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Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here CD (album) cover


Pink Floyd


Psychedelic/Space Rock

4.62 | 3893 ratings

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5 stars An album of vast sounds and small perfections.

After their wildly successful 'Dark Side of the Moon', PINK FLOYD had achieved what they'd set out to do. According to NICK MASON, 1974 became a year of wasted experiments and increasing band frustrations, and by early 1975 the band had little to offer but tension and three long songs they'd played live (Nick Mason, Inside Out). These were not the ideal circumstances to produce arguably the most respected album on this site.

In my opinion PINK FLOYD had run out of things to say, and had begun to lose the will to say them. That's why this album's concept harks back to the days of SYD BARRETT and his intense creativity. 'Wish You Were Here' is an album expressing the band's wish that someone could give them the creative spark they needed. This is not a promising position from which to record an album, and the problem was only exacerbated by the addition of the anti-music business sub-plot. This is the favourite topic of any band who makes it big and becomes alienated from reality: their own world reduces down to tours, hotel rooms and contracts, underlined by the disappointment that great success doesn't automatically translate to great wealth. Remember that 'Dark Side Of The Moon' took many years to sell its extraordinary numbers, so by early 1975 there was hype and growing chart success but no millions.

'Wish You Were Here' is an album about 'absence', according to ROGER WATERS. In my view, it is about the absence of inspiration and reward, not just the absence of SYD.

So why, given these handicaps, is it so good? Because with this album PINK FLOYD perfect the space-rock sound, a universe in breadth but with incredible attention given to the smallest detail. This is nowhere more clearly demonstrated than in the first four minutes of the album. 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond Part 1' is essentially one chord, but essentially defines space-rock. RICK WRIGHT's keyboard is perfect: wonderful tone and infinite depth, gradually expanding to dominate the speakers. How does one chord do this? First, it is supplemented by a legion of small perfections, little sounds that contrast with the enormous chord in the way that stars stud the great void. Juicy little tinkles, creaks and later precise guitar notes - leading to one of the most sublime and simple moments in rock: the guitar from 2:10 leads us to a majestic chord change at 2:23 - it's as though the starfields shift and we get a glimpse into another universe. Yes, this is only music, but this is what space-rock is supposed to do: engage the imagination and send the soul soaring beyond human limitations of body and vision. Truly, this is majestic music. Given the 'absence' of vocals (deliberately there are no vocals for a full eight and a half minutes, part of the 'absence' theme), at this point what does it matter what theme the album is about? It's all about the music, and the music is majestic. Part 1 fades, and GILMOUR introduces perhaps one of the most famous four-note phrases in music.

And we're off, into faster and slower sections, solos of beauty, all played at a deliberate pace. I'm not a fan of the vocals. WATERS wasn't the best choice, though by this time it appears as though WATERS wasn't giving anyone a choice: he had begun to insist on doing his own vocals, apparently later regretting not doing 'Have a Cigar'. But the track is not about the vocals. The most powerful solo is, with typical FLOYD genius, not given to GILMOUR at all, but is passed on to DICK PARRY's saxophone to bring the opener to a satisfying conclusion ... to be resumed later.

'Welcome to the Machine' hasn't aged well. It's a relatively early synth-based track, and sounds somewhat dated to modern ears, but at the time it was sensational. The combination of the pulsing synths and cold vocals evoke the music machine, and for once WATERS' sarcasm works well. We are treated to FLOYD's obligatory sound effects, perhaps a little cheesy but fascinating to a teenager spinning the disc for the first time. The album, like all in this period, is a series of musical ideas tied together by sounds, segues and solos (the three S's of PINK FLOYD), with more of an emphasis on the latter two than on the tighter and more idea-rich 'Dark Side of the Moon'. We could have done without the sound effects here.

'Have a Cigar' continues the anti-music industry theme, but more important than either this or ROY HARPER's vocals, contains one of GILMOUR's most stunning guitar solos. He's given his head, and this really does hum. It gives the album the punch it needs, and is placed perfectly to lead (bizarrely and with one of the band's most inspired segues) into PINK FLOYD's best ballad, the simple, beautiful title track. Simple - look at the chords - beautiful - look how they put them together.

And so to the second half of 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' and more GILMOUR pyrotechnics, prefaced by an excellent rumbling trademark WATERS bassline and some WRIGHT magic. Of all the solos GILMOUR's ever played, I rate this one, played on the slide guitar, as perhaps the best he's ever done, for sheer emotion and over-the-top histrionics. What a moment when he harmonises with himself! The inevitable fall from this great height is perfectly sculpted and entirely intentional: after a 'Funky Dung/Echoes/Any Colour You Like' funk section, the last minutes of the song, and the album, slowly fade into silence in the most melancholy fashion. I can remember being somewhat disappointed at this tame ending, but now it seems entirely justified, given the poignancy of the main theme.

Composition is king, nowhere more eloquently demonstrated than on this album. PINK FLOYD may have not had much to say, but that absence is so wonderfully sculpted into a soaring soundscape that defines the space-rock genre. This is an absolutely essential record.

russellk | 5/5 |


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