Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour have stuck firmly to their guns. The duo might have sung together at charity events, raising the spectre of a full fledged Pink Floyd reunion, but they are adamant: Floyd will not reform in the wake of keyboardist Richard Wright’s death. It may be frustrating, but it’s also strangely refreshing. The Smashing Pumpkins and Guns ‘n’ Roses of this world are content to plough onwards with a frontman and a selection of accomplished understudies, but Floyd don’t want to label their sorely missed friend, however tangentially, a second class bandmate.
The seeming permanency of Pink Floyd’s dissolution makes The Endless River all the more fascinating. The album has been dubbed a “swan song” for Wright and (while it was completed from 2008 onwards) it is primarily a product of mid-90s, Division Bell-era Floyd. Waters is long gone; this is a Gilmour, Mason and Wright concoction. Retooled and touched up by an expert team of session musicians and veteran producers, it’s formed from five hours of long lost music.
It is important to remember that this is Pink Floyd’s fifteenth “and final” studio album. Gilmour and Mason have consciously chosen not to release this 50+ minute collection of largely instrumental music as an easter egg for obsessives or a basement tape designed to show the band’s inner workings - no this is a fully formed LP set to sit alongside Animals, Piper At The Gates…, Wish You Were Here and the rest.
In this light The Endless River falters. This largely ambient collection may be serene and immaculately judged in places (hitting the right despairing, triumphant and dreamy notes), but ultimately it only manages to allude. It’s a cosy reminder of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond’s” brilliance, offering a flicker of Dave Gilmour’s sky splitting, time-and-space defying guitarwork before pulling back towards something infinitely more pedestrian. Like an endless massage or a sleepy embrace with a plump pillow, the album is welcome, undeniably pleasant, but lacking. The question keeps creeping into the corner of your consciousness: when are Floyd going to blow my mind?
Without the grand lyrical themes, the innovation of youth or the alien sounds of the cutting edge, Floyd are serving up delicately crafted, immaculately arranged nostalgia and little more. Had The Endless River been released in 1975 it would have sounded prosaic next to the frayed, fish eyed edges of Brian Eno’s Another Green World. Today, Floyd’s ambient instrumentals not only have to rival Eno’s pomp and modern revival, but a new generation of instrumental whiz kids.
“Sum” suggests that Richard Wright may well have foreseen the oncoming storm as his glorious pulsating shimmers set the stage for a scraping slab of Gilmour’s guitar and the arrival of Mason’s totalitarian drumbeat, but these moments are too fleeting. Conventionality wins out. There is a near constant sense that a hook or a grand crescendo is on the horizon, but it never arrives. For thirty seconds or so latter day Floyd threaten to make something as beautifully singular as Four Tet’s “Angel Echoes” or as dreamily intoxicating as Caribou’s “Can’t Do Without You”, but they recede, time and again, towards an underwhelmingly agreeable middle ground.
Floyd may abstain from creating either a state of euphoric ambient bliss or truly letting rip and being as big and brazen as they were, but they show no lack of guile. The Endless River is immaculately produced. This is a work of precision and craft. It might be too successful in gently sliding off towards the sunset, but it’s hard to listen to “Talkin’ Hawkin’” and feel even a millisecond of sound is out of place or ill judged. This trade off between extreme mastery of craft and a fundamental lack of impetus sees Floyd negotiate the pitfalls while allowing room for the chilling desolation-turned-stately-utopianism of “Calling” to bubble to the surface.
The Endless River, perhaps unsurprisingly for a record originally conceived in the 1990s, is an exercise in recollection. Not only of Floyd’s former glories (the guitar tone and synthetic glitches that once revolutionized rock), but to the ambient sounds their 70s peers pioneered and then codified. In truth, this album fails to rival or better the original revolutionaries and cannot match the alien beauty of their contemporary inheritors.
In spite of this, Floyd (even when embedded in a comfy enclave of their own making) are still capable of majestic tranquillity. Side Four, The Endless River’s climatic suite, is a joy to behold, a work of hushed brilliance that steers Gilmour, Mason and Wright towards “Louder Than Words” - an idyllic endnote for any album and a fitting farewell to the greatest of careers: “It’s louder than words this thing that we do, the sum of our parts, the beat of our hearts, it’s louder than words”.
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