Earlier this year, The Division Bell, Pink Floyd’s last proper studio album, turned 20 years old. To celebrate, there was a deluxe box set released, with a beautiful repackaging of the vinyl, the related singles, and Blu-Ray audio. Noticeably missing though were any outtakes or bonus material of any kind. This angered some of us fans who have known for some time that there were a lot of jam sessions recorded when the band started writing material for TDB in 1993. But news soon came that a “new” Pink Floyd album would be coming soon. That album is now here and is in my hands.
The name of the album comes from the second to last line in “High Hopes”, the last song on TDB. Much of the album was worked on in David Gilmour’s Astoria studio, which is basically a houseboat with a deluxe studio inside on the Thames River. As Gilmour has explained in several interviews over the past couple months, the idea was to take the best of the outtakes and work them all into something new. Another reason for doing this was to showcase the piano and keyboard talents of the late, irreplaceable Richard Wright. I won’t spend too much time on the details of “why”, as I have all of that in a previous article HERE. Instead, let’s actually talk about the music.
The music is mostly instrumental, except for the final track “Louder Than Words”. I have seen a lot of complaints about this. It surprises me. After all, Pink Floyd has given us many albums that are over 50% instrumental. For those who give it a chance, you may find it quite rewarding. The band has taken not only TDB-era sounding material, but also has woven in some things that are more akin to Wish You Were Here and even at times A Saucerful of Secrets. They’ve woven a tapestry that brings together their very distant past with their more recent past. The album is broken down into four major groupings, one per vinyl side of the 2LP set. On the Blu-Ray audio in the box set version, one of the options is even to play it one “side” at a time.
Keyboards fade in, distant voices of the band, and yes, this feels like a Floyd album opener. It is called “Things Left Unsaid”. The guitar is very much like that of the quiet moments on TDB, and the keyboards are very drifty and almost new age. There are a lot of subtle sounds and textures for the undiverted ear. Part 2, “It’s What We Do” has synth horns and is very similar to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”‘s intro. Drums kick in, soloing kicks in, and all gives way to something like a cross between “Shine On”‘s second part and the guitar of “Welcome To The Machine”. Part 3, “Ebb and Flow” uses some of the sound effects from “Soundscape”, an ambient piece used on side 4 of the P*U*L*S*E cassette that was used as an opener at the 1994 shows. This piece is a bit quieter, with chimey keys and very delicate guitar effects.
This is where it gets a little unexpected. First, “Sum” starts with a bit of the opening of “Cluster One” and the “Soundscape” tape, then starts with the same keyboard effect that ends “Take It Back” from TDB, but then launches into something a bit more dark and strange. This is one of the jams from the 1994 sessions that is very heavy on drums and Gilmour’s darker side of his soloing. This jam ends in a bed of sound effects and squealy slide not too much unlike that in the midsection of “Echoes”… which gives way to “Skins”. “Skins” is where Nick Mason of 1969 does a solo in 1994 (or after? I’m not sure if this part was redone today). This is from that place where “A Saucerful of Secrets” or “Up The Khyber”, or even one of the more interesting drum jams during The Massed Gadgets of Auximines shows comes from, and it’s nice to remember what Nick Mason brought to the group as a drummer. Part 3 of this side is called “Unsung”, and is a short distant cousin to “Marooned”. This ends in “Anisina”, one of the longer pieces here. This was one of the untitled outtakes on the Secret Rarities bootleg. I do believe this one has been beefed up a bit with some beautiful sax and backing vocals. Because what is a post-1983 Pink Floyd album without at least a little bit of the “woo-woo girls” singing their glorious oooooh’s and ahhhhh’s? The deluxe box edition set has video of this one, with Gilmour, recently, playing piano in the studio. So ends album one.
You know, this album isn’t really that long. Not long enough to warrant two records. But what do I know? I’m a CD collector. With my “awful, horrible” hi-res audio Blu-Ray (which sounds amazing!). I bought the vinyl too, Floyd collector that I am. But I don’t have a hi-res Blu-Ray quality turntable. But I digress…
This section has a lot more little parts. “The Lost Art of Conversation” is a quiet guitar and piano piece that sounds like the beginning of some long lost treasure off of TDB. It turns into “On Noodle Street”, which is quite jazzy. It sounds like this could have sprung up out of the same place as “Wearing The Inside Out”. This is where the subtlety of what Rick Wright did is really apparent. He always set the backdrop and mood for the song. “Night Light” is more of a bridge progression to get to the next piece. “Allons-y (1)” is part of a major outtake on the Secret Rarities collection, with some added touches. This is one that probably could have become a full fledged song. It lies somewhere between “Take It Back” and “Keep Talking” style-wise. Great solos here. This is one of the guitar highlights of the album. But unlike the outtake version, this is split into part 1 and 2, with “Autumn ’68” interrupting. Here’s a “The More You Know” moment: the organ played here is Rick Wright playing church organ in – I believe the Royal Albert Hall, in 1968 – though my books all show this as 1969. This story is in the pres kit video below. But in rehearsal, Rick found this old pipe organ and they got it on tape. It makes for quite an interesting excursion. And then ending ferociously with the ending of “Allons-y (2)”. So Allons-y apparently has connections to Doctor Who, and according to the show, the saying was French for “let’s go!” Now, I know zero French, and I’m a newcomer to Doctor Who as of about a year ago, so I’m not sure. I will leave that to the Whovians. But we do know from the past that the band are fans. But that’s not all, one final part. “Talkin’ Hawkin'” is a breakdown similar to how “Shine On…” Part IX slows down and mellows into a keyboard/piano solo section. Added to this is more of the Stephen Hawking recording that was used in “Keep Talking”, which was from a British television commercial.
