Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Who--The Who Sell Out (1967)

1. Armenia City In the Sky; 2. Heinz Baked Beans; 3. Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand; 4. Odorono; 5. Tattoo; 6. Our Love Was; 7. I Can See For Miles; 8. I Can't Reach You; 9. Medac; 10. Relax; 11. Stilas Stingy; 12. Sunrise; 13. Rael; [bonus tracks]: 14. Rael 2; 15. Glittering Girl; 16. Melancholia; 17. Someone's Coming; 18. Jaguar; 19. Early Morning Cold Taxi; 20. In the Hall of the Mountain King; 21. Girl's Eyes; 22. Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand (Electric Version); 23. Glow Girl
(note: I have the 1995 single-disc reissue, there's a 2009 double-disc "deluxe edition" with different bonus tracks, although no new actual songs)

One thing that really strikes me about The Who's '60's albums is just how freaking fun they are to listen to. While I love the band's later works, sometimes it seems that Pete was so concerned about making his Big Artistic Statement that he forgot to enjoy making music. Of course, the crippling depression and alcoholism probably didn't help much, either, but that's for later. For now, though, they're still a band with a great sense of fun, and even though this album might not have the sheer number of all-time Who classics later ones would (although there definitely is one here), I still find myself wanting to listen to it just as much.

First, an explanation of the concept of the album is necessary. Once again, the band found themselves strapped for cash, which really isn't a surprise seeing as a big part of their live act was destroying Pete and Keith their instruments at the end of the show, not to mention that God knows how much management had to pay to hotel chains after Keith blew up their toilets. Thankfully, this time the band found a solution that didn't involve having Roger Daltrey write songs--they decided instead to do commercial jingles, and thus did The Who sell out. Now, personally, I have no idea why the fact that a band is doing commercials somehow makes their music less enjoyable, but apparently this really pissed some people off. The band's response, then, was this album, which was presented as a "pirate radio" show, complete with fake commercial jingles, mostly written by John and Keith while they were drunk in a pub one night. While all of the jingles on the actual original album were written specifically for the album, some of the ones interspersed in the bonus tracks were the actual jingles they recorded as commercials, and they're pretty cool. Now, this is clearly an awesome concept for an album, and now it's impossible for me to imagine most of these songs without the jingles surrounding them, but that would mean dick if the band didn't come through with the actual songs, and thankfully, they did.

The opening song, "Armenia City in the Sky" hardly sounds like a typical Who number, being quite psychedelic in nature, but that's because the band didn't write it--roadie John Keen, later of the  one-hit wonder band Thunderclap Newman ("Something In the Air"), did. It may be atypical, but it's still an excellent song, and Entwistle does a nice job with the psychedelic horns, and it's easy to see why the group decided to. The big winning section on the album is a four-song stretch in the middle, with some of Pete's best writing to date. Live favorite "Tattoo" is great in any form, even if it is not quite as powerful here than it would be on Leeds, but since studio Who and live Who were two different entities anyway that's hardly an issue. "Our Love Was" and "I Can't Reach You," then, are both fantastic acoustic-based songs with great melodies and some nice singing from Pete, whose tender vocals are better-suited to this kind of song than Roger's yowls. Great guitar solo on "Our Love Was," too.

Of course, everything else on the album pales in comparison to the big masterpiece, which is, of course, "I Can See For Miles." Everything about the song is great--easily Roger's best vocals on the album, and then there's Keith's drumming. Oh my God, Keith's drumming on that song is just fan-fucking-tastic, and even if it were the only song he'd ever played on he would still be worthy of being considered a legend. I'm not sure if this or "Won't Get Fooled Again" is my favorite performance from him, but either way it's in my top 10 drum songs of all time, were I ever to make such a list. Too bad they never performed it live until after Keith died (if you wanna hear just how much he makes the song, try listening to a later version--great song, of course, but it's just not the same). Oh, and Pete plays a great solo in the middle and the harmonies are fantastic in the "Eiffel Tower" section. Just a masterful work all and all.

