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Martin Popoff's Pink Floyd: Album by Album Print E-mail
Written by Ed Lopez-Reyes   
Tuesday, 25 December 2018

2018, (and this past summer in particular), was a busy time for Pink Floyd fans. A Saucerful of Secrets toured, the exhibition Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains opened in Dortmund, and Nick Mason’s box set Unattended Luggage was released – all of this was met with a wave of reviews and interviews that pulled it all together. Among these important events, acclaimed rock music writer Martin Popoff released an exquisite collection of unique perspectives, angles, and unconventional takes on Pink Floyd’s catalogue in his book Pink Floyd: Album by Album. It is, hands down, one of the year’s best books on classic rock music. 

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Since the early 1990s, Martin Popoff has built a massive volume of authoritative writing on classic rock, hard rock, and heavy metal bands. While many authors add to the outer periphery of an already-established and dense body of historical work, Popoff has added to its fundamental core through a synthesis of fresh and unusual narratives – something he has achieved by collaborating with distinct groups of rock music connoisseurs, weaving unconventional, exhaustive perspectives together and challenging our relatively settled views on the history of these rock bands.

Pink Floyd: Album by Album spans interviews with musicians, rock journalists, production experts, radio hosts, and others: what they all have in common is the type of passion that transcends a thin, linear perspective on the band’s history. If you are looking for a volume with diverse and strongly dimensional accounts of the band’s influence and relevance, Popoff’s effort is required reading and a resource you will not want to overlook.

Dennis Dunaway, Paul Kehayas, and Craig Bailey tackle the early years of Pink Floyd, stitching together the perspectives of a radio host who has dedicated his career on the airwaves to the band, a soundtrack expert with a keen perspective of a band with tremendous cinematic flair, and a musician whose penchant for Barrett era Pink Floyd helped catapult the band’s impact far beyond the boundaries anyone could have anticipated.

Pink Floyd had a profound impact on Dunaway’s career and, through that, on rock history: Dunaway was the original bassist for Alice Cooper during the band’s formative years and has remained a presence around related side projects (in addition to his own) through our present time. 

Pink Floyd’s Barrett era helped shaped Alice Cooper immensely. As original Alice Cooper drummer Neil Smith has stated in an interview with music journalist Dave Swanson, “the style of the band at this point was heavily indebted to the first Pink Floyd album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but filtered through their own colour spectrum; the Pink Floyd connection went beyond mere sonic hat tipping, since Alice Cooper played host to Pink Floyd on the British band's first U.S. tour.” 

download.jpgIn Dunaway’s account you hear (read) both the voice of a fan and the voice of someone who, with the influence of Barrett’s Pink Floyd, articulated something paramount to rock history through his own artwork.

Many of us wonder, at some point or another, whether musicians who create the art that becomes so embedded in our culture (that ‘soundtrack to our life’) hear things differently: Dunaway speaks authoritatively as both a listener of Pink Floyd’s music and as a musician inspired by it, crystallizing the band’s presence in a historical and musical intersection we might otherwise pay little attention to. These intersections are crucial: it is at these junctures that rock n’ roll’s family tree takes shape, going in one direction or another permanently. Dunaway’s recollections allow us to consider not just what became of Pink Floyd’s influence on Alice Cooper but to also ponder how rock history would have been different without it.

What Popoff has constructed gives the Barrett era albums new meaning: consider the many bands that drew inspiration from Alice Cooper and consider how far that musical DNA has travelled, branching out into sub-genres of rock few would instinctively connect to Barrett’s Pink Floyd.

Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten (widely recognized among Pink Floyd fans not just for his music but also for his ironic “I Hate Pink Floyd” t-shirt) and Cinderella guitarist Jeff LaBar both cite Alice Cooper as a major influence – an influence that, through them, spans punk and hard rock genres. Billy Idol cites the Sex Pistols as a major influence on his music, a hybrid of punk and hard rock. Up and coming keyboardist and singer Alana Potocnik (Alaena), a pop-grunge artist that emerged from the death-core metal scene, cites Billy Idol as a major influence… if you need to Google her, this is precisely the point: younger artists will continue to carry the genetic footprint of Pink Floyd because of musicians like Dunaway and those that have been directly or indirectly influenced by him.

Popoff’s choice of collaborators provide a much more unique perspective than a standard album review would: in a sense, what we are doing is looking at these albums through the estuaries that transfer their influence from one period to the next – manifested in either new art or through efforts to protect that art’s legacy. This is most pronounced in the discussion of the Barrett era given its place as the foundation in the band’s overall history.

