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Pink Floyd - Obscured By Clouds CD (album) cover


Pink Floyd


Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.37 | 1451 ratings

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2 stars In the Valley in the Shadow of the Dark Side of the Moon

The last album released by Pink Floyd before their groundbreaking masterpiece 'Dark Side of the Moon' remains one of the band's most overlooked works, and perhaps with good reason. 'Obscured by Clouds' was composed for the obscure French film La Vallée, which translated as 'The Valley,' as if you needed me to tell you that. IMDB tells us that La Vallée is directed by Barbet Schroeder, whoever that is, and is a documentary of sorts about some hipp. I mean, sexually liberated young people seeking enlightenment in the rainforest. I admire Pink Floyd's strange artistic ethics that saw them turn down Stanley Kubrick's request to use their existing music in 'A Clockwork Orange,' but that allows them to compose a whole album of music for a hopelessly obscure French art film.

However noble the band's intentions, no collection of original Pink Floyd material is going to remain particularly rare or obscure, and Obscured by Clouds is readily available in most good music shops online or on the planet Earth, despite being something of a collector's-only CD in terms of its appeal. Even in 1972 the band was hardly unknown, having achieved #1 on the album charts with 'Atom Heart Mother' and proving increasingly popular at live shows. Obscured by Clouds is notably different from the band's other work, following more of a traditional hard rock style in contrast to the more epic and progressive pieces the band are more famous for, and sounding less original and impressive as a result.

It's alleged that Obscured by Clouds took the band one week to write and record. I assume this is true to an extent, but it's likely that a lot of it represents ideas that had been circulating for a while, evidenced by the close similarity of some songs to material that would end up on Dark Side of the Moon in a far more refined form. The production job does sound pretty rushed, and as orgasmic as some of David Gilmour's guitar solos are, much of the instrumentation could be pretty interchangeable amongst tracks. A lot of the variation comes from mundane changes, like slow versus fast songs and the occasional instrumental. Aside from this, the album follows one type of sound throughout, which isn't a bad thing considering it's all intended to link thematically to a film. The album stands alone in the Pink Floyd discography, while also forming an interesting if shaky bridge between two important eras of the band's sound.

This album is dominated by guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour, but Gilmour is aided greatly by Richard Wright's keyboards and Hammond organ backing. As the music follows a classic rock style and ditches a lot of the avant-garde stuff, Wright's duties primarily involve supplementing whatever the guitar, bass and drums are doing, but he nevertheless takes many opportunities to enhance what would otherwise be substandard songs into interesting ditties worthy of a listener's attention. This is most notable in the opening and closing instrumentals 'Obscured by Clouds' and 'Absolutely Curtains.' The first begins with deep, throbbing synth that lasts throughout, providing a real bass line for Gilmour's solos to soar over to improve on Roger Waters' bass guitar, which is hardly noticeable throughout the album. 'Absolutely Curtains' is similarly synth- led, but at a higher pitch this time, incredibly atmospheric and reminiscent of the band's later masterpiece 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond.' The song 'Free Four' would sound stupidly optimistic without Wright's intermittent bursts of dark keyboard, and elsewhere in the album he contributes piano melodies and understated Hammond organ.

With more freedom than he would be permitted on the more stringently structured releases the band would produce hereafter, David Gilmour really lets his guitar skills shine. He doesn't achieve anything innovative here, as Obscured by Clouds unfortunately tends to look backwards for inspiration rather than forwards for progression, but it's great to hear all those chilled out solos, somehow reminiscent of lying on the sand and watching the sun set on tropical beaches I've never even been to. Almost every song has one of these solos, slow and mellow as was the seventies way (I guess. I wasn't there), but the slower songs feature especially relaxed contributions. 'Burning Bridges' and the inexplicably titled 'Wot's . Uh the Deal' follow the style of the short acoustic songs on the albums 'Atom Heart Mother' and 'Meddle,' but without the acoustic guitars. Gilmour's vocals are light and soothing, one of the few remnants here of the band's psychedelic era, and the lengthy solos in each are freely interrupted by additional verses as if they themselves substitute for vocals.

Also pointlessly titled, 'Gold it's in the.' follows more of a blues-rock sound, complete with catchy chorus and hard riffs, but like many songs on here ends up either repeating itself or inserting a guitar solo in place of a vocal reprise. 'Free Four' is similar in tempo and vocal style, but the daft opening and bouncy riff detract from its credibility, and confuse the issue of whether this is indeed a parody or just a disappointment. This same aesthetic issue would surface later in the band's career with 'The Wall.' More interesting songs come in tracks 6 and 7 in the middle of the album, both of which contain hints of things to come on the album that would follow, and are among the best here: the instrumental 'Mudmen' has a great atmosphere, and the strange sound effects sound a lot like 'The Travel Sequence' that would feature on the band's subsequent live show 'Eclipse,' later to be re-done and recorded as Dark Side's 'On the Run.'

Similarly, 'Childhood's End' is an obvious precursor to 'Time,' Alan Parsons' chiming clocks replaced by some cool spacey keyboards that still proceed to the fast-ticking drum beat and country-style vocals. The original version of 'Time' was slower than what ended up on the album, a can be heard on 1972 live bootlegs, and there are many similarities here. although it's not as good. Even the lyrics deal with a similar theme of growing old and burning out: 'life is a short warm moment, death is a long cold rest.'

I'm not sure how the band went about recording these songs: whether they had footage of the film to hand, or were trusted to do their own thing and come up with something fittingly appropriate. Collected here, it's not clear how and why any of the music would be relevant, and it's also annoyingly edited in places, presumably to keep within the standard forty minutes. The nice guitar-led instrumental 'When You're In' fades out just as it starts to get even more interesting, yet the slower songs seem to last for far longer than necessary. Even as a stand-alone album this is nicely arranged, the penultimate song 'Stay' offering a nicely subdued piano ballad and 'Absolutely Curtains' (an appropriate title for once) leading out with some tribal chants.

It's interesting that the band's detractors often dismiss their more well-known, lengthier works as sounding like film scores, when there's very little on this album that I can even conceive working well as part of any soundtrack. The music's far too obtrusive and catchy to sit well alongside La Vallée's alleged 'commentary on the human condition,' and apparently the combined end result was indeed disappointing. That's what I've read anyway, I wouldn't know, I haven't watched it have I? Sounds like a load of boring rubbish about hipp. nature lovers. The album's pretty fun though.

Obscured by Clouds sold poorly, but that can't have been a major disappointment to the band, as they already had a 'canonical' studio album ('Meddle') and a compilation ('Relics') out that year, both of which were more warmly received. The music isn't inherently off-putting, but doesn't represent the band's strength very well aside from Gilmour's ability to produce nice guitar solos, which would be heard better on 'Animals' anyway. This album is by no means essential, unlike Dark Side of the Moon which I should hope you own already, and which is far too intimidating to consider reviewing on here. Not like this mediocre thing. I reiterate that the album's pretty fun though, and I enjoy listening to it occasionally.

Soundtrack excuse or no, the music here only sounds tenuously like Pink Floyd, and despite the added vibrance of the live recording, the final product sounds dull, rushed and lazy even compared to their earlier, more interesting film scores for 'More' and 'Zabriskie Point.' At least the improvisation is more restrained and palatable than the band's early days of playing at the UFO club, when 'Interstellar Overdrive' would be extended to about half an hour for the whacked-out hippie beatniks. Dang, I used the H word.

Frankingsteins | 2/5 |


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