The other material is nothing to sneeze at, either. "Heinz Baked Beans" and "Medac" are both funny fake ads from John (especially love the return of the Boris voice in the former), and the Pete-sung "Odorono" is, without a doubt, the best two-and-a-half minute deodorant advertisement I've ever heard. What really makes it work is that it starts out as a normal's not until the very end that you realize it's a dorky deodorant ad! Hell, it still manages to confuse me sometimes. Unfortunately, the album manages to sag a bit towards the end, as the concept seems to sort of peter out. "Relax" is an alright acid rocker, and John's "Silas Stingy" is fun if rather throwaway, but the admittedly pretty "Sunrise" has never managed to do anything for me, and rock opera attempt #2, "Rael," is a bit of a mess. True, it does have the first appearance of the "Sparks" guitar line, but I can't follow what's supposed to be going on here at all--it's way too long to work as a simple pop song, but way too short to work as a full-fledged rock opera. Now, if I was alive back in the 60s and bought this on vinyl, I would probably end this review by complaining about how the album starts out great, but ends on a relatively low note, and wonder why they couldn't keep the concept going until the end.

Thankfully, though, the CD reissue remedies that issue, and since interspersing the real-life advertisements throughout basically makes it seem like Side 3 of the album, the sag in what's now the middle is hardly an issue. Not to mention that most of these tracks are fucking excellent, and more than worthy of being included. My favorite among the bonus tracks is John's "Someone's Coming," sung by Roger and featuring a great horn-led melody. Keith's "Girl's Eyes" also has a surprisingly top melody, and even Roger manages to attach his name to something good on "Early Morning Cold Taxi." Turns out he didn't actually write it, but he and guitar tech Dave Langston were planning on entering some sort of Lennon/McCartney partnership, but it never actually pained out. Shame, because if this song is any indication, Langston was a strong writer with a good sense of melody. If nothing else, Roger should have brought him back to help out on his solo albums as opposed to some of the shit he recorded. I'm also quite fond of the band's take on "Hall of the Mountain King" by way of "Interstellar Overdrive," and Roger's singing on "Melancholia" is some of his best to date. Finally, "Glow Girl," about being a passenger on a plane that's going down, works MUCH better as an album closer than "Rael" did, and of course features the proto-Tommy closing line of "It's a girl, Mrs. Walker, it's a girl." Seriously, get this album. It shows a bit of a different side to the band than their later stuff would, but it's every bit as worthwhile. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


1. Cirrus Minor; 2. The Nile Song; 3. Crying Song; 4. Up the Khyber; 5. Green is the Color; 6. Cymbaline; 7. Party Sequence; 8. Main Theme; 9. Ibiza Bar; 10. More Blues; 11. Quicksilver; 12. A Spanish Piece; 13. Dramatic Theme
Best song: CYMBALINE

Despite the relatively low rating, I don't consider this to be terrible or anything, it's just something I rarely feel like listening to outside of a couple of songs. Strapped for a) cash and b) a direction, the band decided to record a soundtrack to French director Barbet Schroder's film More (apparently it's an anti-heroin film), which wasn't released in the US and whose audience today seems to consist entirely of Pink Floyd fans. I'll have to check it out someday. This was  a good move for the band career-wise, as it got them some cash and probably a little bit of recognition, the results just don't fully gel in album form. A full seven of the album's songs are instrumental soundtrack pieces (well, "A Spanish Piece" has some spoken lyrics, more on that later), and although I'm sure they were effective in the film, the fact that side 2 only has one actual song on it makes it rather a chore to listen to. That being said, most of the individual themes are good--I particularly like "More Blues." "Quicksilver," unfortunately, does absolutely nothing to justify its seven minute running time, and even in the context of the album "Party Sequence" seems like filler of the highest order (although, again, it was probably worthwhile in the movie). The minute-long "A Spanish Piece" features some cool Spanish (duh) guitar from Gilmour and him asking tequila and issuing death threats in a Spanish accent (his first lyrical contribution to the band!), even though the song is listed as an instrumental in the liner notes. In fact, this is probably what makes me most interested to see the film--I want to know just how the fuck an English guy badly imitating a drunk Spaniard with a lisp fits into a film about French heroin addicts on Ibiza. None of the rest of the soundtrack pieces are really notable (I guess I should recognize that "Up the Khyber" is the only piece in Floyd's catalog credited to Mason/Wright, but that's easily the most interesting thing about it), but maybe seeing the film will make me reevaluate my stance on them.

