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Pink Floyd - Ummagumma CD (album) cover

UMMAGUMMA

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.48 | 1170 ratings

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Warthur
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Ummagumma the word may or may not be a slang term for sex, but Ummagumma the album is the sound of a band hedging its bets, split as it is between a live album of older material and a studio album of what are essentially solo compositions. The album starts off well with a version of the Barrett-era track Astronomy Domine, which introduces a strange little quiet interlude towards the end of the song which doesn't quite work but otherwise succeeds at matching, though not quite exceeding, the thunderous, apocalyptic majesty of the studio version of the track. However, the versions of Careful With That Axe, Eugene, Set The Controls For the Heart of the Sun are actually better than the studio versions, to my mind, whilst the version of A Saucerful of Secrets turns the pure celestial merging of organ and choir at the end of the studio track into an opportunity for a triumphant instrumental workout, making the live disc of Ummagumma the best representative of the 1968-1969 post-Syd Pink Floyd sound which tended towards spacey instrumentals/almost- instrumentals rather than particularly tight or structured songwriting.

The studio album is a bit more of a mixed bag - inevitably, given the way it's given over to solo compositions. Richard Wright's Sysyphus has a bombastic opening that gives way to extended piano and organ noodling that doesn't really go anywhere - Wright evidently going for something like A Saucerful of Secrets or Careful With That Axe but not getting that such extended instrumental workouts tend to be much better realised as group compositions.

Well, Waters could also put them together at this point - as seen in Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun - but he was a somewhat better songwriter at this point. But only somewhat; his two contributions to the studio album just aren't up to his usual standards, consisting on the one hand of a dull not-quite-folk knockoff with birdsong effects obscuring the somewhat boring acoustic guitar play and horrible lyrics that drags on for seven minutes when there aren't enough ideas there to fill two and on the other hand of a joke track which, again, would be OK if it lasted a couple of minutes but in fact drags on for five.

The second side of the studio album is also somewhat undercooked: we are presented with David Gilmour's The Narrow Way, which consists mainly of Gilmour noodling away on his guitar with some synth effects added here and there over the top and some singing towards the end (actually, this is probably my favourite of the studio tracks, the closing song actually being pretty good) and Nick Mason's The Grand Vizier's Garden Party, which eventually degenerates into a musique concrete drum solo.

The album as a whole might have been improved if the studio tracks were tightened up a bit and presented in the context of the "Man and the Journey" suite that the band were performing live at the time, rather than being sliced up and presented as solo tracks, but even so this studio material just isn't up to the band's usual standards. Overall, I'd give Ummagumma a low three - there's a good, solid four-star live album there, and a two-star studio album which at point almost dips down into one-star territory.

Warthur | 3/5 |

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