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Pink Floyd - Ummagumma CD (album) cover

UMMAGUMMA

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.48 | 1724 ratings

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SteveG
4 stars "I agree that it's art. But can one dance to it?"

No, one does not dance to Ummagumma. That's not what the album was created for. Ummagumma's importance is generally overlooked by the prog community, especially as a major catalyst for the development of the kruatrock genre, and the album's influence on German artists like Tangerine Dream, for starters.

Recorded after the more rock friendly offering of the OST album More, Ummagumma was a brave and expensive concept with both live and studio albums combined, I believe, for the first time on a record. And a double record at that.

The first album is the live counterpart with selections from Saucerful Of Secrets and Piper At The Gates of Dawn redone with the Gilmoured version of Pink Floyd, as well as expanding the songs in the case of Careful With that Axe, Eugene and Saucerful's title track. These live recordings find the band more confident and accomplished, to state the differences between the studio originals and live versions simply. Even Astronomy Domine without Syd Barrett's vocals or guitar playing is not missed. Except for the ultra sentimentalists. A good starting point for this ultra ambitious undertaking which finds the second studio album divided equally amongst the four group members as what is essentially solo offerings.

First up is Rick Wright's four part keyboard opus Sisyphus which works quite well as separate movements that evolves and dissolves into dissonant sounds that seem be tape manipulated and altered piano chords with tympani that collides with Wrights' stately piano and later, his eerie mellotron, which evokes the feeling of building up, pushing up, giving up and collapse. Just like Sisyphus' futile attempts to push the giant stone up the hill in the Greek legend. This is the first song to demonstrate the group's preoccupation with recording tricks that will culminate in the Nick Mason's closing piece entitled The Grand Vizier's Garden Party.

Indeed, it's electronic recording effects that dominate the heart of the studio album in much the same way that Sgt. Pepper's dominated the mindset of the Beatles. The effects came first and the music suffered. Not intentionally. But studio recording tape manipulation at this time required labor intensive effort on the part of both the musicians as well as the recording engineers.

Water's attempt to simulate chasing a fly at the end of his understated and under developed pastoral outing titled Grantchester Meadows demonstrates this missappropriation of studio time that necessitated the hours required to record, overdub and rerecord numerous vocals (by trial and error) and then have those recorded pieces played back on tape loops at wildly different speeds or completely backwards, and then deftly synced together in order to the create the mind blowing Dadaesque absurdist instrumental piece titled Several Species Of Small Fury Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict (which immediately follows Grantchester Meadows) . This piece features the first of Water's spoken personas and you can almost hear the "Stand Still, Laddie!" character trying to breakthrough his faux Gaelic ranting that concludes the piece. The folky Grantchester Meadows seems underdeveloped because of it's stark and simple acoustic guitar strumming that sounds like Waters trying his best to conjure some body from two double tracked acoustic guitars, but failing miserably. A lead guitar solo by Gilmour, either acoustic or electric, would have greatly complemented and completed this sleepy lackluster song. But Gilmour is sadly AWOL.

Was David too busy with his own repeated guitar overdubs and experimentation with backwards and forwards recorded guitar sounds for his own song? And, even possibly, of playing a lead passage in reverse order and reversing the playback of the tape only to find another completely different set of sounds than those that were originally envisioned? A common experience with studio experimentalists in that era. And again, very time consuming for a band that made its living from heavy touring.

Gilmour's three part song The Narrow Way starts out with a more sophisticated acoustic guitar introduction, supported by dissonant tape manipulated electric guitar tones, that's more reminiscent of Led Zeppelin's acoustic outings from that time, but never develops into a truly memerable song. The second part features heavy guitar riffing that never develops into a climatic lead guitar frenzy that this kind of song calls for. That would come later in Pink Floyd's recording career. And Gilmour's meandering lyrics will not hold the listeners attention.

Two strikes for the band so far until Nick Mason saves the day with the most avant-garde piece ever recorded in the Pink Floyd canon, the Grand Vizier's Garden Party. Bracketed by mournful flute, this Stockhausen-like percussion based collage piece is the absolute apex of combining recorded music with studio effects that, to my opinion, has never been bettered since.

The final tally on the studio disc: two hits and two misses. But at least the Floyd were brave enough to try and that's what really matters with Ummagumma. The type of risk taking by a popular group that one would never see attempted again in the age of modern pop music.

Despite Waters' and Gilmour's songs coming up short, both Sysyphus and the Grand Vizier show just how talented and creative Wright and Mason were at this juncture of Pink Floyd's development, and why they are regarded, quite correctly by those in the know, as Floyd's secret weapons immediately after the departure of Syd Barrett.

The true magic of an album that contains music like this is that it's so subjective that another listener might reject my favorites and replace them with songs that did not impress me. Or one listener might appreciate all the songs on the studio disc, while another might dismiss all of them.

So, is Ummagumma a collection of fine dance songs? No would be my opinion. But for those with two left feet, or think with the right hemisphere of their brains, this album will do quite nicely. 4 stars.

SteveG | 4/5 |

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