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A Very Good Year
A series covering the 15 best music releases of 2014
10. Neil Young - A Letter Home
9. Bill Mallonee - Winnowing
8. Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways
7. Tom Petty - Hypnotic Eye
6. Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes
5. Willie Nelson - Band of Brothers
4. Marty Stuart - Saturday Night/Sunday Morning
3. Johnny Cash - Out Among the Stars
2. Pink Floyd - The Endless River
Key tracks: Sides three and four, especially "Autumn '68/Allonys-y 2/Talkin' Hawkin'" and "Surfacing"/"Louder than Words."
When I heard that Pink Floyd were releasing an album last year, their first since 1994’s The Division Bell, I was thrilled. As a hardcore Floyd fan I’d always wanted to experience the release of new material from them (I was 10 in 1994 so it was hard for me to appreciate it). My hopes were dampened slightly when I found out that it would be a largely instrumental collection of outtakes from the Division Bell but I kept an open mind.
I’m glad that I did. The Endless River is a classic Pink Floyd album.
The atmosphere that David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright create is entrancing in a way that is uniquely Pink Floyd. Nobody else can come close to sounding like them. Instrumentally they’re still at the top of their game, the guitars blistering, the keyboards and synths swelling and brooding, the drums adding perfect texture. Floyd lives again.
As Gilmour said in interviews The Endless River is for people who still listen to albums as a whole. The best way to listen to it, and this can be said of anything released on the format, is on vinyl. But it is especially the case here because it’s separated into four distinct sides, even on the CD. Each suite, though unique unto itself, coalesces into a coherent whole in a way that no Floyd album has since Wish You Were Here.
Opening “Things Left Unsaid” sets the tone with its spacy “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” feel. That song combined with ‘90s Floyd is the essence of side one. Gilmour’s heavy, tasteful guitar work at the end is vintage, as it is on side two’s beginning “Sum.” Wright's textures evoke The Final Cut and the folk experimentation on Meddle. “Unsung” and “Anisia” suggest the mellower passages on Dark Side of the Moon.
If there was any justice in the world – or guts on the radio – the suite of side three would be Floyd’s last iconic hit. More “Shine On” feel and spacy synths turn into an upbeat section that sounds like the songs later, faster sections (with some Division Bell thrown in as well). Swelling synths and dark chords, combined with some Gilmour acoustic flourishes, break into an homage to The Wall’s “Run Like Hell.” It sounds both new and familiar, which is the strength of Endless River.
At the very least “Autumn ‘68” and “Talkin’ Hawkin” should have been culled for a single. The former, based around an organ solo recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in 1968, is gorgeous. After a brief return to “Run Like Hell”-ish “Allons-y” we get a special appearance from scientist Stephen Hawking on “Talkin’ Hawkin’” (he also appeared on The Division Bell’s “Keep Talking”). Its piano riff and emotive synth feel are classic Floyd.
Side four, which concludes with the albums only non-instrumental song “Louder than Words,” conjures nearly every Floyd era. The swelling synths and funky bass line of opening “Calling” is Division Bell meets The Wall. It gives way to lots of Meddle-like guitar signatures (think “One of These Days”) and combines them with the an atmosphere reminiscent of the instrumental passages on Wish You Were Here. Final track “Louder than Words,” although marred by substandard lyrics, is still in line with top later-era Floyd songs like “High Hopes” or “Lost for Words.”
The best thing about The Endless River is that it indulges in the ethereal, spacy Pink Floyd sound that only they can create. With the album Floyd is alive again. Not as a retread or for nostalgia, but in a living, breathing, real way. Unfortunately this appears to be their last release. At least they can know that they went out sounding as good as they ever have.
Next: 1. Bob Dylan and the Band - The Basement Tapes Complete
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.