Release Date: Nov 10, 2014
Record label: Columbia
When Rick Wright died in 2008, the curtain finally came down on Pink Floyd, one of the most entrancing bands of any era. As much a part of the 21st-century music scene as they were in the 70s, their legacy seems one of the most robust in rock. After the detailed repackaging of their three most popular albums, in 2011/12, few would have thought that, two years later, we would be considering a new Pink Floyd album.
By the time Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut, Roger Waters’s “Requiem for the Postwar Dream”, came out in 1983, relations between him and the rest of the group were terrible – keyboard player Rick Wright had even been kicked out and rehired on a salary, for live shows only, at Waters’s insistence. So there’s a kind of poetry to the fact that, with Waters long gone, the new album – Pink Floyd’s first studio outing in two decades – is a tribute to Wright, who died of cancer in 2008. It also features him heavily – he was back on board for 1994’s The Division Bell, and it’s from the sessions for that album that the material for this one has been taken.
David Gilmour sang about an endless river on "High Hopes," the last song on what appeared to be the last Pink Floyd album, 1994's Division Bell. Twenty years later, the same phrase became the title of The Endless River, an album designed as Pink Floyd's last. Assembled largely from Division Bell outtakes initially intended as an ambient project dubbed The Big Spliff, the record was sculpted into shape in 2014 by Gilmour, Youth, Andy Jackson, and Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera by adding guitar and Nick Mason's drums to original tapes that were laden with keyboards from the late Rick Wright.
It was bassist Roger Waters' lyric: "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way." But guitarist David Gilmour and keyboard player Richard Wright sang that line on 1973's The Dark Side of the Moon, then proved it in a creative relationship that survived Wright's forced resignation during sessions for The Wall and the subsequent rupture of the Floyd itself. The Endless River is Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason's generous farewell to Wright, who died in 2008, built from unissued music the three made together for 1994's The Division Bell. A suite of mostly instrumental moods and fragments, The Endless River rolls like a requiem through familiar echoes.
David Gilmour’s 2006 solo album On an Island was promoted with the slogan, “The Voice and Guitar of Pink Floyd”. While Gilmour was one of a few singers for Pink Floyd over the years, his is arguably the most recognizable and commonly heard Pink Floyd vocalist; he edges out Roger Waters’ own brilliant wail by a small margin. He is also, of course, a guitar virtuoso whose Stratocaster-powered licks helped shape the Floyd’s signature sound album after album.
The Endless River is the answer to The Endless Question. ‘When is the new Pink Floyd album coming out?’ Well here it is, the first recorded musical statement from the band after two decades of silence – a third of their entire career. Somehow the timing feels right, in the season of Remembrance, for David Gilmour and Nick Mason to effectively call time and bring their musical union to an elegiac close.
Undoubtedly one of the most recognizable and influential acts in the history of rock music, Pink Floyd are putting a wrap on their storied career with The Endless River. Frontman David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason have both confirmed that this will be the band's final record, based on over 20 hours of previously unreleased material recorded for their 1994 studio effort The Division Bell. Music from the Gilmour-led era has long been a point of contention among listeners, with many sorely missing the creative influence of Roger Waters after he left the group in 1985.
Most observers assumed the story of Pink Floyd had ended nine years ago, on the Live 8 stage in Hyde Park, with an awkward group hug that at least one band member had to be visibly coerced into joining. It was a perfectly Pink Floydish way to end Pink Floyd: ostensibly an act of reconciliation and closure after years of rancour, it still revealed a great deal about the icy British reserve that shrouded the band’s career. And yet here we are, a decade on, faced with The Endless River, a “new” Pink Floyd album that, on the one hand, isn’t new at all – it’s based on 20-year-old outtakes from sessions for their second post-Roger Waters album, The Division Bell.