Fortunately, the album does have six actual songs all of which are sung by Gilmour and (with the exception of "Ibiza Bar," credited to the whole band) written by Waters. Supposedly Wright just wasn't that into the project, so Roger took the songwriting reins and ran with it. Interestingly, quite a few of the songs see Roger attempting a bit of a folk-rock mode, and Gilmour is actually quite a capable singer in this regard (although, to be honest, Roger's rough vocals might have been a better fit on some of the songs). "Cirrus Minor," "Crying Song," and "Green Is the Color" are all quite decent, but the former is so damn quiet I have to strain to hear it and the latter would be vastly improved live, where it was electrified. All pale in comparison, however, to the excellent "Cymbaline," easily Roger's best contribution to the Floyd catalog to date. Great Gilmour singing on that one, and the chorus is easily the best hook on the album, and has Roger's best lyrics so far (I especially like how, after questioning if the final couplet will rhyme, the final couplet is the only one that doesn't rhyme). The moody keyboard jam at the end is pretty cool, too. Like "Green is the Color," it would be electrified live and was great in that form (the version on the Interstellar Encore bootleg is fucking amazing), but I quite enjoy this version as well.

The biggest surprise on the album, however, would have to be the band's rather inexplicable decision to tackle hard rock on "The Nile Song" and "Ibiza Bar." The band is obviously out of their element, but I'm going to go against consensus here and say that, despite how stupid it is, I can't help but love "The Nile Song." One of the few Floyd songs not to feature keyboards (and the only one that's an actual rock song), it does boast a pretty cool riff and, dumb though it may be, I get a major kick out of David Gilmour stepping up to the mike and belting out the lyrics in his best cock rock voice. Hell, did cock rock even exist in 1969? This song might be visionary! Unfortunately, "Ibiza Bar" is just an inferior rewrite, albeit one that Wright actually bothers to show up for, contributing both some organ fills and his only harmonies on the album. Unlike "The Nile Song," I don't have any desire to listen to it outside of the context of the album, but as the only actual song on Side 2 I really appreciate it while it's on. Although I'm completely flummoxed as to how "The Nile Song" can be credited only to Waters but "Ibiza Bar" is credited to the entire band. OK, so maybe Rick came up with those little keyboard bits on his own, but Dave's guitar is actually more complicated on "The Nile Song," and I don't know how the fuck the band decides if Nick gets a credit on any given song or not. Maybe he wrote the lyrics. Whatever.

So, while the album only has one great song and one number that's enjoyable in its stupidity, it is more or less fine as background music, with only "Quicksilver" coming close to bad. I can see how someone might really enjoy this,  however, and while this should be one of your last Floyd purchases, don't ignore it altogether, especially as the band refuses to put "Cymbaline" on any compilations. Even if it's my least favorite Floyd album with Roger, it's still worth at least a couple of listens.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Kinks--Face to Face (1966)

1. Party Line; 2. Rosie Won't You Please Come Home; 3. Dandy; 4. Too Much On My Mind; 5. Session Man; 6. Rainy Day In June; 7. A House in the Country; 8. Holiday in Waikiki; 9. Most Exclusive Residence For Sale; 10. Fancy; 11. Little Miss Queen of Darkness; 12. You're Lookin' Fine; 13. Sunny Afternoon; 14. I'll Remember

The fourth Kinks album is their first that is actually a thought-out artistic statement rather than just a record-company mandated collection of songs. In fact, the album was originally going to go a lot farther in its usage of sound effects and linking the tracks together, but singles-oriented Pye Records balked at the idea. This is also the first Kinks album to consist entirely of Ray Davies originals, and the band would never again put a cover on a studio album. The album also marks a shift from their proto-hard rock roots into a more Britpop style that the band would pursue for the rest of the decade.

The fact that it is an important historical document, though, would be much less important if the songs were not almost uniformly excellent. The only misstep on the album is the dull, proto-psychedelic "Fancy," which just never seems to go anywhere, but even it isn't terrible. The closing "I'll Remember" isn't terribly interesting, either, but I don't mind it while it's on, and both of these songs are only two and a half minutes anyway. The remaining twelve songs all range from very good to excellent, though, and ensure that this album gets a high rating.

Although Ray's songwriting was definitely veering towards the Britpop style (back before Britpop even existed!) as a result of a ban on US touring due to one too many onstage brawls between Dave and Mick Avory (Dave knocked over Avory's kit and Mick supposedly threw a cymbal at him. Mick says that's a load of shit--it was the kick pedal, the cymbal would have decapitatied him!), there are still a few rockers here. Although he does not get any writing credits on the album, Dave Davies sings two of these and does a fine job. Now, Dave's voice comes under a lot of criticism, and it's true that it can make subpar material sound even worse, but when he's singing good songs I never have a problem with his vocals. "Party Line" is an excellent rocking opener with great lyrics (particular gem: "Is she big is she small/Is she a she at all?") and is my second favorite song on the album. I find the version of "You're Looking Fine" presented here to be slightly tepid, but I have a version of Dave singing and playing it with his solo band that absolutely cooks, so it's definitely a good song, it's just not beefed up enough here. The other two main up-tempo songs are "House in the Country" and "Holiday in Waikiki," and the latter in particular has a terribly infectious melody. Ray Davies at his best can write a song that will get stuck in your head for days, and "Holiday in Waikiki" is one of the best examples of this in my opinion.

The softer stuff is absolutely ace, as well. "Sunny Afternoon," one of Ray's famed "character sketches," is one of the best songs he ever wrote, and would remain in the band's setlist up until the end of their career (and presumably Ray still performs it). At this point, Ray was ahead of even The Beatles at combining witty, intelligent lyrics with hummable pop melodies, but unfortunately the Kinks never had as much chart impact as some of their British Invasion contemporaries, leading many to view them as on a second tier behind the Beatles, Stones, and Who; although this is largely due to the aforementioned ban on US touring. "Rosie Won't You Please Come Home" works extremely well as a contrast to the up-tempo "Party Line," "Rainy Day In June" has one of the best hooks on the album, and "Session Man" is a nice tribute to session keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, who provides some great keyboard work here (Hopkins, although never an actual member, was easily the best keyboardist the band would work with). One thing I would like to point out is how interesting the band manages to make the instrumentation while relying largely on acoustic guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums, with only occasional use of electric guitar on the softer numbers. Despite this, the backing tracks are almost never boring, and actually sounds a lot more "full" than that list originally led me to believe.

In conclusion, Face to Face is both an extremely important album in the history of both the Kinks and rock music as a whole, but is one of the finest additions to the band's catalog. The number of instant classics may be slightly lower than on their later masterpieces, but all of the pieces were there to pave the way for the greatness the band would achieve in the late 1960s.

The Kinks--Introduction

(l-r: Quaife, Dave, Ray, Avory)

Ray Davies--Lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar (1964-1996)
Dave Davies--Lead guitar, lead and backing  vocals (1964-1996)
Mick Avory--Drums and percussion (1964-1984)
Pete Quaife--bass guitar, backing vocals (1964-1969)
John Dalton--bass, backing vocals (1966, 1969-1976, 1978)
John Gosling--keyboards (1970-1978)
Andy Pyle--bass, backing vocals (1976-1978)
Gordon John Edwards--keyboards, backing vocals (1978)
Jim Rodford--bass, backing vocals (1978-1996)
Ian Gibbons--keyboards, backing vocals (1979-1989, 1993-1996)
Bob Henrit--drums and percussion (1984-1996)
Mark Haley--keyboards, backing vocals (1989-1993)
NOTE: John Dalton filled in for Pete Quaife for a few months in 1966 when Quaife was recovering from a car accident, playing on a few singles and at least on song on Face to Face ("Little Miss Queen of Darkness")

BACKGROUND INFO: Formed in 1962 as The Ravens, changed to The Kinks sometime before 1964. Had a huge hit with "You Really Got Me" in 1964, which basically invented hard rock. The band released three albums before the start of these reviews, however, these are basically a collection of a few singles and a bunch of relative filler, dating from before albums became truly important as artistic works, and I feel there is little I can critically say about them. Any serious fan needs all the major singles from the era, though. Also, although Quaife and Avory were somewhat involved in the creative process in the early days of the band, everybody besides the Davies brothers are basically session men on the later albums, so the reviews will put much less importance on the revolving door rhythm section  than I would in, say, Yes reviews. Suffice it to say that Ray Davies dictates what sound the band will take on any given album, no matter who's playing keyboards

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Who--A Quick One (1966)

1. Run, Run, Run; 2. Boris the Spider; 3. I Need You; 4. Whiskey Man; 5. Heatwave; 6. Cobwebs and Strange; 7. Don't Look Away; 8. See My Way; 9. So Sad About Us; 10. A Quick One, While He's Away; [bonus tracks]: 11. Batman; 12. Bucket T; 13. Barbara Ann; 14. Disguises; 15. Doctor, Doctor; 16. I've Been Away; 17. In the City; 18. Happy Jack (Acoustic Version); 19. Man With the Money; 20. My Generation/Land of Hope and Glory

Yes, I realize that there's a 13 up there, which is one point MORE than I gave the debut. I realize that the debut was a groundbreaking, influential work that is still acknowledged as a major influence by artists today, and that this one, especially when you factor in the bonus tracks, is practically a novelty album, and the one major influence it gave is not something that's considered a universal positive. Well, frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a flip-flying fuck--this is one of the most enjoyable records in my collection, and is one of my go-to listens when I need something light and less serious than a lot of the stuff I normally listen to. And that the influence on this album is just as important to my favorite styles of music as all the maximum r&b stuff on the debut, but I'll get to that later. Just to clarify, though, the 13 is for the CD re-release with the bonus tracks, the original album by its lonesome would get a 12.

So, anyway, the reason for the rather less-than-serious tone across most of the album, and for the rather radical shift in style to softer pop, is the fact that the record company gave each individual member of the band an advance--on the condition that they write two songs for the next record. Bar "The Ox" and Daltrey's co-credit on "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" none of the band other than Pete had even tried to contribute anything before, so this was a major gamble by the company, and I'm not quite sure why they took it, especially as Townshend had proved that he was more than capable of carrying the band's songwriting weight on his shoulders alone.

Thankfully, the gamble worked for the most part. I say for the most part because Daltrey only has one song on the album, and good GOD does it suck. It's AWFUL. I'm not sure if he was literally incapable of writing another song or if everything he came up was somehow WORSE than "See My Way," but thank God it has never seen the light of day, because "See My Way" is more than bad enough. Reading out of the rhyming dictionary does not constitute a song, Roger! I mean, come on, "Some day, some day, I'll find a way to make you see my way"? Christ, I've written better lyrics than that! Not to mention the fact that the band has to really stretch to make this thing reach two minutes, which unless you're a hardcore punk band or are writing a linking track for a rock opera means the thing should probably go back to committee for extensive retooling. Although Keith drumming on cardboard boxes is kind of cool, I guess. God, at least the R&B covers on the debut were well-written, even if the performances suck. Speaking of R&B covers, the version of "Heatwave" presented here actually isn't too bad, even if it is the second-worst thing here, and the cover of the Everly Brothers' "Man With the Money" included among the bonus tracks is actually pretty good. The point of all this is that Roger is a fantastic singer and seems like a genuinely great guy (anyone who records audio commentary for the Simpsons episode they guest starred in is a-OK in my book), and would eventually be a real asset to the band, but when he makes creative decisions the albums tend to...falter. Thankfully, this situation would be remedied in the future when he devoted all his efforts to making Pete's (and occasionally John's) songs come alive, although it probably wouldn't have hurt to give him another chance on It's Hard, and I should probably move on because it takes longer to read this rant than it does to even listen to the bloody song!

From a pure songwriting perspective, Keith probably has even less talent than Roger, but his two compositions here are much more entertaining than "See My Way (of Writing a Piece of Shit Song)." (I'll stop now. Sorry.) "I Need You" actually has the skeleton of a real song, and the lyrics aren't exactly inspired, but the drums are mixed so loud that it doesn't really matter, and "Cobwebs and Strange" is absolutely inspired. It's marching music mixed with short blasts of drum solo, and I'd be fine if it were twice as long. Listen to how fast he does that break at about 1:25--he may be sloppy, but Keith Moon is still without a doubt my favorite drummer of all time. And his singing on "Barbara Ann" and "Bucket T" is a total hoot (check out The Kids are Alright film for an hilarious performance of "Barbara Ann"). Funny how when at this stage of the game when the band did a legitimate cover I do nothing but bitch, but when they ham it up like this I love it. I guess mere competence is boring but ham is entertaining.