The last section starts with electronic gadget type sounds – space travel related maybe? “Calling” is much like something from Rick Wright’s Broken China album. Very dark and somber, with some very sinister guitar from Gilmour. The moody piece gives way to “Eyes to Pearls”, a piece fronted by electric-acoustic (almost acoustic) guitar but with a backing that has gongs and sounds akin to “Set The Controls For The Heart of the Sun”. This morphs into “Surfacing” which has a lot in common with TDB‘s “Poles Apart”, but with some heavier drums and beautiful slide guitar soloing. In fact it could almost be “Poles Apart Part II”. I do love “Poles Apart”. Then we have the finale. Starting with the same church bells as “High Hopes”… which are also the same bells from 1970’s “Fat Old Sun”, comes the one song with words, titled “Louder Than Words”. Musically, it shares a veeeeery similar guitar line with Roger Waters’ “Each Small Candle”. On purpose? Accident? But listen to the two back to back and see what you think. Musically, this one is gorgeous, full of layers of beautiful guitar and keyboard, and David Gilmour’s aged like fine wine voice. The lyrics, written by David’s wife, Polly Samson are mostly very fitting as an outsider looking in. But would David ever write “We bitch and we fight, diss each other on sight”? But that’s one small bump in a gorgeous song meant to tie up the ends of an incredible career. Rather than a big ending there’s a subtle bit that drifts off into a whimsical but eerie reverbed melody like a ghost. The end.
BUT ON THE BLU-RAY:
There are more tracks. There’s video! There is some footage from 1993’s rehearsal’s mixed together with photographs and footage of Dave and Nick recording now also. These make up videos for “Anisina”, “Allons-y” (1993 version – no break in the middle), “Untitled”, another unfinished bit Rick Wright was working on, “Nervana”, a harder edged jam session that didn’t fit like the other pieces, and “Evrika (a)” and “Evrika (b)”. What is this Evrika? It is none other than the work in progress version of “Wearing The Inside Out” before it had words. Lots and lots of extended soloing in one of my favorite pieces on The Division Bell. Then there’s three audio tracks. “TBS9” starts off in Zabriskie Point-land and becomes a soft keyboard driven piece. “TBS?”, you might ask? The Big Spliff. That was a working title the band jokingly gave to a tape of outtakes they had circulated amongst the band members in 1993. “TBS14” starts in a place where “TBS9” ends, but evolves into a jazzed up and eventually bluesy thing that’s like a far less 80s “Dogs of War” ending jam meets “The Travel Sequence”. Nice. I wish they’d have just included a bonus disc of that tape. Lastly is “Nervana” – same as the video. This is heavy Gilmour rocking out with his guitar, and Nick really holding it down with some really great drumming, and Rick with his powerful washes of organ playing. This could have been the heaviest track on The Division Bell I think if they had chosen that path. Oddly, these three tracks are on the Spotify version of the album, but not on the actual CD. But they are included on the Blu-Ray in hi-res audio.
So overall… from a Floyd fanatic, how do I rate this? I really thoroughly enjoy it. It’s something different, yet something familiar. Pink Floyd was the first band to every really get me past my severe ADHD to pay attention to really lengthy and completely instrumental music. That is no small feat. There are bits of their history musically from all over the timeline here, rather than this just being some laid back jam CD. Instead, some real though and construction went into this album to make it an actual album. It’s a bit harder I supposed for someone who loves The Wall more than the early stuff to commit to mostly instrumental recordings. But to me this album is quite a bit more than just the scraps on the studio floor. Is it on par with their virtually untouchable masterpieces? No. Is it a really good album that I will be listening to multiple times? Definitely. In fact I was not expecting this album to be the audio experience that it is. It is a really nice footnote to the band’s history, and a great companion piece to The Division Bell. It’s nice to be reminded what it feels like to go through an audio journey with this band for the first time. Recommended for the adventurous Floyd fan. For those who just want the hits… proceed with caution.
Check out some videos fro the album:
“Louder Than Words”:
The Endless River Press Kit video – lots of great interview stuff: