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Pink Floyd - Atom Heart Mother CD (album) cover

ATOM HEART MOTHER

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.85 | 1548 ratings

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russellk
Prog Reviewer
5 stars How? How did they do this?

Barely a year after the unmitigated disaster of 'Ummagumma' PINK FLOYD produce a masterpiece. It is unlikely many people share my opinion of both albums, but I will attempt to justify my opinion.

First, a comment about the cover. An image chosen at random, according to the FLOYDIAN mythos, it accurately summarises the pastoral, bucolic feel of the record. Gentleness and beauty are the keys here, not harshness and experimentation.

The 23-minute title track is a radical departure for the band. Up until this point their music was primarily psychedelic in nature: however, this track is full-blown symphonic prog. Yes, it has choirs and an orchestra, mellotron and all, but the thing that makes it symphonic is the recurring theme, restated and expanded, in the way of classical symphonic music. The twinset of four falling notes denotes the main theme, for those wondering. Actually, 'symphonic' rock is something of a misnomer in genera for this type of music: the form is closer to 'concerto' rock, with this piece, 1971's 'Echoes' and YES's 'Close to the Edge' all having a typical concerto shape. An opening theme, variations on the theme, then a solo section featuring the main instrument, followed by a closing triumphant restatement of the main theme. Yes, the sounds are those of 'Ummagumma', but the shape of those sounds is symphonic, not psychedelic, and that makes all the difference.

I believe the adoption of a musical form brought discipline, direction and above all focus to PINK FLOYD's meandering musical ambitions. It wouldn't have mattered what musical direction they chose - they could have been a good punk band had they been at this crossroads in 1976 rather than 1970. That they chose the symphonic route is a bonus for all lovers progressive rock.

One other thing needs mentioning before I look more closely at this masterpiece. PINK FLOYD had their own individual way of going about things, so anything they did had a slightly odd, eccentric stamp on it. Thus 'Atom Heart Mother' might be straight-down-the-line symphonic prog, but it sounds unique. Apparently the band hated it, and even their orchestral collaborator, Ron GEESIN, disowned it. It didn't measure up to their own ambition, according to NICK MASON in his book 'Inside Out'. This is no reason to reject the music: in fact, there's more depth to this so-called 'flawed' piece than in any single composition in their subsequent stellar career. All the production troubles detailed by MASON can't detract from what is, at its heart, a beautiful and structured pastoral musical piece, with a typical PINK FLOYD quirkiness.

It begins with the opening theme, right enough, which follows a seemingly unstructured brass intro. By 1:55 we have heard the theme of the piece, and what follows is an elaboration and extension of the idea. Here, unlike DEEP PURPLE or THE MOODY BLUES, the orchestra is fully integrated with the rock musicians, producing a wonderful synthesis. A stirring violin and organ piece interrupts for a moment, leading us to the next variation of the theme, focusing on the band members. Here we get the first hint that WATERS is an excellent bass player: it is his work more than anything else on the album that integrates the piece. And for the first time we hear MASON's characteristic drum fills, the roll and play-out sound he made famous in the albums to follow.

But it is the choral moments that are the suite's special genius, and for this GEESIN must take credit. A precursor to 'The Great Gig In The Sky' (without this album that sublime track would not have existed), the choral sections impart a pastoral and contemplative beauty to the track. I ask again, how did PINK FLOYD get here a year after 'Ummagumma'? Here we have melodies to burn, one after the other, chilling in their sheer beauty, the soaring organ-backed female voices counterpointed with the slightly dissonant male voices to create such a pleasing effect. Then, near the nine minute mark, the rest of the band returns with more MASON fills to lead us to 'Funky Dung' and GILMOUR's first significant guitar contribution to the band. A splendidly understated funk, indeed, a gentle battle between keyboard and guitar.

One of the hundred highlights of this track is when WRIGHT brings in the mellotron after 12 minutes, signalling the return of the choir to do their own brand of funk over the bands' playing. So seventies, so relevant, and finally PINK FLOYD have succeeded in recapturing the sound of the times, lost since 1967. The song lifts still further with the bridge back to the main theme, which in turn presages the 'freak-out' section, 'Mind Your Throats Please'. Here the sound is directly comparable to 'Sysyphus' on 'Ummagumma', but it works in context: the breakdown, the crazy keyboard and tape effect stuff preparing us for the finale. OK, the finale is a little over the top, cheesy in fact, but they've won the right to break out the classical music cliches by what they've done before. Choir, orchestra and band join together in creating a stunning climax.

Side 2 isn't as strong, of course, but does just fine. WATERS proves he writes great stuff, thoughtful lyrics and reflective music, as long as nobody mentions the war. WRIGHT shows he kows how to handle a tune, and GILMOUR can do the blues, albeit in a restrained fashion. 'Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast' is anything but: three gentle, pastoral tunes are linked by the sounds of one of their roadies having breakfast, a gimmick that for some spoils the beauty of the pieces. Particularly strong is the third piece, a finale to the album worthy of the title track.

Don't make the mistake of considering this album in any way related to its predecessor. Musically it is quite dissimilar, save the small psychedelic section in the title track and the idea (but not execution) of three individual member's tracks.

I'm staggered that enough people liked this album that it reached No.1 in the UK. How was that possible? There's nothing remotely commercial on this disc. People were mad back then. Mad, I tell you. And they had surprisingly good judgement.

russellk | 5/5 |

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