The real victory to the songwriting arrangement, however, is that it got John Entwistle into songwriting, and the very first song he wrote for the band is one of his most famous--yep, this is the album with "Boris the Spider." Yeah, it's a pure novelty song, but who doesn't love hearing the tragic tale of poor Boris and his encounter with a heavy book? Not to mention the contrast between John's proto-death metal growl in the chorus and the falsetto in the bridge. "Whiskey Man" is hardly any worse, though, I especially love the French horn breaks. The three John-written bonus tracks are also a lot of fun--"Doctor, Doctor," "I've Been Away," and "In the City" (the latter a Moon co-write) all have fantastic melodies and establish John as an absolute master of black comedy (he would only get more delightfully twisted--especially on his solo albums), and I especially love the falsetto on "Doctor, Doctor." I know some people like to bitch that John's songs sometimes distract from the serious, confessional nature of Pete's songs on later albums, but I for one almost always enjoy them and completely dispute the notion that The Who only had one great songwriter. He had a massively different style, but to me those moments of levity that he provides are very necessary, and some of my favorite tracks on later albums were written by John. The guy's a pretty decent bassist, too.

Pete, then, contributes four songs on the original album, by far the fewest he would ever contribute to a Who album, and while none rank among his all-time best all of them are good. "Run, Run, Run" would probably get lost in the shuffle were it in the middle of an album, but it works great as the opener, and "Don't Look Away" and "So Sad About Us" are solid pop songs. The real innovation, however, is the nine-minute title track, the first ever attempt at a rock opera. Yeah, the story is dippy as hell (Girl: "I'm lonely and horny since my man left town;" Ivor the Engine Driver (dirty old sod!): "He'll probably be back, but if you're that horny…" Girl: "Sure, why the hell not?" Guy: "Home now!" Girl: "Yeah, I kinda did it with the old creepy engine driver. I probably have herpes now;" Guy: "Eh, whatever"), but God is it ever entertaining. Roger, John (as Ivor), and Pete all do a great job telling the story, but my absolute favorite part is near the end when they all sing "Cello, cello, cello, cello" because they couldn't afford an actual string section! To be honest, this version sounds kind of wimpy compared to the giant balls the song would grow onstage, but it also has some extra lyrics that would eventually be cut out, making this version a worthwhile listen. And remember, without "A Quick One," there would be no Tommy or Quad, (not to mention all the rock operas by other artists--yeah, somebody would have created the concept eventually, but probably not well enough to make it really viable for future exploration), which makes it an extremely important track.

Now, let's see, among the rest of the bonus tracks, the band's cover of the Batman theme is a total hoot, and Keith's drumming on the weird mix of "My Generation" and "Land of Hope and Glory" is fantastic. You know, the more I think about it, the more I love most of this album. In a way, I guess I should be glad that "See My Way (to Getting Paid by Doing Minimal Work)" sucks such a fat one, otherwise I'd have to justify giving this baby a 14, and even I realize that that's just ridiculous. So, thanks, Roger. Never try to write a song ever again.

Pink Floyd--A Saucerful of Secrets

1. Let There Be More Light; 2. Remember a Day; 3. Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun; 4. Corporal Clegg; 5. A Saucerful of Secrets; 6. See-Saw; 7. Jugband Blues

