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Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn CD (album) cover

THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.89 | 1452 ratings

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russellk
Prog Reviewer
5 stars By the time this debut album emerged to shake the UK psychedelic scene in 1967, that scene was already at least two years old, as were the aspirations of the founding PINK FLOYD members. They had paid their dues gigging all around the country and, while they were by no means gifted musicians, they had that most essential commodity to 'make it': a superb songwriter.

SYD BARRETT is such a bittersweet figure. This album is his crowning achievement, capturing the free spirit of the age in a series of pop vignettes interspersed with courageous experimental psychedelic freakouts. His influence can be heard in every subsequent PINK FLOYD album, a ghost on WATERS' shoulder. Here he combines crafted ingenue - an artless childishness augmented by his unaffected vocals - with genuine compositional ability and pop hooks. The resultant music is always fun even when it asks serious questions, is always strange even at its most straightforward. As with so many musicians of this period, he burned bright for such a brief time, then flamed out.

'Astronomy Domine' starts the album strongly, with RICK WRIGHT handling the vocals. The opening notes of 'Lucifer Sam' send me straight to my DVD copy of the Gerry Anderson TV series 'UFO'. The low-slung guitar sounds featuring here and in 'Matilda Mother' are so evocative of the six years from 1967 to 1973. Fairy stories, memories of childhood, a witch's black cat, all fodder for BARRETT's mysticism. 'Flaming' brings in overt drug references and the first of many psychedelic freakouts. BARRETT here is a child, describing his trip with simplicity and beauty ('Watching buttercups cup the light') and behaving with playful ambiguity ('I won't touch you/But then I might').

The heart of the album is a series of pyschedelic experiments. 'Pow R Toc H' is WATERS' heavy-handed attempt to fit in with BARRETT's delicate vision, and it strikes the only sour note on the album, sounding more ominous than playful. 'Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk' begins as a pop song, but within thirty seconds has become another psych/blues jam. Fun but not essential. 'Interstellar Overdrive' is absolutely essential, however, even though the live version on 'Ummagumma' is superior. The legendary opening guitar riff is followed all too quickly by nearly eight minutes of improv insanity. The single plucked guitar note is particularly strange - yes, we've heard weirder since, but this was 1967. Any self-respecting psychedelic group has tried their hand at this track (including THE MARS VOLTA with JOHN FRUSCIANTE at the helm one night when CEDRIC was unwell). The studio version here finishes with a stereo-effect reprise of the opening riff, adding to the general weirdness and air of experimentation.

The album's third part returns to the beautiful BARRETT palette of psych pop. 'Gnome' is a playful return to the fairy tale, as is 'Scarecrow', reminding listeners in a very late 60's DONOVAN-like fashion to pursue their inner child. 'Chapter 24' is a strange song among strange songs, a tarot-like reading of the seasons, or perhaps a compendium of fortune cookie advice. I can't work out whether BARRETT wants to be taken seriously here, though I tend to think this is a piss-take. 'Scarecrow' might as well be BARRETT's unconscious autobiography. Read the lyrics closely...

'He's resigned to his fate 'cause life's not unkind. He doesn't mind. He stood in a field where barley grows.'

'Bike' deserves a mention on its own. Because of its appearance on PINK FLOYD compilations it is well known, and is many fans' first encounter with BARRETT's whimsy. But in treating 'Bike' as a novelty song, people miss the point. 'Look,' he is saying to his girl - and to us. 'This is my life - a collection of small and insignificant things. Once you see them the way I do, you can come into this other room, this central room of my life, in which music occupies the central place, and understand what I'm about.' That's the meaning of the powerful last verse, and explains why the music slows down for it. I find this song compelling and extremely poignant, the crowning moment of SYD BARRETT's genius.

There's barely a wasted moment here. ROGER WATERS' latter-day self indulgence is nowhere to be found: the band here have exercised admirable restraint. Other bands would have filled a side with 'Interstellar Overdrive' (a la 'In-a-Gadda-da-Vida') but here they present a stripped-down version. Others also would have found a place for the various singles they'd released, but not PINK FLOYD.

This is a blueprint for the psychedelic era, a proto-prog album, and essential listening for anyone trying to understand the evolution of popular music, let alone PINK FLOYD.

russellk | 5/5 |

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