REVIEW: Pink Floyd – The Endless River (2014 CD/Blu-ray)

NEW RELEASE

PINK FLOYD – The Endless River (2014 Columbia CD/Blu-ray deluxe edition)

Sometimes you just have to take a chance.

Perhaps that’s the theme of The Endless River, but I’ll warn you in advance that it’s the theme of this review.  Sometimes, you have to take a chance, and buy an album on pure faith.  Sometimes you want something to be good, just because you liked the idea of it.  I took a chance on it, not really expecting too much, but liking the concept enough to try.

IMG_20141123_171023The Endless River is an intriguing idea with successful execution.  Even though these recordings were made 20 years ago during The Division Bell sessions, David Gilmour gambled that there might be something worth salvaging here in memory of late keyboardist Rick Wright.  When they recorded Division Bell, they actually thought they might have two albums’ worth of material.  The second album, which they never finished, would have been more instrumental and ambient in nature.  Less song-oriented, more meandering and scenic.  Not too far off from what The Endless River is, perhaps.

Unafraid of a little work, Gilmour and Nick Mason got back together and finished what they had started with Rick.  According to David, “We listened to over 20 hours of the three of us playing together and selected the music we wanted to work on for the new album. Over the last year we’ve added new parts, re-recorded others and generally harnessed studio technology to make a 21st century Pink Floyd album. With Rick gone, and with him the chance of ever doing it again, it feels right that these revisited and reworked tracks should be made available as part of our repertoire.”

I will state for the record that there is no comparison between the CD and 5.1 surround Blu-ray listening experiences.  The Blu-ray enveloped me in electronic warmth from the start, occasionally startling me with an unexpected bit of guitar here, or sax there.  By comparison to the 3D experience of 5.1 surround sound, CD is flat and tinny.  Having said that, the CD is one of the best sounding CDs out there right now.  Sonically, this is absolutely flawless.  The keys, organ, and drums are warm and genuine, sometimes wrapped up in dreamy synth.

The Endless River is divided up into four sides, but is best experienced in one sitting.  The four sides have distinct “song” sections within them, but everything flows with a purpose.  Some of the more composed sections really stand out as potential fully-fledged songs:  The chugging “Allons-y (1) & (2)” for example, or the guitar showcase of “It’s What We Do”.   A track like “Sum” takes a while to build, but when it does, it’s into another impressive Gilmour show piece.  (Then on the same side, Nick Mason gets his own moment on the percussive “Skins”.)

Other memorable moments include “Talkin’ Hawkin'” which reprises the Stephen Hawking voice from The Division Bell‘s “Keep Talking”.  I love the haunting church organ on “Autumn ’68”.  There is also one vocal song, “Louder Than Words”, which was chosen as a single.  It’s not a particularly special Pink Floyd song; I think the instrumental pieces are far more interesting than “Louder Than Words”.

A number of bonus tracks are included on the DVD and Blu-ray deluxe editions.  These include unreleased studio jams and unfinished tracks, as well as a couple rough album tracks.  “Anisina” and “Evrika (a) & (b)” are cool, relaxed jams.  “Evrika” is similar in nature to parts that made it to the finished album.  The most interesting unreleased song is easily “Nervana”, a basic guitar riff jam that doesn’t sound anything like Pink Floyd at all.  It does sound cool though, a detour into what might have been…if only Gilmore had taken a chance.  Some of these bonus tracks are accompanied by 1994 black and white behind the scenes footage and stills.  Very cool stuff, if you’re into watching the best musicians in the world getting the job done.

The deluxe comes in a box with some post cards (one with lenticular art), a hardcover booklet with more photos, credits and lyrics, and individual sleeves for the discs.  Nothing overly fancy, it’s the Blu-ray disc itself that is the selling feature of this set.  Some of the bonus tracks are cool and worth having, but it’s that awesome dreamlike 5.1 surround mix that is the clincher.  If you’ve ever wondered, “What’s the big fuss about surround sound anyway?” then see if you have a buddy who can demonstrate this album to you in surround, on a good system with a decent subwoofer.  Strap yourself in.

I think Rick Wright would have been very happy and proud of the finished product, all these years later.  Take a chance on The Endless River and see if you too will be swept away.

