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Pink Floyd - Ummagumma CD (album) cover

UMMAGUMMA

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.48 | 1211 ratings

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PinkFloydManiac1973
4 stars "Ummagumma" is one of the most difficult albums to rate, not only in the field of progressive rock but in music in general. The two discs are so different from each other that they are often considered separate entities; as such, public opinion on the complete package tends to be split rather evenly. Some love the album without objectively examining all parts; some enjoy the album while keeping in mind the studio disc's faults and treating it for what it is - an interesting, though failed experiment; and still there are others who loathe the album's second half and curse that powers that be that made them pay twice the money for the one disc they actually wanted. I fall into the second category; I love the live performances, and I enjoy the studio set with full knowledge of its shortcoming and accepting the fact that it could be worlds better.

The first disc is what gets most of the praise, not only due to the strength of performances but also due to the fact that it gets closest to capturing the classic lineup's prowess as a live act. At its peak years the band in concert was as powerful and compelling a listen as the band on their studio albums, and sometimes even more so. It's a shame that the band hasn't released more of the great Waters-era live material later, but I digress ? what we ARE given is pretty damn good. "Astronomy Domine", a track penned by Syd Barrett for "Piper at the Gates of Dawn", gets a radical makeover. While the original was dominated by guitar, the live rendition is very keyboard-heavy; at one point in the middle Waters, Gilmour, and Mason drop out and let Rick solo away on his Farfisa organ. "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" comes next, and for many this is the first time they heard this breathtaking song. The band had already recorded it in the studio and released it as the b-side to "Point Me at the Sky", but that version is incredibly tame compared to how they played it live. I won't spoil it for those who haven't heard it yet, but let me just say it is one of the eeriest and most trippy pieces of music of ever, and it's my favorite jam of all time. "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" also gets a makeover for the better, with it taking on a more exotic, Eastern atmosphere. "A Saucerful of Secrets" sheds much of its haunting subtlety for a chaotic assault on the listener. Though "Something Else" suffers from this change, "Syncopated Pandemonium" more than makes up for this by giving the slow studio version a much-needed shot of adrenaline.

Now on to the studio disc. It begins with Rick's piece, "Sysyphus", an instrumental impression of the Greek myth. The music does an effective job of conveying the laborious trip up the hill and the ultimate descent of the boulder back down; my one real complaint is that parts of it, particularly III & IV tend to overstay their welcome and border on tedious. Roger's "Grantchester Meadows" continues the psychedelic folk style he utilized on several songs from "More". It's a nice, relaxing piece, but live versions, with the addition of Farfisa organ and David sharing vocals, are vastly superior. Water's other piece, "Several Species?", consists of Waters imitating animal noises and clapping, even shouting out in a heavy Scottish accent at one point; this foreshadows some of the material he would make with Ron Geesin on "Music From 'The Body'". Music it ain't, but it sure is entertaining. David's piece, "The Narrow Way", is the most successful in my mind. Part I is a nice acoustic-based piece with slide guitar and strange sound effects that segue into Part II, a darker, experimental piece that almost evokes images of an ancient cult ritual. Part III, the longest section, features good guitar work, though David's vocals are not very strong. The final piece is Nick's "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party", which, IMO, is the album's one true failure. The flute passages that bookend the piece, courtesy of Nick's wife Linda, are nice enough, but "Entertainment" grows tedious very fast, with percussion work that goes nowhere. With other musical backing it might have worked, but alone it is very weak.

I advise listeners to approach the album with both caution and an open mind. It is definitely not the place to start with Pink Floyd, but when you do get there it can be a very enjoyable listen. However, one has to be willing to hear the whole album out, with the mindset that it's not a group product, but instead the experiments of each member. These are not the solid band performances that one expects, but one can see that each member had plenty of creativity, if not enough skill yet to pull these pieces off.

PinkFloydManiac1973 | 4/5 |

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