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Pink Floyd - Ummagumma CD (album) cover

UMMAGUMMA

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.48 | 1211 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
2 stars You can probably guess the age of any Pink Floyd aficionado by his regard for this 1969 double album. To older fans it encapsulates everything that made the original band so different and dangerous, but newcomers will likely hear only a junkyard collection of post-psychedelic flotsam.

I suppose it all depends on which side of the 1960s you're standing. Either way, the album remains an invaluable (if not always successful) artifact, and unique in the way it confounds the Prog Archives rating guidelines: yes, it's an excellent 4-star addition to any Prog music collection, but at the same time it's strictly a 2-star treasure for collectors and fans only.

For anyone (like myself) too young to recall the turbulent end of that decade, the album provides a vivid snapshot of the young Pink Floyd struggling with its identity at the dead end of the avant-garde cul-de-sac. It was an uncertain time for the band, back when Rick Wright was always playing oriental arabesques on that weedy Farfisa organ; when Nick Mason was embellishing his floor toms with enough echo to fill the Grand Canyon; and when newcomer Dave Gilmour was overworking his slide guitar in a transparent imitation of Syd Barrett's more cosmic digressions.

The live disc is still the best concert album the group ever released, with superior (better yet: essential) adaptations of four early Space Rock classics: "Astronomy Domine", "Careful With That Axe Eugene" (dig that hair-raising Halloween scream by Roger Waters), "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun", and a truly awesome "Saucerful of Secrets". The studio disc, divided between the solo conceits of each player, is understandably more of a mixed bag, and in retrospect one I'm sure they would rather have left on the curb for the trash collector.

My own assessment is a little less harsh. It's true that Rick Wright's four-part "Sysyphus" can be an aptly titled exercise in ersatz film score frustration, like its mythological namesake putting a lot of effort into getting nowhere. But Roger Waters actually revealed something like a sense of humor in his two songs, in ironic contrast to the mirthless dirges of his later album concepts. David Gilmour meanwhile all but announced in "The Narrow Way" his willingness to lead the band by example: Part Three in particular was an obvious signpost to the future, sounding not unlike a premature demo of "Comfortably Numb".

And the less said about Nick Mason's late '60s time capsule percussion doodles the happier we'll all be, including (I suspect) the composer himself.

Dissecting it like this leaves a lingering sense of four rather desperate artists beating the air for any musical idea to replace the inspiration lost along with Syd Barrett. But if nothing else their individual efforts showed a group that even then was greater than the sum of its parts.

Keep in mind too this would be the Floyd's last truly underground album, released the same year Neil Armstrong left his footprint on the Sea of Tranquility. It would take the band a little longer to likewise reach the "Dark Side of the Moon", but in many ways the failed experiments on disc two of this set were at least one small step in the right direction...to be followed by the giant leap of "Atom Heart Mother" in 1970.

Neu!mann | 2/5 |

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