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Pink Floyd - Ummagumma CD (album) cover

UMMAGUMMA

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.48 | 1627 ratings

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TrannonG
4 stars UMMAGUMMA IS FLOYD'S DARK JOURNEY.

Ummagumma, to me, was the beginning of what I call "the experimental Floyd era" that began in 1969. Sure Floyd experimented prior to this album with jams like Interstellar Overdrive and A Saucerful of Secrets, but they expanded those efforts and honed in on them with precision on Ummagumma. Three things that make Ummagumma different (and special) are 1) Along with Atom Heart Mother, it is their most exploratory effort into the realms of the avant-garde, and yet, 2) unlike any album before it, Ummagumma was also a live album featuring extended versions of previously released songs and some of Floyd's main concert staples at the time. Finally, 3) it is a double-album that gives you the best of Floyd's psychedelic showmanship on Disc 1 and their most far-out journey into the depths of progressive music on Disc 2.

Track by Track: (Disc 1 - The Live Side) ASTRONOMY DOMINE : The opening track to their very first album, a Syd Barrett tune, opens the Live Side with David Gilmour taking on the role of Barrett. With the exception of bootlegs, the only version we have to compare it to with Barrett is the studio version and that's not really a good comparison. The studio version is cleaned up, polished and a lot less atmospheric than the live. It is comparing (dare I say it) apples and oranges! The Gilmour version of this song isn't really that much different from Barrett's original with the exception of the pacing and more haunting atmosphere Gilmour brings to the table. It is said that Interstellar Overdrive was supposed to be on this album, and I would really have preferred it to this song. Meh.

CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE, EUGENE : Personally one of my favorite Floyd tracks of all-time, this version is definitely one of the best. Previously released as a studio B-side in 1968, CWTAE became a concert staple and fleshed out to become creepier and much more powerful than the almost-silly studio version. Although I prefer the Pompeii version of this song, there is really nothing left to want from Ummagumma's version here. The tense build-up, Gilmour's haunting wordless vocals, Roger's incredible spine-chilling scream and the bombastic drumming by Nick Mason (some of his best), is underscored by Rick Wright's creeping and sweeping keys. The buildup is extended but perfectly timed, and the blistering guitar soloing by Gilmour while the band is crushing it is as heavy as Floyd gets. It is raw, hypnotic, extremely dark and demonstrates the variety of Floyd all in one instrumental.

SET THE CONTROLS ? : This Roger Waters favorite became a concert staple like CWTAE in nearly all of the Floyd's late 60s and early 70s shows (and even Waters' solo concerts in the 80s and 2000s). The song is relatively unchanged from the studio version with the exception of being extended and (again) the pacing was a bit slower to add more atmosphere. This track has a ritualistic feel to it due to Waters' mantra-like, repetitive chanting of lyrics, Wright's "Middle Eastern" adventuring on the keys and Mason's tribal drumming. Gilmour chimes in some experimental guitar soloing and the combination of all the musicians' efforts creates a hypnotic trance into some otherworldly realm.

A SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS : One of the very first structured, experimental tracks after Syd Barrett left. Created by Waters and Mason's architectural mapping, this song may sound improvised or even like the band just randomly playing around with sounds at some points, but it is a very organized piece of music. The studio version sounds a lot more structured than the live version and is, in my opinion, a different animal. Although it is one of the creepiest Floyd songs this side of CWTAE, there isn't much difference between this version and the studio with the exception of Gilmour's moaning vocals during the finale (which I prefer to the studio versions' "voices" track used). Again, this one isn't as good as the Pompeii version, but it is a slight improvement over the studio version. Lots of guitar experimentation from Gilmour, haunting keys from Wright, more Mason's tribal drumming and Waters going insane on a gong! Beautiful!

(Disc 2 - The Studio Side) SYSYPHUS I-IV : With each member receiving space on Side 2 to experiment individually, this Rick Wright effort was his attempt at making what he called "real music" (probably meaning classically-influenced) and it comes out extremely interesting, if not coming up a bit short perhaps. The track has four parts with part one coming in heavy, straight-forward ominously like a heavier classical piece from Orff or Wagner. The foreboding strings call to mind at times Gustav Holst's Mars suite, while the Mellotron underpinning brings to mind King Crimson. This very warlike first section segues into a hauntingly beautiful classical piano piece that seems to be not unlike something you might here from Grieg, until Wright begins to break it down into some very Penderecki-like atonal playing that brings to mind a mental breakdown. Part 2 than falls into part 3 which sounds like metal scraps falling out of the back of truck or something. It is a very industrial and a bit too "experimental" for my taste. Finally part 4 brings us out of the metallic tornado into a very eerie soundscape that reminds me of something you may hear on a "Tales From The Darkside" episode. An unsettling sort of midday, "something is not right" vibe that clarifies itself later in the piece to prove you right, before it follows up with a reprise of Part 1's bombast.

GRANTCHESTER MEADOWS: Waters' offering begins with this pleasant pastoral track. Opening with the chirping birds reminiscent of Cirrus Minor, the light acoustic guitar and Waters' soft singing takes the listener to a very pleasant stroll through the countryside after coming through Wright's nightmare world. The double-tracked vocals, continuous atmospheric birdsong and the sticky acoustic song gives this song a relaxing, yet tense feel at the same time because you don't know what will come at anytime. Is Pink Floyd really allowing us to breathe again or will the hammer come down at any minute? Fortunately, it never does, but a swatting does take place when it seems a pesky fly enters the environment.

SEVERAL SPECIES ? : Ok ? the full title is "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In a Cave and Grooving With a Pict." Whew! I wonder if Waters just meant to be funny or pretentious or pretentiously funny? Either way, this avant-garde piece is strictly loops that sound like little creatures squeaking and squalling, cave-like ambience and Waters eventually ranting and raving in some thick Scottish accent about who knows what. It is the strangest and, by far, the most far-out piece of work that Pink Floyd has ever released. It needs to be heard to be believed.

THE NARROW WAY I - III: Ah, leave it to David Gilmour to bring us back to some Floydian normality (if such a thing exists), The Narrow Way is divided into three sections with the first being Gilmour playing some sort of acoustic jig-along stuff while dissonant effects seem to create an alien presence involved. Part 2 comes in and takes into darker territory with a raga guitar repetition being underscored by some insanely spooking experimentation reminding us of the place we were in Wright's Sisyphus piece at times. Finally Part 3 is probably the closest we come to even remotely getting a taste of the classic Floyd sound on this entire disc. The off-putting chord strums create a distant, detached feel that eventually seeps into a "real song" complete with words, standard playing of guitar, piano and eventually bass and drum ? a group effort to complete this piece allows us to feel that we know Pink Floyd again.

THE GRAND VIZIER'S GARDEN PARTY: This is not the best or most favored track on Ummagumma, but I feel it is highly underrated. Divided into three parts like The Narrow Way, the first and last sections are essentially the same thing ? Mason's wife, Lindy, playing a very pleasant piece on the flute. This rather simple, but enjoyable tune bookends Mason's real effort ? part 2 which features some experimental drumming and looping done by Mason that is actually very progressive and quite impressive. Grand Vizier's Garden Party is often referred to as the weakest effort on the album (and that may be the case), but it is not really a bad effort at all.

Overall: This album is definitely Pink Floyd's darkest album followed by Animals and The Wall later on, but it is also their most adventurous effort ever put to record. This is truly the beginning of the progressive era for Floyd that led to later masterpieces. Ummagumma is far removed from previous Floyd albums and takes it to another level. Although dismissed by band members now and many critics, Ummagumma is a milestone for Pink Floyd and progressive music in general. It is way ahead of its time, but still dated a bit in parts. It is the Floyd at the peak of their curiosity about music and sound. It deserves multiple listens and the appreciation will grow. 4/5

TrannonG | 4/5 |

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