Pink Floyd and Roger Waters

I first heard Pink Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets shortly after its release in 1968, which means that my consciousness on most weekends meshed nicely with what four British musicians -- who were not yet the superstar legends they would become a few years later -- were doing to "rock" music. Needless to say, I liked what I heard. Followed quickly by Ummagumma and then Atom Heart Mother, Pink Floyd were taking music in directions that no one else could see. Both Atom Heart Mother and Meddle extended there long, now side filling, musical explorations into soundscapes that a body, or at least a mind, could climb right in to, leaving behind the boring real world behind for 15 minutes or so and riding on the pulsing beat and bending, sometimes thunderous sounds. We had never heard music like this before!

Well, that's what music is supposed to do: take you someplace you can't otherwise go. Pink Floyd did that. The follow-up to Meddle, 1972's Dark Side of the Moon was the monster hit that Pink Floyd needed to move them from critic's darling and doper's delight to a full blown star status. Multi-platinum in the US and elsewhere, it was the first CD that most people my age bought to run their new CD player through its paces back when CDs were new. It also sowed the seeds for the ultimate break-up of the band, that leaves us where we are today (or were, until Rick Wright died recently) with two Pink Floyds vying (in the Amazon reviews at least) for the title of "the real Pink Floyd."

After Syd Barrett's departure early on, two things happened. Dave Gilmour came in to take over lead guitar work, and bassist Roger Waters increasingly took on the songwriting tasks. By the release of The Wall, Waters was Pink Floyd, at least from a songwriting perspective. Depending in who you believe, artistic, monetary or power conflicts led to Waters departure, lawsuits over the use the band's name, and competing concert tours with both Gilmour-Wright-Mason, under the Pink Floyd name, and Roger Waters (and some stellar guest musicians) often playing some of the same songs.

To my mind, it's a tempest in a teapot: only the music matters, and both PF incarnations still do the old stuff well. As far as the new stuff -- post-Waters Pink Floyd (Waters-less PF?) and Roger Waters' solo albums, I have to admit that I lean toward Waters three post-Floyd albums. I don't dislike the later Pink Floyd albums, and several songs, in particular Learning to Fly and High Hopes really are quite good. But I still find Gilmour's songwriting less consistently interesting.

I list Comfortably Numb from The Wall in my "Bucket List" and it deserves to be there, if only for Gilmour's explosive and soaring guitar work. But Gilmour's solo albums up through On an Island leave me cold. Add to that the tired rendition of Comfortably Numb and other Floyd classics from his recent tours and he really does come up short. Give the Pulse DVD is listen, too. It's a bit distant, and just doesn't measure up, in my opinion, to Pink Floyd concerts of old.

Contrast that with Roger Waters, who right off his departure from Pink Floyd, released the other project he had in his pocket when the band started working on The Wall, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking. Like all of Waters' post-Floyd releases -- like most of Roger's Pink Floyd albums -- it's a pure concept album. As such it requires that you actually pay attention to it over several listenings to appreciate the arc of the story and the music. Likewise, his most recent (although not too recent) Amused to Death, which is probably his best since The Wall. It's not perfect -- I think Waters benefited from the influence of the other Floyd members musical contributions and probably from the discipline of working with others as more or less equals. But it displays a level of talent, and especially the growth and exploration that talent has been undergoing, that surpasses anything that the remaining Floyd members simply have not shown. Instead of the just helping to set the "mood" as in some Floyd albums (think Dark Side of the Moon) the spoken parts here, especially in The Ballad of Bill Hubbard, set up the story and add a real emotion to all that set this above the mush of the trippy music and musical virtuosity that established and maintained Pink Floyd over the years.

All in all, I'm at a loss to find a real down side here, though. We still get plenty of music -- albums from Floyd, Gilmour and Waters (although not enough!) and tours from all three in recent years. We'll see what effect Wright's death has in the future. Waters' In the Flesh tour is documented by a good DVD of the same name, and I recommend it. Some have complained about Waters not being faithful enough to the old arrangements, and others that he rehashes the same material. For me, there's enough new and old, and some of the arrangements of Floyd material do reflect the change in Waters' style in recent years. Some of it is more vocal oriented (and what wonderful vocals!) and there's even a bit of a lighter approach (in rhythm and intensity, if not in tone) that detracts nothing and may even enhance. My only regret is that the concert passes on The Great Gig in the Sky, one of my Floyd favorites.

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