The Endless River
Just when you thought we'd heard the last of Pink Floyd, they show up with a "new" album. Certainly not "new" in the sense that the surviving members gathered together and consciously cut a whole new record. Rather it's "new" in that it's based around 20-year-old recordings that have been restructured where needed, sweetened and enhanced in sections to create a cohesive whole for the masses. This is certainly nothing that hasn't been done before as we've seen "new" recordings from the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix brought to market in similar fashion. The timeless sheen of Pink Floyd's music, however, fulfilled by David Gilmour and Nick Mason's hands-on participation in giving the tracks a fresh and credible perspective is what makes The Endless River a meaningful and legitimate Pink Floyd album.
First and foremost, The Endless River is a tribute to the incalculable contributions of the band's keyboardist Rick Wright, who passed away in 2008. Wright's image to many is that of a secondary member to Gilmour, Roger Waters and Syd Barrett, similar to the way John Paul Jones takes a backseat to Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in Led Zeppelin. In both cases, their respective role in their respective bands is invaluable. No one can deny that Wright's layered keyboards are as integral to Pink Floyd's sound as Gilmour's seasoned guitar. To that end, The Endless River, relying heavily on instrumental tracks recorded during the 1993 sessions for The Division Bell, is filled with long, ethereal passages of Wright's keyboards.
The opening suite of "Things Left Unsaid" is similar in execution to that of 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond," with Wright's synths and Hammond organ gathering in intensity, rising and rolling, creating a smooth segue for Gilmour to drop in with gigantic scatters of thick leads to make the spine tingle on "It's What We Do." Wright's sweet interlude on "Ebb And Flow" is the perfect set up for "Sum" and "Skins," both of which wouldn't have been out of place on 1969's Ummagumma album. To hear Nick Mason on the Rototoms makes "Time" stand still.
"Anisina" is pretty much how you would expect the Pink Floyd of today to sound — smooth, epic, ambient with the flood of horns and reverie, but still spacey and subterranean enough to distinguish it from the usual airy stuff. Wright's pronounced piano sets the pace for everything else to grow and evolve. This one, in perhaps the same way as "The Great Gig In The Sky," makes you realize just how much Wright could achieve with simple, elegant lines — the very essence of Pink Floyd's allure.
Much of the rest of the album flows through different textural sequences — although Gilmore rows the boat on "Allons-y." Stephen Hawking reprises his speaking engagement with Pink Floyd "Talkin' Hawkin'," although the song has only a suble connection to "Keep Talking." The short instrumentals "Calling," "Eyes To Pearls" and "Surfacing" almost function as an extended prelude to the last and only song with vocals, "Louder Than Words." With lyrics written by Polly Samson, Gilmour conveys the message that the sound Pink Floyd made is indeed more powerful and effective than the spoken word between the members of the band, always a controversial subject throughout their fabled career.
Given the fact that David Gilmour and Roger Waters have patched up their differences, it was distressing to some that the latter was not included on this release. Waters amicably acknowledged that he wasn't on it, never suggested he should be, and given its frame of reference to 1993 when the last official incarnation of Pink Floyd recorded, he's right on the money. More than anything, The Endless River proves that without Rick Wright on board, the likelihood of a Pink Floyd reunion is pretty much slim to nil.
~ Shawn Perry