Pink Floyd’s “The Endless River”… an homage to a lost friend, a seamless journey through musical space, an instrumental end to a most profound story that is, by all accounts, louder than words.
Twenty years ago, in March of 1994, Pink Floyd released “The Division Bell” which, at the time, was to be their last album as a band. The remaining three members, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright (Roger Waters had departed a few years before) went their individual ways with Gilmour having the most commercial success with his solo albums and subsequent tours. Twenty years later, and here we are with another Pink Floyd album to enchant us. Produced by Gilmour and Phil Manzanera (guitarist for Roxy Music) “The Endless River” was released on the 10th of November, 2014 and is the band’s 15th studio release in their long and lustrous career.
The album’s title comes from a lyric in the final song, “High Hopes”, on The Division Bell album which isn’t accidental, considering that The Endless River is an album that was crafted out of over twenty hours of material from the Division Bell sessions that were not used on that record.
“The water flowing, The endless river, Forever and ever.”
– “High Hopes” (1994)
While The Endless River has risen out of the remains of the Division Bell, it’s safe to say that this latest album is able to quite strongly stand on it’s own and doesn’t come across as a “left-over” album. It’s a lot more instrumental than any other Floyd record, with only the last track, “Louder Than Words” having any lyrics. Having said this, the instrumental factor of the album is not at all displeasing. When you think about it, many Pink Floyd albums have had quite a few instrumental pieces (Shine On You Crazy Diamond from the Wish You Were Here album comes to mind) so it’s really no surprise that out of all their studio releases they would have at least one record that was less lyrically driven and leaned more towards instrumental tracks.
Back in 2008 the band lost their extraordinarily talented pianist/keyboardist Rick Wright to an undisclosed form of cancer which is why the notion of a new Floyd record was even more unbelievable. What Gilmour (vocals and guitar) and Mason (percussion) did with The Endless River was to make a Pink Floyd album that was more of an homage to their longtime friend and band mate than anything else. Wright’s piano playing has defined many a Pink Floyd song (the album “Darkside of the Moon” contains some of his finest work) yet he was never really one to steal the limelight (both on stage and in the studio). During the Division Bell sessions Wright contributed a lot to the overall feel and tone of the album with obviously a lot of his craftsmanship being left over. So Gilmour and Mason took that material, sifted through it all, pulled out all the gems (and there are quite a few), added guitars, drums and a plethora of Floyd-esque sounds and effects and gave a silent nod to their friend.
“It is a tribute to him…It’s very evocative and emotional in a lot of moments. This is the last chance anyone will get to hear him just playing along with us in that way that he did.” – David Gilmour
Rick Wright’s elegant piano playing is combined with the guitars, drums and effects to create a great Pink Floyd album with some exceptional tracks. Wright’s arsenal on the album varies from pianos and synthesizers to Farfisa organs and even the Royal Albert Hall pipe organ and this variety of instruments not only shows his versatility as a pianist but as a great composer as well. And it didn’t take much from Gilmour and Mason to mould the raw material into a great-sounding instrumental progressive-rock album.
The album cover image is of a man in a row boat, sailing across a sea of clouds and this image is reciprocated in the songs on the album. For the most part, as on the first couple of tracks (Things Left Unsaid and It’s What We Do), you are taken on a journey up high into the clouds where images of flying through the sky and being limitless come to mind. Wright’s playing and his composition of melodies and intricate piano parts are impeccable and along with Gilmour’s recognisable crisp and clear guitar playing it’s difficult not to be swept up into the clouds and to be immersed in the songs.
“Ebb and Flow” has Gilmour alternating between his feisty electric guitar playing and his emotive acoustic genius. The track also harks back to some of the earlier and more, dare I call them “psychedelic” days of the band. “Skins” is a track where Nick Mason shows why he has always been the backbone of Pink Floyd with his rhythmic and precise drumming. Gilad Atzmon plays some soulful saxophone on “Anisina” while Rick Wright shines though with some very emotional piano playing on “The Lost Art of Conversation”. As with another track on The Division Bell album, “Keep Talking”, an audio snippet of Stephen Hawking is used on The Endless River on the track “Talkin’ Hawkin'”. “Autumn ’68” (not to be mistaken for “Summer ’68” taken from their 1970 album “Atom Heart Mother”) is a piano instrumental of grand proportions. The song is Wright at his best playing on the Royal Albert Hall pipe organ, which kind of adds to the whole spiritual, enlightened, church-heaven-sky tone of the album. “Calling” is one of “those” Pink Floyd songs that is spiced up with various sound effects (reminding me of their rather unusual 1969 album “Ummagumma”). The song then transforms itself from a light and positive piece into a dark and sinister track as it morphs into “Eyes To Pearls”.
The closing track on the album (the standard release, since the deluxe edition has a few extra songs) is “Louder Than Words”, which is a song that was penned by Polly Samson, David Gilmour’s wife (who also had writing credits on The Division Bell and Gilmour’s solo record “On An Island”) and is a fitting end to such a dramatic and complex album. “Louder Than Words” is the ideal closer to this album because it reminds us that words aren’t always the most important or aren’t always the best way of communicating with each other or with the world around us. Some things are just louder and more meaningful than words and in the case of The Endless River it’s the music that is audible above all else. It’s the music that is meaningful and it’s the music that conveys meaning and emotion to us, as fans of music. “Louder Than Words” is there to remind us of that fact.
“It’s louder than words
The sum of our parts
The beat of our hearts
Is louder than words”
– “Louder Than Words” (2014)
Having very little lyrics on the album emphasizes the musical side of the recording and draws you to pay closer attention to the musical structure of each song and each melody. Don’t let “musical structure” scare you… The Endless River is not an overly-complex, muddled concoction of experimentation or procrastination. The album sounds like Pink Floyd and after a few listens it starts to feel like Pink Floyd as well. I may even go as far as to say that it’s a specific album in that it may not always be the album you’d choose to play in the car or at work or riding your bike. It’s an album that requires you to listen to it and pay attention to it. The tracks seamlessly slide into one another and give you a complete, satisfying listen from start to finish. Basically what I’m trying to say is that it’s not “background music” that you can just put on and forget what you’re listening to. If at first it doesn’t tickle your fancy, don’t discard it but rather take the time to listen to it properly (while taking a long road trip in the car or at home with a pair of headphones on).
“You have to get into the right mood to listen to this…There are still lots of people who love to listen to music that way. Listen to a whole thing – a whole piece – all the way through, and get really into the mood of the whole thing, rather than listen to shorter pieces. And this is for them really.” – David Gilmour
It’s undeniable that the name Pink Floyd alone is enough to get high record sales especially since The Division Bell was deemed to be the last official Pink Floyd release. The Endless River was the most pre-ordered album on Amazon, as of the 27th of November 2014 over 6,000 copies of the album on vinyl alone have been sold and it debuted at #1 on the charts in the UK, France, Germany, New Zealand and Canada and reached #3 on the US Billboard charts. While it may not be everyone’s cup o’ tea, The Endless River is quintessentially Pink Floyd just with the fact that it’s not a typical album with a selection of catchy songs and rock lyrics. It’s so much more than that, at least in my opinion, and if David Gilmour’s statement about this being the last Floyd record is true, then I can’t really imagine a more fitting way to close the chapter and book on one of the best rock bands that has every graced our stages, our record players, our headphones and our lives.
Note For Note Blog Album Rating: 5/5 Rock Stars
Stand-out tracks: “Anisina”, “Eyes to Pearls” and “Louder Than Words”