Progressive rock giants, Pink Floyd, released their latest album The Endless River on November 10, 2014. This album, by all accounts, is the band’s swan song and will not have a tour in support of it.
This is the band’s first studio album since The Division Bell was released in 1994 and the band’s third since the schism with founding bass player Roger Waters. Although there was much talk of a formal reunion of recording and/or touring of the four surviving members of the band following their one-time reunion for the benefit show known as Live 8 in 2005 (you can read more about Live 8 here), the reunion never occurred. It would not appear that a reunion of the surviving band members will ever happen as there are now fewer surviving members than in 2005 with the death of keyboardist Rick Wright in 2008.
In creating this album, guitarist David Gilmour wanted to create one final Pink Floyd recording, likely inspired by Wright’s recent passing. To do so he brought on a handful of producers, including Phil Manzanera (guitarist for Roxy Music), and culled through the remaining usable material from The Division Bell sessions. Evidently there was about twenty (20) hours of unreleased recorded material from those sessions through which the band slogged. Gilmour was able to edit the hours of available material to about an album’s worth, along with some newer material meshed into it. In order to ensure it is an authentic Floyd album, the material used for the album all contains existing recorded material on which Wright played. Gilmour and Mason’s playing was also derived from the existing recordings, but they also recorded some new material specifically for this album. In a strange way, in its use of archival material, this album is, after a manner of speaking, Gilmour’s version of Waters’ The Final Cut.
What’s the music like? Is it a good album? Well that depends on what one’s expectations are. If one approaches this album expecting this to represent the next stage in Floyd’s career, or for ground breaking music, or to be some sort of statement, one will be sorely disappointed. This album is none of those things. This album, perhaps more than any Floyd album, is self-consciously Pink Floyd. In other words, it is very obvious that Gilmour and Mason intended to create a Pink Floyd album which sounds like one.
Obviously, as this album was made using The Division Bell material, it bears some resemblance with that album, but that is not the only familiar sound on this album. There are moments which bring to mind Dark Side of the Moon (I am specifically reminded of “Us and Them”) still others Wish You Were Here (I am specifically reminded of “Welcome to the Machine”) and, at times, The Wall. Strangely there is a moment which reminds me of Michael Oldfield, but I think that is only because of Wright’s organ sound/tone. Quite honestly, the album which this album calls to mind the most to me is Obscured by Clouds.
The music is almost entirely instrumental. The only vocals appear during the final six (6) minutes to close out the album. The instrumental portions comprise multiple tracks which form four (4) longer interlocking movements. The music is standard Floyd in that it is fairly slow moving, atmospheric, mournful, but always seemingly thought provoking and emotional. There’s little bombast and virtually no flashy moments. The title of the album is evocative of the music: it’s like drifting down a river while maintaining a certain contemplative spirit. Thankfully, Wright’s recordings are seamlessly combined with contemporary recordings and composition; at no time does it sound obvious that they are using old material. To draw a comparison, I thought the Beatles’ effort in using old material augmented by contemporary recordings and arrangement sounded terribly obvious and contrived.
So, in sum, this album holds up well in the Pink Floyd discography, but only in terms of presenting a quality presentation of a predicable and expected Floyd sound as opposed to demonstrating the next step in their artistic development.