CK Retro Review: A Saucerful Of Secrets by Pink FloydPosted: December 13, 2013
Just a year after their thrilling debut album seemed to herald a band with a limitless future, Pink Floyd had to deal with replacing their lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist when they decided they could no longer deal with Syd Barrett’s deteriorating condition. David Gilmour took over on guitar and the band soldiered on with 1968’s A Saucerful Of Secrets, which, although understandably disjointed and addled in parts, still includes a few impressive high points on which to build for the future. Here is a song-by-song review.
7. “See-Saw”- No need to pile on here. This Rick Wright original is a clunker. Let’s move on to the more promising stuff.
6. “Let There Be More Light”- The ominous riff that starts the song is promising enough, and the refrains achieve the kind of slow-motion, airborne majesty that would soon become the band’s calling card. Roger Waters’ lyrics seem to be an attempt to ape Barrett’s cosmic musings, but they’re too studied and measured to match the wilder flights of fancy that mark The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.
5. “Remember A Day”- In later years, Wright would look back at his lyric-writing attempts with disdain, but he was maybe a bit too harsh on this one. The sound effects don’t add much here, but there is a quaint nostalgic feel to the words and a catchiness to the main melody that render this track anything but an embarrassment. It’s not ground-breaking, by any means, but it’s subtly evocative.
4. “Corporal Clegg”- Here begins Roger Waters’ career-long assault on the folly of war. Maybe that assault is not as pointed here as it would eventually become, partly because the kazoos play up the black comedy aspect. The music is a bit chunky, but the section where the narrator addresses Mrs. Clegg features some beautiful harmonies, like an early precursor to “Goodbye Blue Sky” from The Wall.
3. “Jugband Blues”- Barrett’s final contribution to a Floyd album begins as sauntering, sing-along folk, only to change shape before our ears into a crazed, Salvation Army stomp. You can cherry-pick several lines here which point to Syd’s mental state, and he leaves us with a conundrum for the ages: “And what exactly is a dream/And what exactly is a joke.”
2. “A Saucerful Of Secrets”- The multi-part title track shows Floyd going off the experimental deep end with clever recording techniques making instruments sound like anything but their normal tone. Waters and Gilmour have both stated in interviews that the piece is meant to be the aural equivalent of a war and its aftermath, but I feel like it’s best appreciated in the spirit of adventurism in which it was concocted without looking for any deeper meaning. For me, the final section with the organs and disembodied voices is the undoubted high point and is quite beautiful. Elton John (“Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”) and Radiohead (“Paranoid Android”) seem to have been listening.
1. “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”- The Floyd realized early on that the weird effects and aural ephemera worked best when revolving around a solid foundation. In this case, it’s Waters’ mesmeric bass line and Nick Mason’s timpani beat which do the heavy lifting while all kinds of squeaks and squawks scurry to and fro. Waters borrowed some of the lyrics from a book of Chinese poetry; they certainly have a Confucian feel to them. But it’s that title phrase, wondrous and terrifying all at once, that stays with you. You’ll likely need someone to snap their fingers in your face to wake you from the trance caused by this hypnotic high point.
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