's a lot easier for me to tolerate directionless prettiness as a relaxing finale to an album than as a beginning to one. 
       Ah yes, but I'm ignoring the other tracks, aren't I? Well, there's the proto-industrial "Welcome to the Machine", which is completely awesome. I know it's a bit depressing, but that's the point, isn't it? And don't you just get chills when you hear "Where have you been? / It's alright, we know where you've been!" and that eerie-as-heck synth squeal kicks in? Chilling stuff.
       There's also the jazzy rocker "Have a Cigar", sung by Roy Harper. Some people don't like it, but I just can't understand that. It's catchy (particularly the "gravy traaaaaaaaaaiiiiiinnnnn" hook), it's fun, and it's a welcome respite from all the slow seriousness that pervades the album. A thumbs up for "Have a Cigar".       
       And how could you not love the title track? The lyrics are truly emotional, the melody is absolutely gorgeous, and the intro? Isn't it amazing how it gradually, brilliantly shifts from radio static to the song itself? And when the band kicks in at 2:04? Just, wow. And those heart-wrenching slide guitar licks! And those "doo doo doo"'s at the end! And the way it gradually fades into a cold wind before leading into the ominous opening of the second half of "SoYcD"! I think you get the point.
       So no, it's not as good as Dark Side, but it's beautiful, and there are some fine melodies in here, too. A little bit of needless noodling mars it a bit, but still...a fantastic album.

Picture of factories with tall chimneys  pouring out black smoke.
Animals (1977)
Rating: 13
"Who was found dead on the phone / Who was dragged down by the stone"
Best Song: Dogs
Worst Song: Pigs

       ...y'know, I was going to give this one a 12, but I listened to it one more time, and it just barely makes it to a 13 for me. For those of you who don't know, this is the closest thing to their "prog" album; it's got only three songs (two short bookends, as well), all of which are at least 10 minutes long, and all of which feature lengthy instrumental sections and mood shifts. Of course, to me at least, no Pink Floyd album has ever really sounded "prog". Prog is more classically influence; I feel that the Floyd owe more to jazz, really. But yes, technically they are a prog band, even if nothing they've made sounds like Genesis, or Yes, or ELP, get the idea. 
       But yes, these are very much prog songs; they shift, they change, they're very intricately arranged, and overall, they're very well put-together. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First off, the album's concept. Apparently, Roger wanted to make an entire album based on George Orwell's Animal Farm. Now, I'm a major Orwell fan, and Animal Farm is one of my favorite books, but I've gotta say...concept-wise, I think this is a little weak. It seems to me that Roger basically wanted to use the very basic ideas of Animal Farm and use them to express his various political ideas. None of the songs actually get into the literal plot of the book. "Dogs" is nothing more than Roger's indictment of capitalists, and "Pigs" is Roger taking down Mary Whitehouse, a British morality advocate who claimed the band promoted sex and drugs. I find this rather funny, being as Pink Floyd hadn't released a remotely sexual song up until this point, and while I think that everyone and their mother knows that the band had a fondness for smoke, none of their actual lyrics promoted, or heck, even MENTIONED drugs. (Again, up until this point. On The Wall they would address both topics, although not particularly positively)
       And "Sheep", well, that one actually does a pretty good job of expressing the novel, except for the whole "The dogs are dead!" line, which almost gives the album something of a happy ending, strangely enough. But even if I'm not too crazy about the concept relating to the book, I do feel that the lyrics themselves are very strong. Okay, maybe not "Pigs", but both "Sheep" and "Dogs" do an excellent job conveying the meaning that Roger is trying to show. The whole middle section of "Dogs", the "dragged down by the stone" part that's become pretty synonymous with the album over the years, is very well-written, and the "Have a good drown as you go down all alone" line is absolutely chilling. Oh, and the line "It's too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around" is an extremely clever play on words.
       I probably need to start talking about the actual music, don't I? Well, the album's weakest link is definitely the 12-miniute"Pigs", an attempt at something resembling funk. The vocal melody itself is alright, and the closing guitar solo is absolutely awesome, but everything else...yeah, it's pretty much take it or leave it. The entire middle section of the song is a slow jam with nothing but some Rick Wright noodling, and Gilmour making pig noises on his guitar. It's entertaining for about a minute, but it goes on for seemingly forever, and there really aren't any notable changes to the pattern throughout the entire section. Yawn.
       "Sheep", a rollicking rocker, is much better. It opens with a fantastically mellow, jazzy keyboard solo, before busting into the main section of the song. The whole thing's got absolutely fabulous guitar work, and Roger's vocal line is spectacular. Oh, and the section where he recites a twisted version of the 23rd Psalm through a vocal filter? Awesome.
       But while "Pigs" isn't very good, and "Sheep" is just pretty good, the reason that the album gets as high of a score as it does is most certainly "Dogs", and it's probably in my top 3 (or even 2) Pink Floyd songs ever. I mean, it's 17 minutes, and it manages to keep my attention and captivate me for that entire length! What more could you want?!?
       So anyway, "Dogs" starts off as a basic Floyd rocker with some great singing from Gilmour over a nice little strummy background. However, after a bit, the song drops out and one of Gilmour's greatest ever guitar passages begins. This solo (and all of them on "Dogs", really) is absolutely brilliant, and it contributes greatly to what makes the song so great. After the solo, both Roger and David come in to sing the famous "dragged down by the stone" section, after which the word "stone" is gradually repeated and distorted until it sounds like a dog barking! Genius! After this is a section that lasts for a couple of minutes where we continue to hear various dogs barking as Rick plays these fantastic chords. Is it amazingly captivating? Not quite, but the section's short, and the rest of the song is so amazing that it doesn't bother me in the slightest.
       After that, we come back to the original melody, before kicking into my personal favorite part of the song -- the ending. Roger keeps repeating the same melody over and over again, his voice and David's guitar rising in intensity the entire time. It's absolutely spell bounding, and when he finally reaches the final "who was dragged down by the stone", my mind is absolutely blown. Wow.
       A fantastic album. I'm not gonna sit here and tell you that every single minute of it is impeccable and attention-grabbing, because that's not true. But I've gotta say, there is some seriously great material on this album that any fan of, any fan of classic rock has got to hear. Fantastic.

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