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Pink Floyd - Atom Heart Mother CD (album) cover


Pink Floyd


Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.90 | 2283 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars A word of caution: What looks like a cheese-paring two-star rating is actually a mark of the highest regard. Explanation to follow...

To me the most interesting and misunderstood phase of Pink Floyd's long musical life span was the period between "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" and "Dark Side of the Moon", after the tragic loss of Syd Barrett but before their transfiguration into chart topping superstars. And it was during the same uncertain time of trial, error, and experimentation that they released what has to be their most enigmatic and puzzling album.

How weird is it? Start with the unlikely cover art: maybe the most impeccable portrait of a heifer this side of a Gary Larson cartoon, and a visual non-sequitur worthy of Magritte (Ceci n'est pas une cow¯).

Consider next the epic 24-minute title track, in retrospect a noble but failed attempt by a band at loose ends to broaden their musical horizons, in the highbrow fashion of the times. This was an age, remember, when every serious rock band had to validate their artistic pretensions by recording with a classical orchestra, and Pink Floyd was no exception. At least they made a tongue-in-cheek effort to mock their own ambitions, with meaningless bovine sub-titles to each 'movement'¯ of the suite ("Funky Dung", and so forth).

The actual orchestration and arrangement is sometimes laughably amateur, but it's the effort that counts, isn't it? Don't blame Ron Geesin, who had to quickly cobble together a score after the band had fled on tour to America, leaving him with only the basic backing tracks to work from and a second-rate studio orchestra at his disposal. It may not be fair to compare them to the Portsmouth Sinfonia (a gaggle of non-professional musicians with no prior experience on their instruments; Brian Eno briefly played in the woodwind section), but they sure ain't the London Philharmonic.

And is that a mellotron in the mix as well? Be still my heart: a classical orchestra and choir, plus a mellotron? Give the band credit for covering all the symphonic bases.

The balance of the album (Side Two in vinyl terms) presents a trio of solo efforts from Waters, Wright, and Gilmour, not unlike a mini-"Ummagumma" but with better (i.e. shorter) results. Each song is a throwback to an older Pink Floyd, most explicitly Richard Wright's bouncy "Summer '68". The highlight here is Roger Waters' underrated and overlooked "If". It's an interesting signpost to the future: a gentle acoustic ballad able to express in an easygoing four-and-one-half minutes the same themes of madness and alienation that would later require entire concept albums for Waters to communicate.

And, for the record, "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" (the album's audio verité closing track, mixing ambient sounds of frying eggs with pastoral musical interludes) was not an homage to producer Alan Parsons, but to roadie Alan Stiles, at least according to band biographer Nicholas Schaffner.

And now about those two parsimonious stars...

It wasn't easy figuring out how best to rate this oddity. On its own terms it isn't very successful, and how can anyone endorse an album dismissed by the band itself as "a load of rubbish"? So says Dave Gilmour, quoted by Schaffner, and that isn't all he has to say on the subject, either. I won't even repeat the typically acid hindsight assessment by Roger Waters.

But on the other hand the same load of rubbish still holds enormous historical interest to fans of Progressive Music. This was the album on which Pink Floyd found its voice, when they finally shed the last traces of late '60s psychedelia and began paving the solid gold road to the "Dark Side of the Moon". Sure, it's primitive stuff, but there's a real sense of discovery here, of latent potential soon to be unlocked.

The Prog Archives definition of the two-star review is for "collectors/fans only"¯. Which means if you look beyond the rating you might find a rare treasure no five-star masterpiece can equal. Newcomers and casual fans are better off elsewhere, but to collectors, completists, and Prog Rock archeologists this may be the most valuable and important Pink Floyd album in their collection.

Neu!mann | 2/5 |


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