There was a weight of cultural importance poised ready to engulf what is sure to be Pink Floyd’s final album from the moment its release was announced. It’s difficult to imagine a record that could live up to the inherent expectation of a swan song from one of the most influential and acclaimed acts in the history of recorded music, but it’s nonetheless sad when listening reveals that The Endless River certainly can’t.
Brought together as a eulogy to Richard Wright by Dave Gilmour and Nick Mason (who, with the late keyboardist, comprised Pink Floyd after Roger Waters’ departure from the band in 1985), The Endless River is constructed largely from recordings made 20 years ago, during the trio’s sessions for The Division Bell. It’s perhaps inevitable, then, that this is no 21st century re-invention, but rather a revisit to the old post-Waters waters of its predecessor, inviting many of the same criticisms.
Forgoing lyrics and much else in the way of traditional song structure on all but the final track Louder than Words, the album is arranged into four interconnected ambient soundscapes (one for each “side” of a double vinyl album). For the most part, the sound itself is that of a dreamy sci-fi odyssey: impeccably mixed with trademark care, beaming specific instrumentation and effects to the listener from precisely choreographed directions, but ultimately samey and of a singular, funereal pace. Though authentically Floyd, there’s also a patchouli-scented whiff of the relaxation aid here, complete with the whale song (Ebb and Flow) and rainstorms (Amnesia) that one might associate with such a thing.
The established lugubriousness is occasionally threatened – when the tribal rhythms of Skins threaten to build to dancehall intensity, or when Gilmour’s guitar ceases its sporadic mewling in favour of a sustained blues riff on Allons-Y (1) – but such anomalies are all too quickly reabsorbed into the sonic background.
The closing track, featuring a Gilmour lyric speaking of love’s endurance in the face of spiteful bickering, serves as a fitting tribute to Wright, but also to hint at the potent forceful energy a Pink Floyd song could command, back before such squabbles took their toll.
Acolytes the world over may rejoice at the emergence of any new material, but after snapping up The Endless River in their droves, they are likely to feel disenfranchised by a last word from their heroes that is probably better forgotten.
The Endless River is released on 10th November 2014, for further information or to order the album visit here.