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Pink Floyd - Ummagumma CD (album) cover


Pink Floyd


Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.47 | 1768 ratings

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4 stars A recording with a split personality, Ummagumma presents a combination of a live recording with highly affected (and sometimes effective) studio work. The first part of the recording comprises the live set. The live version of Astronomy Domine (an old Barrett classic from Piper at the Gates of Dawn) is well handled by the band as a whole and Gilmour's guitar work is highly charged. The price of admission is worth it just to hear his work on this recording. (Even so, stylistically I prefer the original studio version.) Next comes Careful With That Axe, Eugene, a psychedelic epic that starts slowly with gentle percussion by Mason and a repetitive and simplistic baseline by Waters, then followed by the addition of some really neat reverberating organ textures by Wright, one spoken vocal line (the title of the song) followed by a long agonizing scream and then wild out-of-this world psychedelic guitar by Gilmour as the rest of the band goes berserk in support before gradually softening and ending- a startling piece for the time with truly murderous guitar by Gilmour (guitar= axe, is Gilmour Eugene??). Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun is a live rehash of the Waters piece from Saucerful of Secrets and is good but provides nothing particularly new and exciting in live play. Saucerful of Secrets is quite good, but again, I prefer the original. The studio work on this double album is highly experimental in many regards and my opinions are quite mixed. Sysyphus is a dark but colorful work marked largely by highly textural and classically influenced piano play by Wright with a number of interesting percussive and sonic effects.( As an aside note, around the time of this record, consideration was reportedly given by the band to producing an experimental album comprised solely of nonconventional instrumentation and musique concrete involving such instrumentation as rubber bands and aerosol cans. Since that plan was aborted, I wonder if parts of Ummagumma are the compromise.) At times, Sysyphus drags under the weight of the muddy keyboard figures and tempo but remains an interesting piece because of its elements, even if the sum is less than the parts here. Grantchester Meadows is a lovely folk-like acoustic ballad tastefully sung by Waters with fine acoustic guitar work by Gilmour. Although an interesting effect, the fly being swatted at the end of the song is really unnecessary and detracts from what is otherwise a nearly flawless little piece of music. Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict is a remarkable piece of studio engineering replete with altered voices, strange animal-like noises and a crazed rhythm. This is a highly polarizing piece of music that frankly shows the band at its most experimental. Some of the repetitive figures sound like tape loop effects similar to what Steve Reich was doing in serious music circles at the time and some of the electronic effects are reminiscent of electronics pioneers like Morton Subotnick. It is a daring piece, and frankly, the band never got this daring again musically speaking... too bad. Narrow Way is a highly evocative but sometimes slow moving guitar showcase for David Gilmour with a number of interesting studio effects superimposed. The vocals are wonderful on top. Although not as flashy as some of the later output, this experimental piece of guitar work by Gilmour remains a decided favorite of mine after all these years. In my opinion, Grand Vizier's Garden Party is the weakest link on the record. The flute play adds a nice touch, but it is not special. The background music is highly forgettable and overindulgant. Overall, this is a somewhat flawed and somewhat overindulgant recording with many intriguing moments. The live recordings provide an excellent insight into the capabilities of the band in concert. While not an essential masterpiece of progressive music, the degree of exploration and innovation by the band in this recording were never to be duplicated or exceeded by the band again. They approached the edge of the experimental cliff and then sheepishly stepped back. Their future focus was on refinement of studio recording and outlandish and sometimes overblown stage presentations. At times, the stage presentations have been the most innovative in live rock performance, but their musical output never compared with the level of musical innovation on this record despite its frequent excellence. Despite the fact that much of the studio work is a difficult listen, the overall product rates 4 stars because of the daring nature of the studio work and excellent representation of the band in concert during this period.


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