Hearing Aide: Pink Floyd’s ‘The Endless River’

The-Endless-River“…the endless river, forever and ever” – “High Hopes,” from The Division Bell

For twenty years Pink Floyd has sailed on that final lyric from their penultimate album. This week the final cut of songs from the genre-defining band greeted the world under the title The Endless River with official release dates ranging from November 7 to 11.

Gifted unto Pink Floyd followers and bystanders alike, The Endless River is a soundscape that washes over the listener like a mist and wraps around the ears with a curtain enveloping the mind with 52 minutes of blissful listening (or 65 minutes if you have the deluxe edition).

The listening experience is slightly different from that of Pink Floyd’s four previous albums – back to The Wall. A double vinyl LP is available for a total of four sides of music, but it is likely more common for people to listen to The Endless River either digitally or to the CD version. The subsequent versions from the LP retain the four album side grouping, each with its own motifs. It would be impossible to enjoy the album just one song at a time. In order to get the full creative effect of the album it is best to listen from start to finish, akin to the experience of Dark Side of the Moon. However, listening to each of the four sides in separate sittings won’t slight the experience too much.

Pink Floyd, who is now just David Gilmour and Nick Mason, made it known in advance of the album’s release that it is largely a tribute to the band’s late keyboardist Rick Wright, who passed away in 2008. Without prior knowledge of this, however, it is easy to notice Wright’s as the album progresses – his keyboard parts play an intricate role in the whole album. And yes, we do hear Wright’s playing on this album. Many of the keyboard recordings were taken from extra material from The Division Bell sessions with other parts freshly re-recorded. Only a few of the new songs have been supplemented with new keyboard recordings.

The Endless River is primarily an instrumental album except for “Louder Than Words,” a new composition with lyrics by Gilmour’s wife, Polly Samson, and a spoken word refrain from Stephen Hawking on the mediocre-titled “Talkin’ Hawkin’” (the song itself is far from mediocre). It is a little tricky to discern the intent behind an instrumental release, but referring back to the Rick Wright tribute it is likely that backing away from lyrics helps highlight his contributions as he never had a lead in vocal parts.

With news of The Endless River drawing upon The Division Bell sessions there had been anticipation of it being a lot like a “part two” of that album, which probably would have pleased many Pink Floyd fans while disappointing only a smaller portion of the crowd. It was a pleasant surprise being swept away with something that wasn’t quite expected. A respectable amount of arranging and new composition is put into the album with emphasis on including ear candy for long time Pink Floyd fans. Here’s one of the reasons why it stands alone from The Division Bell.

The Endless River is rather complex though a novice Pink Floyd listener may glance over these complexities. It contains a fabric of elements from A Saucerful of Secrets, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall, among others. Most distinctly, we hear relics from “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” “On the Run,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” “Run Like Hell,” and “High Hopes.” Some are very obvious, such as Wright’s keyboard lead on “It’s What We Do” echoing the tones of “Sine On You Crazy Diamond” or subtle like the guitar rhythms of “Run Like Hell” brought back to 2014 on “Allsons-y.” When listening to the album, be sure to listen carefully for these and other relics that aren’t as conspicuous. It seems like Gilmour and Mason took creative advantage of building off of the 1993 sessions to explore, rediscover, and reinvigorate what has been set aside for the past several Pink Floyd albums to bring their repertoire full-circle, adding a sense of closure.

There is a lot to say for most of the songs individually but it is better to speak on each of the four sides mentioned earlier. Side 1 introduces the album with the well-known Pink Floyd melodic ambience crossed with Gilmour’s guitar style that grew into his last solo release On An Island (2006). Side 2 brings us back to the band’s early psychedelic jams and ambient airs. It feels intellectually busy yet at the same time relaxing as it concludes with the well-structured song “Anisina.” Moving on to Side 3 we hear a mixed bag of miscellaneous noodling to start before a sudden change to a more aggressive second half which provides a welcomed boost of energy at this point in the album. On Side 4 more linearity is given to themes and ideas where they had previously been intertwined. The motif of death and what happens after becomes evident in the mood progression and even in titles of the songs, again a possible (more subtle) nod to Wright. “Calling” starts this section off with dark tones with a transition of emotion that progresses through “Eyes To Pearls.” “Surfacing” then brings it around with a sense of optimism granted by either a breath of fresh air or new discovery. Looking at the four sides as whole, those hungry for the 25-minute album side epics such as “Echoes” may be a little disappointed. Each album side is short, ranging from 11 to 15 minutes, which left some room for new material independent of the 1993 sessions. The clever part about retaining the album side grouping on the digital and CD track listings is that we still get a virtual sense of pausing to flip the record. Perhaps a little nostalgic, but it gives a fresh experience in today’s listening environments and gives consistency between release formats.

Those who bought the deluxe edition or the CD/DVD combo received a few more goodies – three outtake tracks taken directly from The Division Bell sessions. These tracks, especially the studio jam session sounding “Nervana,” go beyond a gimmick to get people to buy the extra content. It is worth the few extra dollars to get your ears around these. The bonus DVD video provides three songs not on the CD and video/images from the 1993 recording sessions, which is worth checking out.

As the band’s (likely) final album, Pink Floyd gives us a decent reflection on the band’s years. The sense of dreaming invoked by some of the songs makes it tough to not choke on a tear at the craftsmanship put forth by band mates Gilmour and Mason on the album to tribute the contributions of Rick Wright. It was a disappointment to learn earlier this year that Roger Waters would not return to Pink Floyd to contribute to the album, but it wasn’t a surprise as it’s been 29 years since he left the band on bitter terms (which as of late he seems to feel differently about the terms he left on). However, adding Waters back in the mix could have broken the musical train of thought that’s carried through from The Division Bell.

Pink Floyd will not be touring to support the album, so with The Endless River closes a 49-year chapter in music history. But, should David Gilmour decide to perform a few solo concerts with Nick Mason there would be a lot of happy music fans. High Hopes? Perhaps.

For some people, it may be easy to default to mixed feelings on the album on a first listen. Do yourself a favor: Listen to the album, soak it in, and repeat. You may place it higher on your list of favorite Pink Floyd albums than you think.

Key Tracks: It’s What We Do, Anisina, Allons-y (1 and 2), Louder Than Words

Key Side: Side 2