A double album of a mix of new and old songs? Sounds more like a compilation than a Pink Floyd album. At this stage, however, Pink Floyd were at a musical and artistic set of crossroads. This album, released in the same year as their film score soundtrack More, is a mixed bag. It reveals a Pink Floyd that after the legendary Syd Barrett had gone, were struggling to identify themselves in the world of music. Still, let’s have a look at the music here, and how it sounds. It kicks off with a live set, and adds some new studio songs as well, let’s jump in.
Astronomy Domine – Live kicks off the live section of the album with some great keyboard playing and an intro to a mammoth sounding live version of the original song. It does sound remarkably good for a version such as this, and is a good interpretation of the Syd Barrett original. Sounding very artistic and psychedelic, the organ sounds and chugging guitars mainly take up the space here. Some brilliant vocals are here as well, and it is quite an interesting listen. Some basslines that are well played are here as well, sounding like trippy Surf music here. The band definitely puts in a great performance on this live track, giving it 100%. It goes very quiet in the midsection, and has some awesome Progressive Rock like keyboards in it. It is well delivered and is a bit different to what you’d expect of Pink Floyd. The rest of the band eventually returns, kicking in a very good sonic journey unlike anything else you’d expect. This live performance is very awesome. The second half of the song is wonderfully articulated, and a great rendition of this awesome song. It finishes with a brilliant finale, and is excellent overall.
Careful With That Axe, Eugene – Live is a rendition of another Syd Barrett song, this time a B-Side. It begins in a very moody sort of way, and is very much more like Progressive Rock than the straightforward Psychedelic Pop that the band explored previously. It is a soul searching sort of listen, with some great harmonies early on in this song. Everything about this live performance is done very near perfectly for the sort of music that Pink Floyd wished to do at the time. Before long, the main section of the song kicks in and the scream by Roger Waters is nothing short of brilliant here. The rest of the band has kicked in by this time, and the guitar playing by David Gilmour, is nothing but excellent. A really strong instrumental, with Nick Mason putting in some superb drum fills here. The whole piece is very amazing, and the band are almost psychic in their intuitive nature of playing this piece together. It mellows out and goes into a quieter midsection that is well done and played by Pink Floyd. Obviously the group did not waste time in creating a melodramatic experience of what a real musical journey is. It is the musical equivalent of soul searching. It ends so quietly, and the cheering crowd show their approval.
Next is Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun – Live which begins with some excellent cymbal crashes by Nick Mason, with the gradual addition of bass guitar and keyboards. The whole piece is a lot slower than album version, and notably more suspenseful. It is a really fantastic listen, even many decades later. Roger Waters sings subtly here, in fact, so much so that he is nearly whispering. The melody and construction here is very good, and Pink Floyd deserve the credit here as a live band, for sure. This is a very Psychedelic/Progressive Rock music experience unlike any other. Before long, the tempo increases and we have a brilliant slice of live music right here. It becomes a frenzied instrumental jam that shows everyone listening that we have a band capable of great musical ability. The keyboard sounds are really intense, and it quickly goes back into a slower section with bass guitar plucked and odd spacey keyboard sounds. It is an intense listen at this point. A great and interesting midsection, no doubt inspired by the idea of space travel. Nick Mason returns with what sounds like the main drum riff being played with bongo beats, very interesting. It is a surreal journey throughout sonic landscapes. The second half of the song kicks in, and we continue our journey through outer space. The whole piece goes very quiet, before fading out.
Following this is A Saucerful Of Secrets – Live which begins with a bass guitar playing the keyboard melody to introduce this piece. The disturbing and unsettling keyboard comes in next, along with some subtle drumming from Nick Mason, in the form of cymbal crashes. It leads into the piece, slowly but surely in a totally suspenseful way. There is some discordant slide guitar here, showcasing a dark sounding live instrumental. Before long, more cymbal crashes enter, indicating the introduction of the keyboard sounds at hand. The awesome drum loop then enters, which is both intelligent and catchy. This sounds very amazing, even today. The dark side of the Psychedelic music experience is here, with a bunch of rushing keyboard sounds to match. It is a disturbing and dark music experience, with David Gilmour playing some superb guitar in it as well. It is a music journey unlike any other. The drum loop goes more subtle as other musical elements from the keyboards in particular emerge in a more Progressive Rock fashion. The lone keyboard sets the scene for the second half of this piece, going from darkness into light without warning. The rest of the band gradually returns, and we have a lighter listening experience right here. The whole piece sounds really amazing, and has some great intuitive feel about it. Tom-tom drumming by Nick Mason is really excellent here. Before long, the second half of this instrumental kicks in nicely, and we have a great sonic journey here. Throughout it all, Pink Floyd sound majestic. They had found that they are great musicians, at least on the live part of this album. A truly emotional and well done musical piece, never getting boring, even though it is over 10 minutes long. It finishes with an excellent finale, and the crowd goes crazy here at the end. Brilliant.
Sysyphus, Pt. 1 is a random one minute instrumental beginning the second half of the double album. It’s pretty awful, to be honest, and could have been ditched. Sure, the Pink Floyd were trying, but this sounds like it could have been dropped.
Sysyphus, Pt. 2 is a random piano jam to begin with, clearly influenced by Classical music. Some frenetic piano playing is here, but although the skill involved is no doubt brilliant, it is not exactly a proper Pink Floyd track. Still, one can appreciate the time and effort put into this, although sadly, is not hugely necessary here. Some cymbals are here some of the way through. It is surely a Pink Floyd, “what the hell?” moment. It is given a load of sound effects treatment towards the end, which makes it eerie, but sadly, it is lacking.
