Of the Floyd’s run of albums primarily driven by Roger Waters’ songwriting (Atom Heart Mother all the way up to The Wall), this was the one I discovered last. It’s one of my favourites though, alongside Meddle and Obscured By Clouds. I struggle with anything prior to this. I have Ummagumma, but I seldom listen to it, and the Syd Barrett albums don’t really float my boat either.
Everything about Atom Heart Mother is awesome, from the cover to the wicked Atom Heart MotherSuite that takes up the whole of the first slide, to the collection of random hippy-inflected songs on side two.
That first side is where it’s at though. It’s killer. It’s ominous. It sounds so wrong yet so right at the same time. The orchestra must have wondered what on earth this long haired hippy was telling them to play. I once heard the band play it live on the radio – presumably from one of the only times it was played live. My father-in-law turned it off in disgust, saying “This isn’t Pink Floyd!”
What is Pink Floyd though? For the vast majority of casual listeners, Pink Floyd equals Dark Side Of The Moon. But as we all know, that isn’t true at all.
If there’s one thing that I just cannot understand about people who don’t listen to music regularly, it’s their lack of commitment. The Dark Side Of The Moon is a great example of an album that a lot of people own – it is thought around fifty million copies have been sold worldwide – but it’s also an album that for an overwhelming majority of the people who own a copy, it’s probably the only Pink Floyd album they own.
If you love an album so much, why would you not seek out more? I think if you go either way from this album – onwards with Wish You Were, Animals and The Wall; or backwards with Meddle, Obscured With Clouds and Atom Heart Mother – there are a run of seven very strong albums, each with their own strengths and highlights (but perhaps none with the universality and perfection of Dark Side). Are people just lazy or do they just want to avoid hearing a Pink Floyd record that’s a little rougher around the edges?
Personally, I prefer Wish You Were Here to this, and I even prefer the earlier albums from Atom Heart Mother onwards, but I can see why people love Dark Side so much. It’s one of those LPs that offers so much to the listener, and like a lot of Floyd’s other material it rewards repeat plays – a spin of this record through a pair of headphones uncovers a wealth of treasures that can otherwise go unnoticed through a stereo.
I’ve never been a fan of lyrics – my preference is always to put the music first – but Roger Waters’ lyrics are always a treat. This passage from Time is a great example of his skill and strength as a poet:
So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking,
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.
It doesn’t surprise me, but it always saddens me, that this album tends to get a bit brushed to the side. The latest round of Pink Floyd remastering has thrown up 3 relatively hefty box sets of Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall, and even though this album comes along in that run of albums, it hasn’t been treated with the same love and attention.
Unfortunately for this album, it doesn’t have a hit like Money or Wish You Were Here, or something throwaway like Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 to attract casual listeners to. In fact, casual listeners would also be wary of the album as it only has five tracks (and if you told them two of those tracks were under two minutes in length, they’d throw the album back at you and demand a better rate of songs per dollar.
On hearing the album, it really isn’t the most accessible of their 70s output so you can sort of understand why it isn’t as ingrained in popular culture as its neighbours. Aside from the orchestral suite that opens Atom Heart Mother, Animals really is the most progressive thing they put out in that decade. The songs really shy away from traditional verse and chorus structures, with only a sprinkling of passages repeated here and there. The other major difference between Animals and its predecessors is that Roger Waters is almost exclusively the lead vocalist throughout the album. The harmonic dual vocals between David Gilmour and Rick Wright that emerged on Meddle and was cemented on Dark Side took a back seat on Wish You Were Here, with Gilmour sharing duties with Waters. On Animals, Waters sings on each of the 5 tracks, and appears to be almost exclusively leading the band, paving the way for his complete direction on The Wall and The Final Cut.
Great album cover too – one of Storm Thorgerson’s best.