CK Retro Review: Wish You Were Here by Pink FloydPosted: January 6, 2014
How do you follow up an album as monumental as Dark Side Of The Moon? Pink Floyd struggled with that very notion for a while before rising to the occasion with an album that may be, in its own way, even more accomplished, both in terms of the focus of its message and the beauty of its music. 1975’s Wish You Were Here was very much a meditation on the fate of their old friend Syd Barrett, but it also demonstrated the ease with which a perfectly healthy brain and robust heart can slide down to such dark extremes. Here is a song-by-song review.
4. “Welcome To The Machine”- It’s become a classic-rock staple over the years, perhaps because it embraces some of the prog-rock cliches that the band usually transcended. The synthesizers are maybe a tad too overbearing, and the whole thing is somewhat sterile, which is, I suppose, apropos to the theme but doesn’t make for a fun listen. With all of that working against it, the song still shines whenever David Gilmour is barking out Roger Waters’ biting ode to the belief that individuality has to be sacrificed for success.
3. Waters’ voice was in tatters, and Gilmour balked at the lyrics. Rick Wright, who sang on so many previous Floyd songs, wasn’t even considered. That left Roy Harper, a singer-songwriter and friend of the band, to embody the clueless, slimy record executives whose entreaties surely sounded like found dialogue for a band coming off a massive success. Harper does a great job. Meanwhile, their chance to be a backing group brought something gritty out of Floyd as instrumentalists; “Have A Cigar” is one of the toughest tracks the band ever recorded. The underrated rhythm section of Waters and Nick Mason are particularly fine here, setting the table for Gilmour to tear down the house in the closing moments with a fierce solo.
2. “Wish You Were Here”- One of rock’s all-time ballads started out as a poem by Waters that Gilmour set to music. That chilling acoustic intro, which sounds as if it’s being beamed in from some stubborn AM station at 3 AM, is just the right amount of lonely for the lyrics. While Barrett seems to have been part of the inspiration, the song easily outstrips any specific references thanks to the empathetic urgency of Waters’ lyrics. Gilmour’s scatting along with his acoustic guitar at song’s end is the perfect closing touch, a tinge of free-spirited abandon amidst the gloom.
1. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”- Barrett famously walked in out of the blue during the mixing session of this 25-minute, multi-part suite that was largely in his honor and walked out again seemingly unfazed. Waters’ lyrical tribute is supremely touching without being sentimental, as he details the fine line between genius and madness and deftly works his own personal malaise (“Pile on many more layers/And I’ll be joining you there”) into the narrative. It’s probably his finest set of lyrics. Gilmour’s guitar takes on many different characters throughout the song; he goes from graceful elegy to bluesy complaint in a heartbeat, and that four-note guitar riff that underpins the entire thing suggests something gone horribly wrong. Wright’s keyboard work at the beginning is subtly unsettling, but he gives his old friend a benevolent send-off in the dreamy closing seconds. It would turn out to be the band’s last great epic, the final time there was perfect balance between Waters’ lyrical ambitions and Gilmour’s musical instincts. The glass half-empty types might wish the band gave us more of that, but this staggering achievement should be enough for anyone.
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