Next is Sysyphus, Pt. 3 which is a weird combination of piano based sound effects. Really, come on guys, this is not music. This is merely an overly artistic way of looking at music in general, not being a proper instrumental or song. It is over after a minute or so. Sounds freaky and messed up.
Following is Sysyphus, Pt. 4 which begins with an organ melody, likely a Mellotron. Some birds chirping then come along into the mix, along with some dreary melodies. It sounds largely discordant and lacking in anything redeemably musical. Sure, these guys had to deal with the loss of Syd Barrett but this is not the way to respond to it. The mixture of discordant melodies and birds chirping with the sound of water flowing is pretty odd. Before you know it, a loud and freaky note enters the second half of this track, sounding somewhat nightmarish. It sounds like a really dark piece here, and is more experimental than a proper music piece. Some bashed piano enters, this is surely atmospherically darker than Nine Inch Nails for sure. It sounds super freaky. Certainly unconventional, it sounds like a bad LSD trip. What were these guys thinking? It is good if you enjoy being freaked out.
Grantchester Meadows begins with birds chirping and the sound of a fly floating around. Before long, some carefully played acoustic guitar enters this piece, revealing a better side to the new material. It is almost Atom Heart Mother like, which no doubt the band were looking ahead to at this point. Some random lyrics about river life and the river itself are here. It’s one of the better newer pieces here, even if innocently Pink Floyd were delivering a newer side to themselves post Syd. It’s not anything like their later and more popular material, but it is a nice listen. Perfect tune for lying in the summer sun and having your headphones on. It is a clever and artistic piece that is actually quite good. The sounds in the background of river life are soothing. The acoustic guitar playing by David Gilmour is excellent. Quite a good effort to hear, and one of the better second half cuts here. Worth a listen if you can hear it. Some classical like guitar playing at the end is here. Good piece. The sound of a fly being smashed with a fly swat at the end is here, too.
Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict is an incredibly long time for a five minute song. It continues the theme of animal life here, with many original “animal” sounds. If you have seen the Gremlins movies or the Ewoks in Star Wars, you may recognize similarities here. Oddly enough, for a super odd track, it is very catchy with the made up animal chanting. Weird and wonderful, it sounds oddly cool. Some strange modified electronic animal sounds (likely Roger Waters originally though) are here. It’s an experimental piece, but an interesting one at that. It is weird beyond comprehension and if you like weird, this is your track.
Next is The Narrow Way, Pt. 1 which begins with a rushing sonic intro, leading into some beautiful acoustic guitar playing. There are some ghostly slide guitars with heavy sound effects in the background. This is quite a nice listen, and sounds like Pink Floyd had some good musical ideas at the time. This isn’t bad, even if it is not excellent. A nice, if a little unusual, listen.
Following is The Narrow Way, Pt. 2 which begins with some unusual guitar and bass playing. It is a weird sort of jam like piece, and sounds a little strange. Even though this is merely Pink Floyd mucking around with sound effects, it’s okay. But only okay. It is not designed to be properly structured, which is a real shame. There are some hugely spacey sound effects that take up the last part of the track, after the band jam has faded out.
The Narrow Way, Pt. 3 begins with a high frequency noise that is annoying, before some electronic sounds and effected guitar playing emerge. It sounds pretty ordinary and awful, to be honest, even though this song is a proper song with Roger Waters singing. If you can skip this song, please do. It isn’t a good listen at all. This album should have been rethought at this point, or perhaps released as two separate albums. This sounds not very good and very rushed. It improves as it goes on, but still is something that much should have been reassessed as a song. Not even Nick Mason’s drumming saves this piece very much. Awful.
The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party, Pt. 1 (Entrance) starts off with some beautiful flute playing, very much unlike Pink Floyd. It is soothing and reassuring. Some brilliant drum rolls then come along. Short, but nice.
We go into The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party, Pt. 2 (Entertainment) which begins with some trippy drum sounds that are very 1960s, with some occasional cymbal crashes. It has some strange keyboard melodies then enter, proving to be a good listen. It then goes into a dark and eerie sonic section of what sounds like more treated drums, along with some odd keyboard melodies. It is weird, all right. A strange and unusual listening experience, this proves to be an odd album that Pink Floyd released. More dark and strange sounds then enter, but this track comes across as more junk on this album. Some dark and unusual drum and percussion sounds cut up come along for the ride. This is more artistic experimentalism than music, particularly with Nick Mason doing some weird tape loops and drumming. The purpose of this is not entirely clear, and despite some impressive use of the technology at the time, this is not necessary. It could have easily been rethought. Towards the end, it goes into a good piece of drumming, which is somewhat relieving.
Lastly, we have The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party, Pt. 3 (Exit) which has a number of recorded flute pieces. It sounds pretty nice, even though this is not really representative of Pink Floyd. Gentle and peaceful.
In retrospect, this album shouldn’t have come in the form that it is. If the group had released this as a two separate album set, it would have been better. The amazing live set is let seriously down by the poor collection of weird Pink Floyd ideas in the second half of the album. Still, although this is neither that good nor inspiring, it is an okay listen. The cover to the album is amazing though, a nice piece of Psychedelic imagery that looks very cool. And the term Ummagumma itself? It refers to sex.
A mixed result.