This perspective on Barrett’s line-up is augmented by two equally rich views in the form of Bailey, a Pink Floyd authority in his own right as host of Floydian Slip – which has been on the air for most of the last 30 years – and Kehayas, whose nuance in composing soundtracks adds unique hue to the analysis of this time-period in the band’s history.

Through Popoff’s approach you get a much more surgical view of these Barrett albums than usual and one that goes beyond recognizing how innovative the Pink Floyd of that era was: you get more than a sense of history as contributors break these down into parts and tell you which artefacts from these albums continued to travel through time past their contemporaries.

The voice that these three contributors lend to this part of Popoff’s project underscores how much has hinged on the existence of two albums – not just in terms of Pink Floyd but in terms of broader music history itself.

Popoff approaches the Roger Waters era through some of the most recognized names in the volume (including those who also discuss the Barrett period). Given how much transformation the band endured during this period and the many peaks and valleys it negotiated, the Waters era is (naturally) the most expansive part of the book. In addition to fleshing out its bulk it is also a more compartmentalized thread given the distinct personality of each album during this period.

For the transition from Barrett to Waters’ leadership, the book ponders the More soundtrack through the lens of Kahayas and Jeff Wagner.

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Wagner, who has a knack for sorting through heavy metal music to find its roots in progressive rock, is a good partner-critic with Kahayas. The two point to the all-important element in Pink Floyd’s music that begins to surface in this album with pronounced force: that aforementioned cinematic quality. Wagner’s input on this album is a natural fit because it produced one of Pink Floyd’s strongest manifestations in the form of hard rock – and as Wagner would argue, even heavy metal: The Nile Song.

The twain usher readers into a Pink Floyd of larger landscapes, riskier experimental efforts, and (even more uniquely) a recognition of a bifurcated musical personality – particularly as it concerns the band’s work in the film industry concurrent to its impulse to create something unique and more cohesive.

The persistent duality or bifurcation in the band’s trajectory from More and on is a recurring but clearly unintentional and uncoordinated observation that persists in Pink Floyd: Album by Album through The Final Cut. A keen understanding of that duality is what ties the book’s contributors together as they explore a characteristic of the Pink Floyd catalogue that has not been fully visited in volumes preceding Popoff’s.

The diversity of backgrounds synthesized in Popoff’s effort gives license to unusual perspectives and these give the reader an opportunity to draw new conclusions and appreciate the band’s work from a different angle: the Waters Pink Floyd era is particularly fertile ground for this and Popoff’s collaborators take full advantage of a relatively unnoticed void in the band’s many biographies and discography analyses, namely the bilateral direction the band is tracked into but which at times shows signs of potential asymmetry (and derailment).

Wagner collaborates with Bailey on an analysis of Ummagumma, contextualizing it for us and giving us perspective on where the album fits as a somewhat disjointed product with two dimensions; as Bailey states in the book: this album is testimony that there is “a band searching for some direction.” Wagner makes a case for a band that is getting heavier despite his sense that this album is not a cohesive piece. So, while it is easy to overlook this album, the analysis Bailey and Wagner provide puts it in a perspective that elevates its palatability and relevance. Despite the criticisms, especially when compared to most other Pink Floyd albums, you get a sense that Ummagumma served a mission for this band: it projects a voice that was unique and important in that time-period. It is the type of commentary that makes you pick the album up and give it a spin with a fresh set of ears.

For Atom Heart Mother, Wagner carries over and is joined by Ralph Chapman and Lewis Hall. Chapman brings an element of music and television production to the table, having scripted and produced a series for the CBC and served as an associate producer for VH1’s Rock Icons. Lewis Hall offers a unique perspective as the bassist and vocalist of Think Floyd (not to be confused with Think Floyd USA or Scott Page and Robbie Wyckoff’s recently launched Think Floyd Experience). What Popoff ads here to Wagner’s voice is the marriage of collaborators who can really describe the band with a keen sense of cinematography as it relates to music and someone who is fully immersed in the resulting art by replicating it as accurately as possible. Atom Heart Mother is not an easy album to digest for a casual listener – but these three contributors give you a collective sense of where it succeeds and fails in a richer context than most reviews will: two of the contributors recognize how the album gave individual band members an opportunity to express their musical voice at the time while the other helps describe the void the album left by not pulling together more robustly as a unified work of art. The reader is likely to hear this album differently as a result – it is an album that can help the listener more keenly appreciate how the parts eventually pull together into the cohesive and iconic projects so much rock history has hinged on.

