The Endless River, the 15th studio album by Pink Floyd, is a predictable disappointment. There are no great songs, no flashes of brilliance, no musical surprises and there is nothing exciting for PF fans.
We did not have “High Hopes” anyway, since the actual band broke up 20 years ago. Loyal fans of the British ensemble, adoring the guys for almost 50 years, did not really expect to receive an old-new album such as this money-making concoction. “The Endless river” is said to be a “tribute” to the late keyboardist Richard Wright, though it’s not at all clear that Wright, a fairly critical chap, would have expressed great satisfaction from the final result, had he been alive and kicking today. It’s more of a tribute to their record company.
How can leftover jam-session pieces made in 1993 for the Division Bell album, released way back in 1994, compete with the great works of the majestic Pink Floyd? It’s sad to say, but there is no competition with the ‘golden age’ of Floyd. The truth is, it takes a superhuman effort to put together something worthy of brain-ear intercation, from over 20 hours of useless studio jam sessions.
David Gilmour and Nick Mason had to recruit a team of musical producers and tech wizards, add new solos, throw in a mass of digital studio effects and try to build a consistent product, on par with the band’s perfect sonic reputation. But when time comes for the bottom line, “The Endless River” is nothing more than an elegant anesthetic for aging fans, which have become comfortably numb.
The album opens the voice of Richard Wright, the now-missing member, which says, ‘certainly we had an unspoken understanding’, and “There are many things that are left unsaid”. Gilmore adds its own statement, “Sometimes we fight, argue, and then work it out’, or something to that effect. Combining interviews at the opening of an album is an old trick from 1973 (‘ Dark Side Of The Moon ‘), offered by none other than Roger Waters. After a brief reunion with Waters in 2005, millions of Floyd-heads had renewed hope for a renaissance. The irritating Roger is missed (How I Wish you Were Here), at least those who think some political criticism is not the end of the world.
The direction of the endless cruise is highly ‘Ambient‘ (perhaps far too ambient), almost like a nostalgic fantasy filled with flashbacks, daydreams and perhaps some kind of polite longing for a gray and shy person. This is not the first time the Floyds mourn a lost band member. But unlike the grand lamentations about the colorful Syd Barrett, here it feels like browsing an old family album, with all the photos in black and white, faded, almost lifeless.
Throughout the album you can feel an attempt to recover and recycle great moments from classical albums like ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Animals’, ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ and even some “The Wall” (“Alons-Y” sounds like a reproduction of “Run Like Hell”). Sometimes this is done in a gentle and implicit manner, and sometimes a little more blunt. The opening of “Anisina”, for example, sounds like “Us and Them” from The Dark Side, and Gilad Atzmon’s saxophone only strengthens the resemblance. The short track ‘Skins’ quotes the famous Tom-tom drums of “Time”. ‘It’s What We do’ sounds just like the final moments of ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’. “On Noodle Street” is elevator music, and ‘Calling’ can be a subsection of a soundtrack to a quite-pale documentary film about the Amazon river.
Naturally, the slow and ambient atmosphere is reminiscent of the less-than-dramatic sections from “The Division Bell“; But the music here, which is in fact just sleepy improvisations on the same three or four chords, is far less ambitious; In the absence of any meaningful text or true concept, they have no artistic direction, musical statement and lyrical depth. Some tracks are just too damn brief to be memorable at all. And above all, quite a few minutes sound too much like ‘On An Island’, Gilmour’s quite-nice solo attempt from 2006, which was far better-flowing than this mundane river.
Two tracks stand out from the ambience: “It’s What We Do“, and the only straight song, “Louder Than Words“. Polly Samson’s text is neo-kitsch, self-flattering and not very bright. Gilmour’s lovely guitar still sounds good here, with Mason and Wright giving the respectable guitarist all the space he needs for the right “take”. Bass roles, reserved in the past for Mr. Roger Waters, are now scattered between Gilmour, Guy Pratt, Bob Ezrin and Andy Jackson.
It is never pleasant to say negative things about a Pink Floyd album. Sometimes this ‘dirty work’ just has to be done, if you really love someone. Ironically, the new album actually highlights the greatness of the band at its peak, especially in the years 1973-1979. Even a hollow album like “The Division Bell” suddenly sounds so consistent, enjoyable and even inspiring, compared with the collection of meaningless glimpses. This endless river noq easily inherits 1987’s “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” disaster as the worst Pink Floyd album ever.
What motivated this negligible release? contractual obligations, an attempt to promote the back catalog (endless stream of 5.1 remasters), a new cashflow to the Wright family (note Wright’s name in the credits, again and again), or maybe even silencing the fans who demanded one last PF product. Perhaps we will never know what was behind the decision of David Gilmour to pull out the old tapes, sit patiently by the computer and the team of produers, and pretend that Pink Floyd is not just a company (corporation) with limited liability established in 1987, but also an artistic entity with a noble cause.
The ultimate test of any music album is the number of repeated listens. The Endless River does not arouse any desire to continue to listen to it in the future. It’s not because it sounds amateurish or ostentatiously embarrassing, not because the music does not sound “Floydish”. Luckily, though, there are at least 14 other good albums to choose from.
Conclusion: The Endless River is not a river you want to cruise in. The fountain of inspiration has dried out, long ago. A tribute to the late Richard Wright was not necessary at all. Every note in this album has already appeared in better form and context, inside past albmus made by the glorious Waters, Gilmour, Mason & Wright. Therefore, young listeners are cautioned not to start the introduction to Pink Floyd with this strange product.