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Pink Floyd - A Saucerful Of Secrets CD (album) cover


Pink Floyd


Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.67 | 1709 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review +1, A Saucerful Of Secrets, Pink Floyd


A Saucerful Of Secrets is an album that, as the title suggest, breeds mystery, thrives on mystery, on unshared insight, and, to an extent, both ensuring the listener is aware they are only an observer, but also initiating them into a musical/spiritual tradition. As such, the descriptive words are vague, and the music and atmosphere must speak for itself. It remains a peak of Floyd's early psychedelic career, and also a challenging, bold entity, and is compulsary listening for anyone interested in Pink Floyd, psychedelia, atmospheric or experimental music, with a sort of spiritual significance that goes beyond plain atmosphere. Not to be missed out on.

For a chap who'd heard only Meddle... onwards, Nick Mason's drumming, in particular, came as a revelation. On this album, a more impressively tasteful, distinctive and threatening drummer could not be found. Mason isn't just an, admittedly very valuable, cog in the Floyd emotional machine, here; he is a standout in any sense of the word. His classical-sounding fills and rhythms are one of the most interesting aspects of a none-too-shabby album. Barrett's performance, though brief, is comprehensively winning, and the three remaining members are perhaps at their best in the dark, brooding atmospheres of this album. Gilmour manages to pull off the most mislocated blues solo with verve and grip, Wright holds complete emotional clutches, and Waters' bass parts are all distinctive, though less obvious than the others. From a playing side, in my opinion, this is where Floyd were at their best.

A chugging rhythmic bass drags us headlong into the psychedelic grandeur of Let There Be More Light, an eerie number, providing a heady feeling of being surrounded by the music. Enigmatic, nervous and invocative whispering is alternated with a superb confident vocal line, trading off ambiguous, evocative, spaced out lyrics. Wright's organs and Mason's very 'psych' percussion, complete with ingenious fills, provide a feeling of unchartered depth, while the snarling bluesy presence of Gilmour adds in some distinct presence. One of Floyd's best pieces, in all respects, and the overwhelming menace and atmosphere of the final 'jam' needs to be heard.

Of the two Wright pieces, Remember A Day is probably the better, opening with an absolutely enthralling bit of hollow piano supplemented by an understated acoustic guitar, before moving, a bit abruptly, onto a 60s pop number, albeit with distinctive drumming, a screaming background guitar part, and the occasional interesting piano line. Certainly the haunting atmosphere, when Wright moves off the vocals onto the organs, does more than make up for the slightly twee main body of the song. A good effort, and certainly interesting, but I can't help feeling it could have been better.

Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun is one of the archetypal Floyd numbers, a moody, cold and dark piece, with some absolutely stunning presence from Mason (on a very classical set of percussion), a mechanical bass part from Waters and the reverent vocals holding up the stark, daring atmosphere while Wright and Gilmour, menacingly devoted to their effects pedals, remain bleak and mysterious throughout. Almost an incantation: secretive, haunting, and distinctly giving the feel that there is something you don't know, and shouldn't know, complete with a foreboding set of lyrics. Stunning, if you're willing to listen to music that makes you feel out of the loop.

Corporal Clegg is the comic relief of the album, though no less biting or experimental than any of the others, with some very sharp, punching guitar lines from Gilmour, vocal harmonies and madness of all sorts... conversation, theatrical hilarity, multiple voices, ironic lyrics (often going on at the same time), blip blip blip blip. The mocking bassline, curious tish-a-tish rhythm and absolutely hilarious kazoo solos and bulldozer sound effects just add to the general chaos. Cheerfully insane, and a great listen.

The title track, a twelve minute extravaganza, initially relies heavily on volume-shifting, trembling organs, mysterious percussion, coming in start-stop bursts with little explanation, or care, and the background intrusion of other instruments, whether screaming guitars, nervous, twittering harmonica (I think, could be guitar), and thunking, off-key piano chords. Blocks of noise, searching runs, nonsensical bleats, it all adds together to produce one effect: alienation. This drops to a close for the presence of a solid, repeated drum line and desperate, lower-end, vicious piano swipes, overlaid with some screamingly unforgettable guitar effects. The only real constant is a dead end... something that appears one day, and hangs around, and the manic chaos of the other parts gives you little to rest on, this descends into blank noise again, a thundering wall of drums, from under which a dissonant, cathedral-like organ creeps, whence a tingling presence of percussion emanates. Wright, left alone, takes a sudden control, a slow, soul-searching, knowing organ, forming out of the chaos of the rest of the piece a sudden all-grasping order. As choral calls and soothing mellotron emerge to join this framework of peace, the piece reaches its reverent conclusion. Absolutely incredible, and a necessary listen even for those who aren't fond of Floyd's more popular material.

See-Saw, the second Wright number, is a bit less memorable, but perhaps (ironically) a bit less unpredictable in quality, since it has a more interesting set of lyrics and a consistent progressive attitude, whether from Mason's absolutely fantastic, pattering drumming, the crazed production (I love crazed production), some deliberately jarring piano bits, or the plain sound innovation from Wright and Gilmour. Wright's voice is also great here, and the interest of the song is perhaps let down from the lack of verve behind it.

Jugband Blues, the Barrett finisher, is another highlight, going through as many distinct sections, carnival flare, little acoustic ditty, determined atmosphere, calm, off-beat pop chorus, complete silence as most epics in only a couple of minutes, all of them catchy, effective and moving in their own way. Syd's vocals and the harmonies are all great, often unusual bass throbs and a menacing Wright organ solo add colour and compositional oddity in a way I've never really heard elsewhere. The final words, the melancholy, 'and what exactly is a dream, and what exactly is a joke?' bring to an end the mystery, the intriguing secrets of the album, and also conclude a simply incredibly compact and interesting song.

So, there you have it. An album with tunes I'd want to go and see live, embryonic and developing, rather than a mercilessly perfected statuesque creature like Dark Side or Wish You Were Here. An enigma, and one of, in my view, the most interesting drumming albums I've heard. It helps that it contains what's possibly now my favourite Floyd tune, the incredible A Saucerful Of Secrets. The level of the five strong tracks, all of which are among Floyd's best is extremely high, and I can say the Wright numbers are weak only in that they aren't of the same calibreł not because they're bad songs. A must-have, and, a masterpiece of progressive psychedelic music, though not a flawless album.

Rating: 13/15, or Five Stars.

Favourite Track: A Saucerful Of Secrets.

Edit: Felt obliged to drop to four when I was tightening/shuffling ratings for a bit of consistency - only for the Wright tracks, but it's still an absolute must-have for any 'progger'.

TGM: Orb | 4/5 |


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