A confused goodbye: A review of ‘The Endless River’ by Pink Floyd

A man in a white shirt and brown shorts stands in a Gondola at the center of the image. He rows the Gondola across a sea of clouds, heading towards a sunset.
Source: Wikipedia

So…it’s here. The final Pink Floyd album.

What a rush of emotion writing those words brings to me. Ever since my brother introduced ‘the Floyd’ to me in the early 80s and The Wall seduced me before Dark Side of the Moon recreated me, I have loved Barrett, Waters, Mason, Wright and Gilmour as though they were my own brothers. Though it is hard to deny Waters’ place as the pinnacle of who the band were, I was not one of the fans who were either into Barrett Floyd or Waters Floyd. Heck, I don’t even judge Gilmour Floyd too harshly. No, I loved all the eras and all the music these men created. In that sense, at least, The Endless River I will also love. I do already…but only to an extent.

There are things which nark me about the album not least being the concept of ‘four sides’. It’s a bit of a cheat considering the whole thing lasts less than an hour. I’ve grown up on Pink Floyd tracks lasting whole sides of an album at a time – too many of the tracks from this album don’t even last two minutes!

Some things are unsatisfying about the album though I feel the effort has been unfairly criticised as being nothing more than ’empty improvising’ and likened to a ‘jam session’ between Wright and Gilmour. Such critics forget that this was always what the Floyd were about before Waters entrenched his withering megalomania too firmly into the group’s ethos and all but stripped away any sense of spur-of-the-moment creativity. I would argue that The Endless River is the first true Pink Floyd album since Animals when looked at in this way.

There’s much to praise. The sound and production is superb for instance. But praise is tempered with a slight feeling of discomfort – a shuffling of the feet as it were. Every note is perfectly placed but done so rather laboriously and with little of real interest going on. I don’t feel the urge to pick up my guitar and learn Gilmour’s soloing at any time during the performance; no ‘air guitaring’ for me. There is no rival to ‘Time’ or ‘Comfortably Numb’ in this collection.This is not an album saying anything new. Instead it is an album of memorabilia rethought, re-imagined but of former times nevertheless. Yet it is still beautiful to listen to – of that there is no doubt.

In some senses The Endless River is a sister to The Final Cut being, as it is, an album made of material which didn’t make it into the previous album, here resurrected, reshaped and remoulded to make something independent, new, but related. Considering much of this material comes from the now sadly deceased Richard Wright this is as it should be. Again, I see parallels everywhere. In this way of thinking The Endless River is like Wish You Were Here, paying homage to a former friend and colleague. I wonder if the spirit of Wright was watching Gilmour and Mason as they put this album together in the same way Barratt watched his former friends during the making of Wish You Were Here. We’ll never know I guess; interesting that both men are now dead though? Maybe.

The whole album makes references to the back catalogue of Floyd albums beginning with the opening track, ‘Things left unsaid’, which begins like DSOTM with samples from other albums thrown in for good measure.

‘It’s what we do’ matches Animals in tone but like Wish You Were Here in mood even re-quoting phrases from WYWH before then giving strong Animals phrases again. I think this is possibly the best track of the album because of this delicious remix of old beloved sounds. Rather like looking through a photo album mixed up a little, I am surprised and delighted to hear old cherished soundscapes in found in new places here.

‘Sum’ begins like ‘Astronomy Domine’ from Ummagumma with plenty of references to the improvisation from the track along with other tracks from the same album.

‘Anisina’ features sax taking us back to the days of DSOTM and WYWH yet I can’t help but feel everyone here, including saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, were tired and lacking the edge those earlier albums had in bucket-loads.

‘On Noodle Street’ is, for me, the worst – or, at least, the least Pink Floyd-like – of all the tracks. But perhaps that makes it the most authentic? After all, from Ummagumma through to The Wall, every single Pink Floyd album was so totally unlike what they’d done before. As a teenager listening to each one, the first playing was almost always disappointing because it was not what I had expected. However, the second playing was always as exciting as the first was disappointing. Having stripped away my expectation of what was to come, I heard each album properly second time around and loved it as I’d loved each one before. Alas, listening to TEW several times, that excitement failed to grip me anew. At best, I calmly enjoyed the tracks as ambient sound, but that was all.

‘Talkin’ Hawkin’ sees the return of Professor Stephen Hawking’s voice. This promises to be of great intellectual interest but then fails to live up to it. This is the great crime of post-Waters Pink Floyd for me. The lyrics (where they occur) in all three albums are vacuous and devoid of the wit and intellect of Roger Waters. This is all ear-candy – beautifully crafted and unashamedly lie-back-and-chill music – but there’s nothing of substance to grip the mind. Waters may have been obsessed with certain themes which lead you, quite deliberately, to the edge of madness but at least he said something – and you couldn’t ignore that.You simply don’t come away from this album changed.

Except, confusingly, I am changed. This is it; this is the last Pink Floyd album – there will be no more. That in itself is the most important change. We now live in a post-Floyd world and it’s all the greyer for it. I can’t deny that I am disappointed Waters could not be reconciled to the band for this last push. What a final album that could have been! But it will do. This album has given me the chance to think back over fifty years of superb music-making, to think back over how Pink Floyd shaped my very essence and influenced my life in more ways than I can describe. It’s like watching the final scene of a movie you don’t want to come to an end. There is nothing more to say. But it has to be said anyway to bring closure before the screen darkens, the lights come up and we leave the room for good.

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2 thoughts on “A confused goodbye: A review of ‘The Endless River’ by Pink Floyd

  1. Without having listened to it yet, my instincts tell me your review is just right!!! In a way, I had been expecting something like this – but they are who they are after all and, well, we like them!!! 😉

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    1. I think your final comment is exactly right Marina! We like them and we will whatever. To be fair, if this was an album by any other band I’d be writing of it being a beautiful and flawless work. It’s just that it ISN’T any other group – its Pink Floyd! Alas, when you’re the best, something not quite the best feels much less than that!

      Liked by 1 person

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