4/5 stars

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20 comments

  1. I like it. It’s not on par with their best work (I liken it to the soundtrack work they undertook in the late 60’s) but less of a band trying to find its way thru improvisation. This is a finely tuned machine just throwing some ideas together to see what works. I like it miles better than the Division Bell. It does have a complete feel to it, I love the build up to Anisina (not quite the track itself) and the Allons-y1/Autumn 68/Allons-y2 sequence. Some things remind me of other Floyd bits but that isn’t quite a bad thing.

    Louder Than Words is disappointing in a way. The opening lines quite suck. I just cant seem to get past how amateurish they are. The instrumental track is nice though but there should be more to it. That’s what bugs me, it doesn’t quite have that release that most great Floyd albums end with. More like this is where we end this now. Whatever. I’m glad they made this for us, it is a fitting tribute to Rick Wright and ostensibly to Syd.

    The overal package does get a 5/5 from me (using your scale if I may). A really beautiful thing to hold in my hands.

    The music gets 3.5 from me. The bonus cuts are nice and its a good companion to the Floyd ROIO Secret Rarities, parts of which do end up on TER proper.

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    1. What are the ROIO Secret Rarities?

      I agree that it’s not too far off from their earlier soundtrack work in concept. However I find it a completely different animal to listen to. This one really is a trip, a journey, very cerebral in sound. A lot of that early soundtrack stuff I found a lot harder to digest. Personally.

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    1. I’m not a “huge” fan either…I have about 10 of their albums. Having said that, this one (as present time) is my favourite of the Gilmour/Wright/Mason years. It blows away Division Bell, in my opinion.

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  2. Great review Mike…it’s interesting and kinda crazy how this just was announced by Gilmours wife(I think) like ‘hey theres a new Floyd record coming”….,and than everyone freaks out! Glad your digging it!

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    1. His wife wrote the lyrics to “Louder Than Words” and I think she tweeted something about “writing new lyrics for Pink Floyd”. In 2014 a lot of stuff goes viral that way, and generates more hype and discussion than a simple press release would. The strategy worked, everybody is talking about Floyd again.

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    1. If you take a chance on it at the right price, I think you’ll be pleased. It’s incredible 1) the quality of the music, and 2) that they managed to get a cohesive album out of it.

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  3. Good review, Mike. I dare say it’ll be a while before I listen to this one. Not cause I rubbish Pink Floyd, but more that I don’t really enjoy listening to them. Some of their stuff is absolutely incredible and some of it just doesn’t do anything for me at all.

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  4. I was on vacation last week and missed this post. You already know that Led Zeppelin is my favorite band of all time, but did you know that Pink Floyd is #2? They were also the first band I got into after Kiss when I traded an extra copy of “Rock & Roll Over” for Floyd’s “Animals” after my 11th birthday in 1977. All this is a preamble to say that I was pretty excited about “The Endless River” even if it’s more of a quasi-Pink Floyd release than a real Floyd album. These days I’m happy to hear anything Gilmour plays or sings on since he’s not terribly prolific, and the fact that it’s based on ’93 Floyd recordings makes it as close as we’ll ever get to the real thing. Your review is spot-on, which is amazing considering that (as you pointed out in an earlier comment) you’re not a huge fan. I assumed that casual fans would find this album to be hit-and-miss, and the lack of vocal tracks until the end might turn off a lot of potential listeners. Then again, you have 10 of their albums so you’re a little more than a casual fan.

    As you pointed out, the surround sound mix is wonderful. I’m very picky with 5.1 mixes. I believe we’ve discussed the Rush in surround sound in the past and I was not as enamored as you were. There seem to be only a handful of mixers who really know what they’re doing (Steven Wilson being at the top of that list), so once you’ve been spoiled with their work you can really hear what’s missing in the hands of a less competent mixing engineer. I forgot who handled this one but I love it, and it’ll be my go-to version of “The Endless River” going forward.

    Thanks for showing this album some love, and pointing out to your readers what a nice package it is.

    Now I eagerly await Gilmour’s next solo album, which he estimates will be ready in 2015…so I expect it to see the light of day by 2017. Haha.

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    1. Thanks Rich. I found it hard to “describe” the 5.1 mix in words. It wasn’t as simple as “guitars are up front, keyboards in the back, bass off to the side…” It’s much more fluid and complex than that. But FULL! I think Richard Wright would be happy.

      I bought that last Gilmour, which was On An Island I think…2005 or 2006?

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