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Pink Floyd - Ummagumma CD (album) cover

UMMAGUMMA

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.48 | 1624 ratings

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patrickq
3 stars I have a feeling that my take on Ummagumma is going to mirror that of many other reviewers. In short, the live disc is pretty great, and the studio disc is pretty poor.

The idea of a double-album with one live and one studio LP predated Ummagumma in the form of Wheels of Fire, the 1968 Cream released which spawned "White Room." Similarly-formatted albums over the next few years included (Untitled) (the Byrds, 1970) Eat a Peach (Allman Brothers, 1972), and Some Time In New York City (John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Elephant's Memory, 1972). There was also Live-Evil, a 1971 Miles Davis double album on which live and studio recordings were intermixed.

But whereas the Allman Brothers, Byrds, and Cream albums are still considered classics today, the reputation of Ummagumma is closer to that of Some Time in New York City.

My complaint is not that Ummagumma should've been condensed into a single album. Choosing and reassembling the best 50% of Tales from Topographic Oceans might have made for a much better album, but most of the best 50% of Ummagumma is already on one LP. Who knows, maybe with a magician like Teo Macero in charge, something like a Live-Evil might have been possible with Ummagumma; in fact, earlier in 1969, on Uncle Meat, Frank Zappa had already demonstrated some of the possibilities of using tape editing to assemble a single musical work from both live and studio sources. But short of that, my solution to the Ummagumma problem would be to decouple the live album from the studio album.

The live half of Ummagumma would be a four-star album, in my opinion. It's a fine example of the kind of prog excess that would inspire Spinal Tap, but I enjoy it anyway. Or most of it; I could do without the screaming o "Careful With That Axe." Although I acknowledge that guitarist David Gilmour was probably the only seriously talented instrumentalist on stage, both the drumming and the keyboard-guitar interplay are very good. The bass lines are also good when they're audible.

The best track on the live album is "Astronomy Domine," although both songs on Side Two are nearly as good. On the studio album, "Narrow Way" stands out as the closest to the quality of the live material. But each of the five studio songs comes across as half-baked experimentation for the sake of experimentation. The band and/or the record label must have realized that tens of thousands of consumers would purchase this either the live or studio LPs immediately and ask questions later, but to play it safe, they bundled them to make sure anyone who bought one had to pay for both.

But it's art, and it's what Pink Floyd wanted to be in the fall of 1969.

I've never been much of a Floyd fan. I enjoyed their 1980s singles, from "Another Brick in the Wall" to "Learning to Fly." I also appreciate Animals and Wish You We're Here. Ummagumma is really nothing like any of that, but the live disk is every bit as good as anything I've heard from this group.

patrickq | 3/5 |

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