Saturday, October 29, 2011

One of These Days: Pink Floyd's Meddle is 40

 Pink Floyd - Meddle
Pink Floyd
Rating: ****

Although they had released five albums, Pink Floyd still hadn’t made it big time. The English progressive rock band was a four piece band still trying to find an audience in other places besides the UK. The band’s 1971 album, Meddle, wouldn’t reach that other audience but musically, Pink Floyd were finding the sound that would gain them worldwide popularity. Meddle is an example of that growth.
            Since the departure of guitarist and lead songwriter Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd consisted of guitarist David Gilmour, bassist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason, and keyboardist Rick Wright. Without Barrett, the leadership role in the band was open. Though the band struggled without Barrett, Pink Floyd were able to write music and make albums. They closed out the 1960’s with a soundtrack (More) and a double half live/half studio album (Ummagumma). In 1970, the band released Atom Heart Mother. The album includes the 23 minute self titled track suite, which the band had written with composer Ron Geesin. The album reached #1 in the charts in the UK but the critics panned the album. Years later, the members of Pink Floyd spoke negatively of the album. Recording began for Meddle in January of 1971 and ended in August.
            What you here in the beginning of the album is what seems to be the sounds of wind in a dessert (which was done by recording of a delayed wind drum). Suddenly, there’s the jangle of a bass…and then another. Believe it or not, there are two basses being played on “One of These Days”. The song is an instrumental and probably one of Floyd’s best instrumentals. Listening this compared to a song off Atom Heart Mother, the listener can tell the band has found a sound and it sounds good. While the song might be instrumental, there is a brief spoken word bit towards the end. It’s Nick Mason saying “One of these days, I’m going to cut you into little pieces” hence the title. Mason recorded the vocal with the aid of a ring modulator. The vocal was then slowed down to make it sound creepier. “One Of These Days” is followed up by the soft and warm sounds “A Pillow Of Winds”. David Gilmour is playing acoustic guitar and singing on this song. Gilmour, in my opinion, is one of the few people that’s both a great guitarist and great singer. Gilmour’s voice on here is almost hypnotic! Apparently, the title of this song came from the name of a hand in the game Mahjong according to Nick Mason. “Fearless” is another gentle song with another slow tempo. Roger Waters is playing acoustic guitar and Gilmour is on lead guitar and singing. The lyrics seem to be about not giving up and much like “A Pillow of Winds”, it’s almost like a folk song. The song ends with a field recording of Liverpool F.C. fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel. The song had been made popular again by Gerry and the Pacemakers and quickly become the anthem of the Liverpool Football Club. “San Tropez” is a surprisingly jazzy track off the album. Rick Wright’s piano playing and Waters’ vocals and bass playing make this song shine. Waters is also playing acoustic guitar and Gilmour is on slide guitar. The lyrics talk about a place called Saint-Tropez, which is a commune of the Var depatement in the south of France on the French Riviera. Side one of Meddle ends with the bluesy and bizarre “Seamus”. It’s a standard blues number. Gilmour sings while we hear the sounds of a dog howling. It’s a real dog actually howling on the song. The track gets its title from the name of the dog “singing” on the track, Seamus. According to various sources, Seamus belonged to Steve Marriot (Small Faces, Humble Pie).
            Side two of Meddle has only one song that ends the entire album. “Echoes” is a 22 minute piece of music that some music critics (as well as the members of Pink Floyd) think is where the band had finally found a sound. The song came about when Rick Wright was simply messing around on the keyboards. Wright simply hit the highest piano key and with some special effects, it starts the song with a “ping” sound. The “ping” sound is drowned out by the band playing. This piece was under the working title of “Nothing” but eventually become known as “Echoes”. According to recording notes, Wright is playing two different organs. Without a doubt, the organs lead this wonderful track. Gilmour and Wright sing lead vocals together, singing lyrics about a place “Overhead the albatross” that “hangs motionless across the air” where near the sea there are “labyrinths and coral caves”. The lyrics to “Echoes”, written by all four band members apparently, certainly paint a picture which probably makes it my personal favorite song off the album. The lyrics are superb. One of my personal favorite lyrics is: “Strangers passing in the street/By chance two separate glances meet/And I am you and what I see is me”. Basically, it’s probably the idea of running into someone. The lyrics basically are about time and life, a theme that Pink Floyd would run into again. The organ and guitar solo get downright funky. Without a doubt, “Echoes” ends Meddle perfectly.
            Meddle was released on October 30, 1971. The album received mostly positive reviews from the critics, thinking it was an improvement compared to Atom Heart Mother. The album peaked at #3 in the UK charts while in the US, the album only made it to #70 in the pop charts. Over the years, Meddle has been able to go platinum twice in the US but back in 1971, the US still knew little of Pink Floyd. The band’s follow up to Meddle would be 1972’s Obscured by Clouds, which was the soundtrack to the film La Vallee. In 1973, Pink Floyd would finally achieve worldwide success with the release of Dark Side of the Moon.
            Meddle is still consider by critics and fans as one of Pink Floyd’s best albums. I would agree. It’s a great album with great songs and a wonderful sound. According to my list of favorite albums, I have Meddle at #205. 

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