The Endless River

Pink Floyd

Columbia, 2014

http://www.pinkfloyd.com

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/22/2014

It came as a pretty big surprise when seemingly out of nowhere, rumors started flying about a new Pink Floyd album. It was an event I never expected to happen, seeing as the band had long since said their farewells. But here we are with a new record on our hands, and the fact that they haven't started up the fast train to cash town speaks positively to their intentions with it. They could easily go out on tour, make a ton of money, and milk it for all it's worth. But instead, we just get this humble little set of instrumental tunes.

The Endless River has been framed as a farewell to keyboardist Richard Wright, who passed away in 2008. It's not a bad decision on their part, since Pink Floyd has done tributes of this sort before. 1975's Syd Barrett tribute, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” comes to mind immediately. Keeping this in mind helps to frame the album and imbue it with purpose. Otherwise it might have just seemed like a bunch of random ideas strung together.

In interviews, David Gilmour and Nick Mason made a point to discuss how Wright was perhaps the member most integral to the band's sound. I was a little skeptical of this claim at first, seeing as how Wright wrote and sang only a small portion of the band's material. But the album makes a strong case for it, since posthumous or not, it has more Wright on it than any Pink Floyd album since Wish You Were Here. He's all over the place, pulling out all of his signature tricks. By the end of the second track, he's already cycled through many of his most iconic keyboard sounds. From eerie Farfisa organ patterns to gentle piano rhythms, from modular synth swells to thick swaths of Hammond organ, it's all here. Add in Gilmour's characteristic guitar parts and a surprisingly sprightly drum performance from Mason, and my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Endless River sounds genuinely like Pink Floyd playing together as a band for the first time in decades.

The downside, however, is that while it does sound like a band playing together, it doesn't sound like a band playing songs together. These are all jams at best. Most of these instrumentals don't sound particularly composed, and there's little in the way of distinct melodies or structure. The tracks on this album are simply content to set a mood.

But mood setting is a strength of Pink Floyd's. Experience with composing film soundtracks lies in their past and this album is suitably cinematic. It's as if the Pink Floyd of More and Atom Heart Mother never really left. This makes picking out individual highlights tricky. Much of the record is pleasant, but everything blends together and there aren't many notable melodies to latch on to. If you aren't watching the tracklist, it can even be hard to tell where one song ends and another begins. The album's four suites all have their share of both thrilling, and boring moments. It's best to just take it as it comes.

There are a fair number of sly call-backs here, which could be a sticking point for some since they occasionally come too close to older songs for comfort. While listening I was vividly reminded of “Run Like Hell,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” and “Welcome To The Machine,” just to name a few. They don't always make the best choices as to what tunes to reference either. “Talkin' Hawkin',” for instance, drops us straight into the middle of career lowlight “Keep Talking,” complete with ear-shredding Stephen Hawking speech.

The final track, “Louder Than Words,” is the only one with full-on vocals. But sadly, it's a little underwhelming. The band's previous final song, “High Hopes,” was a major highlight of the band's career full of evocative moods and a grand scope. “Louder Than Words” doesn't have any of that. It's not a bad song by any means, but it closes the band's career on a pretty bland note.

The Endless River isn't going to become one of my top five Pink Floyd albums anytime soon. In fact, it's more likely to end up near the bottom of my list, since there isn't much substance here. But all the same, I can't bring myself to dislike it. It may be one of the least essential records in their discography, but that doesn’t mean I'm any less glad to have it. It was intended as a pleasant, low-key epilogue, and that's exactly what it is.

Rating: C+

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