Because The Endless River is so steeped in Pink Floyd lore, it’s worth going back at least momentarily to the very beginning. Nearly half a century ago, the band started life as a middling blues-rock outfit in London, patterned largely after the Stones albeit with a much smaller repertoire. To fill sets they would extend the songs they did know to great lengths; to justify not rehearsing, they emphasized onstage improvisation.
The Endless River is a very difficult project to pin down. This “final album” from Pink Floyd was made by compiling over 20 hours of unused sessions from the development of their 1994 record, The Division Bell. They’d toyed with the idea of releasing The Division Bell as a double album, one disc of traditional songs and one of ambient instrumentals, but the concept was shelved.
Hipsters have always known how to deal with their (guilty) enjoyment of Pink Floyd: carve their career into three stages (Barrett, Waters, Gilmour) and explain that you only ever rated their Madcap founder (without which no Blur at their baggiest), or the heavier live-sound just after Syd left (without which no Swans at their most cosmic), or the early ambient work (that paved the way for The Orb, Future Sound of London, et alia. ). As a moody / sensitive / self-absorbed teen it’s easier to love all three Floyds, but such is the flak they draw as a colossal dinosaur act (hence the Low song of that name) it’s tempting to put on the 'I Hate Pink Floyd' T-shirt for a few years, until you pluck up the nerve to fire back that No, actually, all three stages were awesome… hence even arbiters of taste like (the older) John Lydon have gone on record conceding their admiration, or hinted at it (hence Low’s perfectly straight cover of 'Fearless', or Arcade Fire’s pilfering of 'Learning to Fly' for 'Supersymmetry').
Pink Floyd’s fifteenth and final LP is more postscript than swansong, a curate’s egg that will no doubt sell like spacecakes, but which feels like an inglorious, anticlimactic way to bring down the curtain – however belatedly – on one of the biggest bands of all time. They’ve died as they lived – with a long, slow exhalation of sustained keyboard chords and icily-precise guitar solos – yet there’s no escaping that, for the most part, ‘The Endless River’ sounds like what it is: a collection of spruced-up outtakes from 1994’s ‘Division Bell’. On those limited terms it works well enough, and it’s interesting from a certain geeky perspective, but it’s never quite as satisfying or substantial as you want it to be.
Have Pink Floyd, never the most beloved band in certain music critic circles, finally beaten the industry and signed off with an unreviewable album? After all, it is the critic's duty to devote a record their full attention, to listen closely and examine it in detail. Well, after performing my duties to the best of my abilities, I'd like to declare that it is physically impossible to remain engaged with The Endless River for its entire 18-song, 53-minute duration. .
Pink Floyd have served as a bête noire for generations of bands in opposition to one thing or another, but as even John Lydon (famously once the wearer of a home-made "I hate Pink Floyd" t-shirt) admitted in this piece from the Quietus in 2010, "you'd have to be daft as a brush to say you didn't like Pink Floyd." And of course, he's right. You almost certainly won't like everything they've done, but their influence is undeniable. Pop psych pioneers, inventors of space rock, inspirers of krautrock, prog-funk kings of the world, forefathers of chill-out, prophets of cold existential numbness, the list goes on.
Would you eat 20-year-old leftovers? That's what the last two musicians who call themselves Pink Floyd are asking their most loyal fans to do. Guitarist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason didn’t bother approaching Floyd’s creative force, Roger Waters, for the project — he would have likely passed, anyway. Instead they set out a meal of sonic scraps that have been gathering mold since the previous album housed under the Floyd name, “The Division Bell,” way back in 1994.
Is it still possible, in the age of free digital streaming, for a band to rip off its audience? The new Pink Floyd album – or, more precisely, the “new” “Pink Floyd” “album” – makes you think so. The pioneering psychedelic rock group’s first studio record in 20 years, “The Endless River” compiles brushed-up instrumental outtakes from 1994’s “The Division Bell,” itself a late-career document that felt like a collection of scraps cobbled together by the guys left behind after Roger Waters quit a decade earlier. This is a modal window.