Syd Barrett was melting down quickly. No doubt that his mental health was erratic and unstable. He was undergoing a lot of issues within the band, quite possibly triggered by excessive psychedelic drug use.
This was the last recording to have Syd feature predominantly. But not the last to feature him altogether. David Gilmour, a friend of the band, replaced Syd as a guitar and vocalist after the group decided not to pick up Syd on the way to a Pink Floyd gig early in 1968. That changed everything for Pink Floyd.
It’s really Syd’s swan song before he did firstly a solo career and then isolated exclusion from society until his death in 2006. It is so sad to hear about the brilliant genius turn into a total mess. But then again, the group were always inspired by Syd.
This album, therefore, is a rather big mish-mash of ideas, sounds, and innovation. It’s brilliant still, but not as strong as The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. It does have that Pink Floyd magic about it, however. It’s primarily a mixture of art based electronic noodling and the childlike pop that Syd Barrett was capable of.
We lead off with Let There Be More Light which has a funky introductory riff and a soul exploring via a psychedelic theme. It’s good, but we can hear the band sounds a little worn out in terms of musical direction as they had lost Syd. It’s still brilliant all the same.
The next piece Remember A Day has a beautiful slide guitar sound and piano as well. It’s a nice piece, although it lacks energy pace-wise. Nice vocal sound effects at the end too.
Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun will dazzle you with its space travel theme and brilliant psychedelic structure. It looks ahead to later, more progressive Pink Floyd works. Awesome.
Corporal Clegg follows and seems the only weak track on the album. It’s still fun and tells a contradictory psychedelic story about a war hero. It has a kazoo-like piece on it, rather than a guitar solo, which is amusing.
The epic title track A Saucerful Of Secrets is a trippy journey in an instrumental. It has four sections in it (i. Something Else; ii. Syncopated Pandemonium; iii. Storm Signal; iv. Celestial Voices) and sounds ultra freaky for the most part, until it bursts into relief at the end. It’s almost proto-progressive rock and is just awesome. Strap in the seatbelts for this trip. It’s just so well done that you’ll be dazzled by the darkest trip to the lightest relief. Brilliant.
The follow-up See-Saw is a childhood story which compares children to adults later in life. It’s a retrospective melancholy piece which sounds mostly pleasant. It’s a good way to show off Pink Floyd’s songwriting side after the trippy instrumental before it.
Jugband Blues finishes the album with Syd playing acoustic and singing, before having various horns, harmonies and reversed guitar parts attack you. It ends with Syd questioning various things in life. It’s definitely awesome to hear.
This album is no doubt a transition album for Pink Floyd. After they lost Syd, the band struggled for half a decade with doing electronic noodling and song structures, with mixed results before going interstellar with The Dark Side Of The Moon. It’s still an essential listen as much as The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn though, and takes you back over 50 years to 1968.
R.I.P. Syd Barrett