For Meddle, Hall and Kehayas are joined by Robert Corich. Corich lays an unconventional background on the table as a former “IBM mainframe operator, engineer, and consultant” who turned this experience into mastering and re-mastering work in the production booth for the likes of Uriah Heep, Rainbow, and Magnum.

The three contributors agree this is a turning point for the band – particularly as it relates to specific tracks that stood the test of time. As Hall states, Meddle “would be sort of ‘up there’ because it’s got ‘Echoes’ on it, as well as ‘One of These Days’: two tracks that managed their way into live sets well into recent years. The feedback on this album is particularly great – not just for its forthcoming quality but also because it is always interesting to read the perspective of someone whose enthusiasm for a band was triggered by the album that is up for debate: for Corich, that album is Meddle.

Chapman and Hall tackle Obscured by Clouds by illustrating how the band’s work on soundtracks took shape and where these fit in relation to the band’s other albums. Chapman points to band manager Steve O’Rourke’s aggressiveness at keeping the band busy and how the resulting soundtrack work created a “sideline that almost operates outside the progression of the band.” Hall agrees, reminding us of Waters’ own admission that the band was somewhat overworked around this time but also reminding us that the Obscured by Clouds sessions were taking place concurrent to the sessions for what would eventually become Dark Side of the Moon. There is a creative tension here – and an irony: during this period, Pink Floyd is a band that is being heavily taxed and fatigued by labour but is also entering its most intense and rewarding creative period: it underscores that sense of duality that is so absent in other books about the band but which organically surfaces in the narrative Popoff has edited.

Of course, the reader is going to be curious about the feedback given on the albums that impacted and influenced them most. As a result, many will jump straight into Dark Side of the Moon: Popoff ushers in former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, former Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess, and Texas guitarist Kyle Shutt, from the band Sword, for perspectives on the iconic album.

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Hackett recognizes how the spectre of Barrett surfaces more boldly during this period and provides great perspective on how the album reflects its time (while enduring as a timeless piece). Rudess talks about the band’s cohesiveness – or at the very least a more even distribution of creative input, resulting in what is easily the most identifiable and balanced ‘Pink Floyd sound.’ Shutt provides a perspective that may be more unique to a younger generation – one that seasoned Pink Floyd listeners may not understand: he describes the possibility that some might find the album inaccessible at first … but, based on his personal experience, recognizes the force with which one is drawn into it over time. Shutt explores the elements that help bridge that accessibility gap for those that confront it: from the arrangements to the technology that served the album’s production, he identifies these as the pieces that give the album the endurance to remain a critical influence in rock music with what (so far) seems like unbeatable permanence.

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The analysis of this album, based on the experience of three guitarists who have been formed in different but successive periods, underscores the durability of Dark Side of the Moon and provides insight into how it impacts musicians – how it serves as a catalyst for ideas while remaining relevant at an unparalleled scale.

For Wish You Were Here, Shutt is joined by Heather Findlay, former vocalist of the band Mostly Autumn, and Steve Rothery, guitarist for Marillion. As with Dark Side of the Moon, the contributors hold the album in high regard – as much as the public does – citing the album as an influence, pondering both the physical and psychological presence of Barrett during the recordings, the overall haunting quality of the album, and its intricate layers. What stands out about the discussion on Wish You Were Here is how much the contributors agree on its sense of cohesiveness while recognizing the signs of fragmentation that emerge during this period.

A conclusion the reader can draw from the discussions in Popoff’s book of these two specific albums and the one that follows: when we talk about Pink Floyd “periods”, the albums Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals represent a band at its peak as a unit – it is the Pink Floyd era of Pink Floyd, if you may.

Findlay and Rothery are joined by Nick Beggs for the book’s stab at Animals – the last in the trifecta of albums collaborators in Popoff’s book perceive as the band’s most unified.

Beggs points to Animals as the volume in which Waters begins to assert himself more politically – it begins to signal a tipping point: “Roger’s searing world overview is developing on Animals, and very much as a precursor to The Wall, you can see him withdrawing from society at large in his lyrics… There’s something very punk about Roger Waters anyway, and there always was. He had the ability to be angry with a ninja consciousness.”

In addition to these observations, it is fascinating to read Rothery’s perspective on Gilmour’s guitar playing as well as Findlay’s observations on Mason as a drummer – the chapter focuses a great deal on the musicianship of the album and even the artwork – amplifying some of the discussion about Storm Thorgerson.

