Da Musically Inclined Bomb

DePauw University's First Year Seminar on Writing about Music

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My edited CD review

Piper At The Gates Of DawnLime and limpid green the soundsurrounds the icy waters underground- Astronomy Domine

For people who are on the same quantities of drugs as Syd Barret was during most of this recording, this album is Pink Floyd's great lost masterpiece. For the rest of the world it is an interesting footnote to the career of a band that went on to record truly classic stuff like Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall. For me, I think this album's true worth is somewhere in between these two assessments. For all the brilliance of Barret's concepts and lyrics and for all the raw talent of the band backing him on this, the simple fact is that a lot of this material sounds dated and juvenile compared to what Pink Floyd was doing a few years later. Syd Barret has some fairly dedicated fans who believe this is the greatest album ever released. Most people aren't even aware that it exists. The casual Pink Floyd fan isn't going to get this. Some random steakhead who picks this album up because he likes to listen to that "we don't need no education" song while warming up for wrestling practice is going to be horrified by most of this. In fact he's probably going to have to beat the crap out of somebody to feel better about himself after listening to fruity songs like The Gnome and Flaming.

Barret was a screwed up drug addict who for some reason had a really big thing for nursery rhymes and Lewis Carroll books. That type of thing will happen when you drop that much high grade acid in a short period of time. It's pretty obvious listening to this that Barret was completely out of his mind by the time this was recorded. The lyrics are mostly centered around fairy tales with elves and castles and stuff like that, with some eastern philosophy ( Chapter 24) and space rock (Astronomy Domine) thrown into the mix for good measure. Barret likes to play around with wording and concepts so that a lot of things have double meanings and sentences and phrases don't really seem to make any sense. A good deal of this is purely psychedelic and that is played out to maximum effect on the album. Pink Floyd doesn't sound anything like this today, they are too modern rock oriented to be able to write off the wall experimental stuff like this. Random instrumentation is scattered across the entire album without much meaning or sense of continuity. Atonal jarring sound collages and tape effects are thrown in at times as if to fully illustrate the insanity of the author behind this music. Barret was good for writing hit singles when Pink Floyd was playing clubs, but at this point he was almost through writing music altogether. It reminds me of a story that I once heard about his last tour with the band when Barret would stand mute on stage playing a single note over and over again for the whole show while the rest of the band would try to play their songs. Barret by this point was more interested in dropping acid and reciting nursery rhymes than playing in a rock band.

There are times however when Barret's unusual approach does work with the rest of the band and a few good songs actually do emerge. The results are phenomenal and illustrate the true genius that he had for writing music. The menacing surf guitar tone and heavy bass on Lucifer Sam shows off Pink Floyd's dexterity for taking psychedelic source material and writing great hard rock songs with it. Likewise the instrumental freakouts on Astronomy Domine and Interstellar Overdrive make today's space rock bands sound like amateurs by comparison. These songs make the album a worthwhile purchase for dedicated fans of this band. The unfortunate fact is that due to Barret's drug induced psychosis, a lot of the material is just too strange even for a Pink Floyd album, relegating it strictly to cult status. Most people who don't know much about Pink Floyd won't understand or appreciate much of this, but there is true genius at work here.
* * * *Reviewed: March, 2003



At 9/03/2006 9:57 PM, Blogger Dennis Fuller said...

cool review. cool music.


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