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Pink Floyd - Atom Heart Mother CD (album) cover

ATOM HEART MOTHER

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.88 | 2077 ratings

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Frankingsteins
3 stars Produced during Pink Floyd's most experimental period, the transition between their original psychedelic sound and the more restrained and concise sound of 'Dark Side of the Moon' and beyond, 'Atom Heart Mother' is certainly a very interesting item in the band's discography. And that's not just because of the huge cow on the cover.

The title 'suite' of Atom Heart Mother is a 24 minute piece combining the instrumental skills of the band with orchestration. Now a common occurrence, even outside of prog with bands such as Metallica and even Kiss teaming up with local symphonies for a classical treatment of their hits, Pink Floyd were (arguably) the first to combine these elements and created what to some fans is a masterpiece; to others, a waste of time. Most commend its effort.

Modern 80-minute-capable CDs hide some of the nice touches of these early prog albums, especially in their separation of longer, 'epic' pieces from more accessible, straightforward numbers on alternate sides of the original LP. With their following album, the excellent 'Meddle,' Pink Floyd saved the 20-odd minute piece for the finale, after warming up with shorter songs of varying degrees of originality. With Atom Heart Mother, the listener is thrust into the odd but enjoyable bombast from the onset.

SIDE ONE

1. Atom Heart Mother a) Father's Shout b) Breast Milky c) Mother Fore d) Funky Dung e) Mind Your Throats Please f) Remergence

The separation of movements in the title suite are largely irrelevant, especially as no corresponding subject matter is being conveyed (interpret the real meaning of the music as you wish). The powerful and effective opening theme sets things up nicely and is easily the highlight of the song, resurfacing about two-thirds of the way through as a kind of premature conclusion before the music veers wildly away from its original sound. Around about 'Breast Milky' the song becomes subdued and led by Roger Waters' bass until a choir eventually joins ('Mother Fore'?), chanting unintelligible lyrics that nonetheless suit the music.

Ominous synthesised sounds with varying degrees of effectiveness take over at around fifteen minutes, similar to what would later emerge from Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) twenty-five years later, before the final five or so minutes, after the announcement 'silence in the studio,' mainly showcase David Gilmour's excellent guitar work, backed by a cacophony of horns.

This song is interesting. Long, but not unbearable. In fact I really like it. The whole thing is pretty overblown, especially when heard in contrast to the other half of the album, and the orchestration does tend to flood the speakers when it would be nicer to hear the band play in accompaniment. Even leaving aside the originality, this is enjoyable to listen to for fans of progressive rock and classical music, but probably nobody else in the universe. It's interesting to see the increasing departure from long, meandering space rock of 'A Saucerful of Secrets' and 'Careful With that Axe, Eugene' towards the more meaningful and palatable epics 'Echoes' and 'Dark Side of the Moon,' even if this does sit a little uncomfortable in the middle ground.

SIDE TWO

2. If 3. Summer '68 4. Fat Old Sun 5. Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast a) Rise and Shine b) Sunny Side Up c) Morning Glory

As usual for the band at this stage of their career, the reverse side (or 'the other songs') is less of an ensemble effort, seeing each band member contribute a song they have written themselves. Unlike the non-live songs on the previous album 'Ummagumma,' these songs involve all (or most) band members and don't serve as irritating solo pieces that are only of use to critics of the band and the genre. The songs contained here are a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from exceptionally inspired to rubbish.

'If' and 'Fat Old Sun' are soft, slow acoustic pieces, the first of which, Waters' piece, almost seems like a cynical precursor to the later days of 'The Wall' and 'The Final Cut.' It's nice and very quiet, perhaps what is needed after the title track (for those listeners paying attention at least), but nothing extraordinary. The same goes for Gimour's 'Fat Old Sun,' although clocking in at nearly six minutes it does drag on, especially as 'If' has already been included. He does contribute some nice subdued guitar though.

'Summer '68' is, for most fans, the highlight of this second side, and for me is the high point of the album. Not completely original, sounding similar to a quiet Beatles song in the verses, the chorus and instrumental sections mark this out as something special. Keyboard man Rick Wright recruits a less imposing horn section for a great refrain, personally reminding me of synthesised video game soundtracks from the early nineties, which is often a good thing. The acoustic guitar is put through its paces and sounds nicely strained as the music becomes a little louder, while the ending is a nice continuation that avoids the band's annoying habit of simply repeating what's already happened in a track. Perhaps diluted by its acoustic neighbours on this CD, 'Summer '68' is a reasonably obscure Pink Floyd classic.

In contrast to this, we have 'Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast.' Fourteen stupid minutes passed of as a jamming conclusion. The lack of any real coherence in the album is a little relaxing, and this song epitomises the attitude. Prog fans who have listened to later, more complex albums like 'The Wall' or 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway' by Genesis are allowed to rest their brains with some half-arsed ditties and sound effects structured around the loose theme of having breakfast in Los Angeles.

'Rise and Shine' is a little piano ditty that could be seen to represent the breaking of morning, but wouldn't really do this without the background noises and repetition of 'marmalade, I like marmalade' (good for you), 'Sunny Side Up' brings in the guitar to play a forgettable soothing tune ending with the crackling of frying pans and yet more recorded breakfast dialogue, leaving 'Morning Glory' (wa-hey!) to try and justify the song's inclusion a bit by introducing what sounds like a Hammond organ. Strange, but that sounds like a contradiction in terms to me. A silly song, but if you're occupied and don't realise that the album's still playing after the thirty minute mark it isn't the end of the world.

Maybe I've been a little harsh on some of the content here, after all I do view Atom Heart Mother as primarily an album to soothe the savage beast. The first track is too long, but what the hell? At least it doesn't try to keep the listener hanging on every little instrument change like some modern progressive metal. It obviously isn't up the standard of classical music, it's a prog rock song, so for rock fans, it's a nicer alternative (unless we're talking Mussorgsky). 'If' is interesting, 'Summer '68' is great, 'Fat Old Sun' is a little unnecessary and 'Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast' is sufficiently quiet.

The sound quality of this album isn't really comparable to the band's later work, and this does date it more than their technically accomplished work from 1973 onwards. Pink Floyd fans who have started later on in the catalogue would we advised to tread backwards slowly and carefully, savouring this album's follow-up 'Meddle' and perhaps taking in the psychedelic 1973 debut before picking up the one with the cow on the front.

Frankingsteins | 3/5 |

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