The Wall is analysed by Beggs, Chapman, Hacket, and Rudess. Popoff himself describes the album as the volume that “represents the idea that the answers to all of Roger’s questions turned out to be the worst imaginable.” Popoff’s notes cover the history behind this album – a history that is fascinating in its own right.

Rudess takes us back (in one of the most interesting stories in this book) to the origins of his journey with The Wall – stretching as far as The Wall sessions: a coincidence that could have resulted in one of music history’s most interesting footnotes. Beggs discusses how the album acquired a particularly personal meaning to him. Chapman talks about how inaccessible he felt it was when he first encountered it. Hackett delves into a musician’s relatability to the album and its themes – particularly from a British perspective.

As with Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals, we can easily understand the scale of The Wall in the Pink Floyd catalogue. For this reason, many fans will focus on these chapters with stronger commitment. But to understand how these albums were impacted by the previous ones and the impact they had on the ones that followed, it is critical to delve into the analysis in the two sections of Pink Floyd: Album by Album that precede and follow the Waters era.

Although The Final Cut is the last album in that Waters era, there is a quality about it that sets it apart musically, but also in terms of the vibe it projects. In many ways it shares a critical similarity to A Momentary Lapse of Reason: each The Final Cut and A Momentary Lapse of Reason represent the most pronounced manifestations of Waters and Gilmour as individuals, respectively. It is an expression of the tension that the band endured between The Wall and The Division Bell: in the former, the band loses its steam as a cohesive unit under Waters’ tenure while in the latter Gilmour looks to awaken the wounded giant sans Waters. As many fans know, the circumstances that made this so are not that clear-cut, e.g., A Momentary Lapse of Reason was originally conceived as an idea for a solo Gilmour album. But whatever the circumstances, what results is a manifestation of these political (in the artistic and creative sense) forces within the band.

Chapman, Corich, and Beggs provide their perspectives on this album but Popoff’s own writing is very insightful. As Popoff states, “the main complaint [about The Final Cut] was this: the album was too slow, too quiet, too non-rock, too orchestrated.” Popoff describes the absence of Bob Ezrin as a catalyst for what manifested as, (fundamentally), Waters’ first solo album.

That said, for many Pink Floyd fans, there is a place for this album in the band’s discography – that is if one is willing to accept the ebb and flow of bands and the influence one or more band members might have in proportion to the others at different times. This was Waters’ strongest statement under the Pink Floyd banner and an expression of what Pink Floyd sounds like under his leadership when the rest of the band has all but left to the pub without him. And as Popoff states: many fans have, since its original release, given it a second look and placed it among “its (warily respected) top few.”

Although the three critics in this chapter all concede that this was Waters’ album and further cemented what he was trying to articulate on The Wall, Chapman’s evolution on it is very interesting: “I hated The Final Cut for years and years and years – until I got some living in me.” For fans who have not quite embraced The Final Cut, it is worth reading this perspective and giving the album another listen.

A Momentary Lapse of Reason is a unique challenge: Pink Floyd fans who love the album often endure the wrath of those who are strictly interested in the Waters and Barrett eras – yet A Momentary Lapse of Reason (and the Gilmour era it ushered) represent the longest and most profitable period in the band’s history (though not necessarily any more productive for its length).

The review of this album (and the other two albums from the Gilmour era) includes perspectives from within Brain Damage UK and Roie Avin, editor and writer for The Prog Report.

Much of the discussion on A Momentary Lapse of Reason focuses on how it came together, how the album cover developed, and where the title came from. These details are important because, despite its success, the album is somewhat of a mystery for many die-hard Pink Floyd fans who found themselves disassociating from it (even if not consciously: one could also argue it arrived in a different age).

It was a new cast: not just an unclear amalgamation of the core band members left after Waters left (it started as a Gilmour solo album, the label would not have that so it became a Pink Floyd album – and then Mason joined – but did not play very much on it – and then Wright joined and made contributions – but could not legally be a part of it – but then in subsequent album editions had a more prominent presence in the album sleeve and notes, etc.) but also of external participants like composer, performer, and lyricist Anthony Moore (as a song co-writer).

It also produced exceptionally iconic imagery for the band: a face on MTV, new scripts and fonts used on promotional materials, and that album cover… one of Thorgerson’s best.

There is a good amount of discussion about specific songs and about how the album has aged. Among the details mentioned in this chapter is the fact that Mason has acknowledged to Brain Damage UK that the album has been re-recorded with his drum parts. It would be interesting to see a reissue with that version.

