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Pink Floyd - Ummagumma CD (album) cover

UMMAGUMMA

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.48 | 1199 ratings

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bfmuller
3 stars Every Floyd album is one of a kind. They all have different goals and distinguished facets. Yet, they can be roughly put together in two main categories (in the late sixties and seventies): the first era, psychedelic; the second era, progressive. Ummagumma is caught right in the middle of this transition.

Ummagumma shows very clearly a band fumbling for new horizons. It has, therefore, a wave to past - the live album - and a blind search for the future - the studio, experimental album. Being conceived that way, as many has already put, it is actually two distinct albums rather than a double album. Therefore, it is fairer to evaluate each album separately.

The live one shows pretty much how it was the sound of the band live during the first era. If we consider that in the beginning Floyd first earned its reputation for live sets filled with psychedelic spacey jams, one can actually say that the Live Album from Ummagumma in fact displays the most genuine sound of the early times of Floyd. It is composed of 4 long pieces, spanning from 8 to 12 minutes. They are, therefore, much extended versions of the studio recordings - except for A Saucerful of Secrets, which was already a long track.

Astronomy Domine has the same power of the studio version, but filled in with a climatic, spacey interlude, where the keyboards set the tone. Very good version. Careful with that Axe, Eugene, is a very creepy tune, as the title suggests, with a feel of controled chaos. This time, the guitar takes the front, along with the famous Roger's scream you can see also in Live at Pompeii. This song has a much shorter and much less impactant studio version that you can find in the compilation Relics. Set the Controls is another track extended by spacey sounds dominated by the keyboards. The live version A Saucerful of Secrets is much more powerful than the studio one, with some very nice vocalisations from Dave in the end. This album shows how much the studio didn't always do justice to the Floyd sound. In short, this live versions are all as good as or even better than the studio ones. Plus, they all show significant differences, making them almost like new songs. That is, everything you would expect from a good live album (at least what I would expect). Still, none of these songs belong to the pantheon of absolut classics of the band - the best was yet to come. Therefore, it gets 4 stars.

The Studio Album is a whole different story. Very much different indeed. I certainly wouldn't call it as "psychedelic". It hints some progressive rock, but it's not exactly progressive either. It is, like I said, a transitional album, characterized by pure experimentation. It is divided in four sections, each one commanded by one of the members of the band.

The first section, Sysiphus, is Rick's, and very different from the sound we are used to associate with Rick's keyboards and songs. The four pieces of this sections, all instrumentals, are dominated by a dark, gloomy, dissonant sound, the first one being a fanfare, the second, a piano solo, more rythmic than melodic; the third is a piano followed by drums and sound effects with ascending cacophony; the fourth showcases the organ. First in a lighter moment more familiar to Rick's style. By the third minute the track changes to a creepy organ sound that grows in ascendind chaos and then fades into an also dark march - very much like the soundtrack of a horror movie. In all, the tracks are odd but interesting. You might even enjoy it if you dare to listen to it for a few times. In fact, it is perhaps the best section as whole (the best isolated track is Gilmour's, as you'll see).

Next is time for Roger to shine. He actually provides only two tracks. The first one, Grandtchester Meadows, is an acoustic, folk song with sounds of the country. Listenable but quite forgettable. The next track, Several Species..., is indeed a collage of animal sounds, but in a certain way catches your attention and marks the rythm only by the sound effects. It should not be compared to actual songs, but rather with tracks like Revolution 9 (The Beatles), in which the comparison works to its favor - in my opinion.

The next section is The Narrow Way, by Dave, divided in three parts. The first is acoustic piece, ponctuated by some electric guitar effects. Fine, but nothing special. It is followed by a darker piece composed of a repeating riff, again with guitar effects. Expect no great guitar solos in either of the tracks. The third part of The Narrow Way is the closer you can get to a "normal" song in this album, and in fact it will remit you to better known songs of the next phase in Floyd's history, especially because of the combination of Gilmour's guitar and emotional vocals. Clearly the highlight of the studio album, but nonetheless not a great track either - at least not as great as it could be; it would benefit from a better guitar solo in the ending.

Then comes Nick's section, which is composed of two brief flute solos intermingled by a long (seven minutes) and forgettable drum solo without any special appeal except for the play with the two stereo channels.

It's easy to dismiss this studio album as rubbish, and it is certainly hard to get it or enjoy it. Yet, one has to acknowledge the boldness and commitment of the band to try new sounds and reinvent itself. Plus, if you have the patience to go through the experience a few times, you will certainly find a clue to the great things yet to come. The use of sound effects here, for instance, should be regarded as the grandmother of the ones you find in Dark Side of the Moon. In short, if Floyd hadn't have the will to hit and miss - process in which this album was made - we probably wouldn't be today celebrating the timeless classics the band made in the next years.

That said, I don't mean, by no ways, that this is not a flawed album. Many of its shots indeed miss the target, the others fail to qualify as true classics. A Floyd fan (like me) will certainly have fun trying to recover the steps of the band and searching for clues to the future of Floyd through this album. Nonetheless, we don't really need to know Ummagumma to fully appreciate Meddle, Dark Side or Wish You Were Here. Therefore, it is only fair to give it 3 stars. It is important to note that most of the prog fans who like to call themselves open-minded and avant-garde have no real reasons not to give it a try and should be fair to acknowledge it for its importance. I know I came to appreciate it more through the years, as I became more familiar to experimental, avant-garde music associated with progressive rock, even though it's never a constant hit in my stereo.

Live Album - 4 stars

Studio Album - 3 stars

Final rating - 3.5 stars; I'll round down to 3 stars: good, but non-essential.

bfmuller | 3/5 |

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