Floored by the Floyd

By Graham Reid

Graham Reid takes on the complete career of Pink Floyd, and survives.

Richard Wright, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Roger Waters, circa 1973. Photo / Supplied
Richard Wright, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Roger Waters, circa 1973. Photo / Supplied

The 27-year recording career of Pink Floyd - from their debut single Arnold Layne in 1967 to their 14th and final studio album The Division Bell in 1994 - is full of ironies.

First, that founder-songwriter Syd Barrett - who wrote their first two singles, was the subject of the 1975 album Wish You Were Here and whose drug-damaged shadow was cast over their long career - had checked out of the band, and reality as we know it, shortly after their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967.

Then, that their audience-pleasing, multi-media attraction The Wall - a bitterly acerbic double album, film and a touring spectacle coming to Auckland's Vector Arena in February - came out of writer Roger Waters' contempt for the band's fans. The show literally builds a barrier between the musicians and the audience paying to see them.

And also that after Waters - who helmed Wish You Were Here, The Wall, Animals and The Final Cut - quit the group in early 1987, to his anger they continued with the name and released two albums (A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987 and The Division Bell).

Those albums - ersatz Floyd, many said - were pulled together by guitarist David Gilmour, the last to join the line-up (although admittedly some 20 years previous), and who by his own admission had contributed very little by way of proper songs until then.

The band started as a four-piece, was briefly five, and in its final decade had keyboard player Rick Wright (who died in 2008) on a salary and not included in the inside cover photo of Reason, even though he played on it.

The Floyd story is one of spectacular stage shows (bring on the Spitfire!), power struggles, litigation over the name, and brain-boggling statistics. Dark Side of the Moon has sold almost 50 million copies (one British household in five has it), was on the US top 200 charts for 14 years and is this country's biggest selling album.

And yes, there was music in this career where props and controversy sometimes overshadowed albums. On Monday that music will be re-presented with every album remastered and repackaged (available in a box or individually). There will be special editions of Dark Side, Wish You Were Here and The Wall which offer demos, live versions, vinyl albums, DVDs, memorabilia and more.

Floyd's catalogue has hardly been marginalised (only slavish fans could count Dark Side reissues and special editions) and though this looks like the last ring of the cash register in the CD era, this reissue does allow the work to be reassessed. In those years before Dark Side there are albums - notably the psychedelic albums Piper and Saucerful of Secrets, and usually overlooked soundtracks - which warrant exploration.

If the band became morose, serious and sometimes pretentious when Waters took control after Dark Side, there was a playful, exploratory democracy in those early days. Piper and Secrets bring together extended cosmic trips with slightly eccentric English pastoralism, and the soundtracks to arthouse films (More in 1969 and Obscured by Clouds for La Vallee in 1972) allowed them to experiment in the studio without tailoring material for cohesive albums. Ideas on them were honed for albums like Meddle (1971) and Dark Side.

If there is a Floyd ripe for enjoyable rediscovery it is there, because albums after Dark Side are so familiar. And glum.

That said, on a fair re-hearing much of The Division Bell - Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason and a cast of session musicians, dismissed as "rubbish" by Waters of course - isn't quite the disgrace it seemed to some at the time.

As long as you don't think of it having the same sensibility as classic Pink Floyd, ironically.


What: The "Why Pink Floyd?" campaign - the re-presentation of all 14 Pink Floyd albums with special editions which include masses of extra material.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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