The Division Bell is then put under the microscope with one more contributor: Wagner returns after his previous contribution on Atom Heart Mother. A clear consensus arises: The Division Bell is the most cohesive the band has sounded not just in the Gilmour era but also dating back to a “classic Floyd” sound.

Although this chapter, much like A Momentary Lapse of Reason’s chapter, covers the history (given that it was seven years since the release of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, it is difficult not to summon some discourse about what the heck was going on in between the two volumes) it also delves into Polly Samson’s presence, Wright and Mason’s strong and evident contributions, and its commercial success.

On The Endless River, Wagner steps out to make way for Corich, who returns to provide perspective following his contribution to the book on The Final Cut.

As Popoff states, the album was intended as a tribute to Wright but “also serves as a final act of defiance toward those who would stress Roger and his wordsmithing are more important than the plush soundscapes David was wont to prefer, vocals or none.”

This final chapter includes discussion of how the album came together at the same time as Gilmour’s solo album Rattle That Lock. From a listener’s perspective, that is an interesting history considering how (arguably) different the two albums are. Corich gives much credit to Phil Manzanera, who had maintained a production and musical presence around Pink Floyd and solo Gilmour until very recently. Corich notes how much the album is defined by Wright’s keyboards, which underscores the intent of the album. Avin recognizes that fan response was mixed: an almost entirely instrumental album that would not really do very much to assuage those who had been protesting Waters’ absence from Pink Floyd since The Final Cut.

Those who contributed to this chapter part on their views of the album – an interesting way to reach the conclusion of the Pink Floyd story on an album by album basis. This is not to say that opinions did not vary in previous chapters – but on this particular one the perceptions of The Endless River for each contributor was palpably different – and perhaps reflective of the broader audience for the band over time and all around the world. The divergence of views is interesting – not just between the contributors but also including Popoff’s.

One thing is clear: among those who contribute to this last chapter, this is clearly the end. Not just the end of the book – but the end of the band. Few bands decide to release an album with the intent to end things there. Most make tentative statements or titillate audiences with ‘retirement’ tours. Something about Pink Floyd makes it much more believable: when they – and specifically Gilmour – state that this is it, then we can pretty much walk away realizing that… that really is it.

One of the great things about this format is you can leave no album behind. It is this author’s view that quite often in a band’s catalog the least popular albums are not always the tragedies some fans will make them out to be.

There are many reasons one album will not do as well as the other but, usually, what you get in a “less successful” album is a manifestation of something more personal for the band – even if it’s not as palatable to most fans.

It also tends to be more professional because the musicianship has moved forward. Such is the case with albums like The Final Cut and is, ironically, the case with much of the Gilmour era – though it must be stressed that this is ironic with the latter given the epic success of those albums and tours and the overall length of that period. Having unique insight and care for some of these albums gives Popoff’s book a consistent edge and elevates the discourse to a more scholarly level.

The question to take with you as you sit down and turn the first page of this book is how you view each of these albums going into it – as you finish the volume it will be well worth assessing how it may have changed your view of each album… and how different each album might sound to you as a result.

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Given the finality of The Endless River, not just as in idea but also musically (there is discussion in Popoff’s book about the ‘ghost of an album’ quality that it imparts – and that is not meant in any derisive way), and the way the cast around Pink Floyd has changed so much – Barrett and Wright are no longer with us, and even some of the band’s strongest contributors have moved to difference spaces; few of us could have ever imagined Jon Carin becoming a bigger presence with Waters than with Gilmour nor Manzanera’s absence from the latter’s musical projects – Popoff’s book is one that is meant to drawn conclusions with a much stronger sense of finality than it could for many other bands. Some fans are more accepting of this than others. And that, in and of itself, can summon biases in one’s readings.

With time, it should be easier to be a bit more accepting and forgiving and even more open to things one was not as open to before. Pink Floyd has reached its final destination and its current iterations in the form of solo projects have at this point really departed from what Pink Floyd was, conceptually. That is something to think about as one approaches Popoff’s volume with a sense of what is or is not “proper” Pink Floyd.

Pink Floyd became something much larger than just four guys jamming at UFO. This book illustrates how much more it became for so many people and why – and that might change an opinion or another, here and there, about one album or another. Ultimately, it is a testament to how far-reaching the band’s DNA is.

 

Pink Floyd: Album by Album is available on Amazon, at Martin Popoff’s website , and at local retailers. 

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 December 2018 )
 
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