Thursday, May 19, 2011

Relics - Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd
Starline SRS 5071

As a teenager, I never understood Pink Floyd's widespread popularity among my peers.  My sister had "Dark Side of the Moon" and I couldn't believe it was so successful, it just sounded like mildly dull prog-rock to me.  My teenage ears found their music to be morose, humorless and tedious.  When I started reading rock encyclopedias and histories, I realized there was another Pink Floyd that existed before the pretentious arena band did, a psychedelic band led by a guy named Syd Barrett.  I was intrigued and that led me to this comp.  My copy is the English version with a charming cover drawing by Nick Mason.  The American cover art features some guy with four eyes.  Barrett is only featured on a little more than half of this record, but that was enough for me to realize how brilliant he was.  I eventually acquired most of Pink Floyd's albums, but this and "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" are the only two that I play much.  The Barrett-era Floyd tracks are my favorites on this record but even the David Gilmour-era stuff all of which dates from the late 1960s is mostly good.  The record begins appropriately enough with the band's debut single "Arnold Layne."  It is a terrific song, naughty, funny and catchy with crisp drumming, driving bass lines, ringing guitars and swirling organ, it is a classic slice of English psychedelia.  From their debut album comes "Interstellar Overdrive," a lengthy instrumental, but unlike the epic prog-rock snoozefests they'd later unleash on the world, this one actually goes somewhere.  It is trippy and sounds great with headphones.  "See Emily Play" is another classic single and my favorite of all their songs.  It shimmers and soars with the grace and beauty of the best psychedelic music.  It is followed by two 1967 songs by Richard Wright, "Remember a Day" and "Paintbox" which are sung by Wright.  They both have a dreamy psychedelic flavor and boast terrific drumming from Mason.   Side two features the post-Barrett Floyd.  "Julia Dream" was written by Roger Waters, the first of many somnolent ballads he would deliver with the band through the years.  I like the freaky sound effects and the keyboards, they have a nice hallucinogenic effect.  "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" is a portent of Pink Floyd's progressive rock future, a long keyboard dominated instrumental that slowly builds to a mild climax.  It is not as dull as the ones that would come later, but no great favorite of mine either.  I prefer the version they re-recorded for the film "Zabriskie Point" which is heavier and more intense.  The record jumps to 1969 with "Cirrus Minor," another sleepy Waters ballad dominated by a droning organ that makes me think of church.  Things perk up with Waters' "The Nile Song" which is the hardest rocking song they ever recorded.  The one thing that distinguishes Pink Floyd from other prog-rockers like Yes, they could really rock when they wanted to, they probably just thought it was beneath them.  The previously unreleased "Biding My Time" rocks out quite a bit as well, but it is otherwise undistinguished.  The use of horns on the song brings to mind "Atom Heart Mother" although fortunately it is not anywhere near as bad as that.  It is self-indulgent but it is more fun than most of side two.  As far as fun goes though, it can't hold a candle to the closing number, a return to 1967 with Syd Barrett's "Bike" which is funny, charming and trippy and really after Barrett left, how many Pink Floyd tracks can you say that about?   Recommended for people who think "Lovely Rita" is a better song than "Let It Be."  

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