This one's a transitional album, and one that's very much a product of its time. As Syd's mental deterioration kicked into (interstellar) overdrive, the other members realized something had to be done before Syd kept doing more weird shit like crushing Mandrax into his hair, detuning his guitar onstage, and letting Nick Mason sing. That "something" was bringing in guitarist David Gilmour to supplement their live shows--if Syd started spacing out and randomly detuning his guitar mid-song, Dave would run out and start covering for them. This arrangement soon proved to be a royal pain in the ass (although it was probably a better idea than Syd's suggestion of bringing in two female saxophonists), and one night the band simply decided not to pick Syd up for a gig. Obviously, this could have been handled in a slightly more tactful manner (and the members of the band seem to think so too--tellingly, in all the rounds of backstabbing and dishing dirt on each other in later years, nobody has ever revealed who said "fuck it, let's not bother [with getting Syd]"), and the fact that Barrett and Gilmour were childhood friends probably didn't do anything to reduce the awkwardness. The band soldiered on, however, first with the idea that Syd would be a studio-only contributor (mainly as a songwriter, but also some guitar and vocal work), but that idea was scrapped after Syd kept changing the instrumentation and asking "Have you got it yet?" However, one of his songs made it onto the album--the mournful "Jugband Blues," wherein he seems to be fully aware of his condition and the fact that he is being unceremoniously dumped from the band that he used to be the star of. The midsong horn freakout provides some typical psychedelic levity to the proceedings, but the final lines, just Syd with his acoustic singing "And the sea isn't green/and I love the queen/and what exactly is a dream? And what exactly is a joke?" never fails to get an emotional response from me. Of course, Barrett would resurface as a solo artist for a brief period, but this song makes it clear that his time in Pink Floyd is over. Shine on, Syd…

Anyway, most of the rest of the songwriting burden is split between Roger Waters and Richard Wright, both of whom had previously contributed all of one song apiece to the band's official catalog (Waters with "Take Up Thy Stethoscope…", and Wright with the b-side "Paint Box"), and both actually do a pretty decent job here. True, they both try way too hard to milk the cosmic vibe of Piper, and lyrically the songs mainly sound like sober, sane people trying to emulate a madman fucked up on acid (which they are), but these songs, for the most part, work. I'm not a huge fan of Wright's "See-Saw," but apparently he wasn't either--the working title was "The Most Boring Song I've Ever Heard Bar Two"! His other contribution to the album, "Remember a Day," is MUCH better. It has a nice psychedelic vibe and some great wistful, nostalgic lyrics. Turns out that Syd plays guitar on the track, which was recorded before Gilmour became a full time member, and for some reason engineer Norman Smith plays drums and provides the harmonies, since apparently Nick Mason couldn't get drum part down (and sure as fuck couldn't have done the harmonies). Great song either way.

Waters' three songs are also a mixed bag. "Let There Be More Light," the opener, is a cosmic masterpiece, featuring a great opening bassline and a great solo from Gilmour at the end. Not quite sure why he threw in a reference to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," especially considering that he was never really into psychedelic drugs (seeing your childhood friend turn into a raving lunatic will kind of turn you against the stuff, apparently), but whatever, the other lyrics don't make much sense either. Syd and Dave actually both play guitar on "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," but they both sound the same on the track and that same is inaudible. The focus is instead on the mantra-like lyrics, the hypnotic bassline, the vaguely Eastern keyboards and timpani drums. The song was clearly built for live performance, and after hearing the expansion the song would undergo live this version can't help but feel like a well-produced demo. "Corporal Clegg," the only light-hearted song on the record (and one of the few in the entire Floyd oeuvre), is Waters' first musings on the subject of war. Now, if you're at all familiar with the later writings of Mr. Waters, you might realize that he occasionally likes to make his opinions on the topic known, and the fact that his first anti-war piece is a borderline novelty song featuring kazoo solos. It's entertaining as hell, and if anybody knows which parts are sung by Gilmour and which parts are Wright please let me know (the parts that clearly aren't either are Mason, for those that don't know--for some reason, he never actually sang on a Floyd album again. Maybe he couldn't sing from behind the kit. Or on key. Or at all. Hey, I can relate.).

Finally, then, we have the group-composed instrumental title track, Gilmour's first-ever songwriting credit (his former group, Joker's Wild, was a cover band). Unlike the free-form freakout improvisations of "Interstellar Overdrive," "A Saucerful of Secrets" is extremely structured-- former architecture studentsWaters and Mason originally mapped it out like a building design, leading a bemused Gilmour to wonder just what the fuck kind of band he'd agreed to join! The song is certainly groundbreaking in its way, but the studio version does not have the power that live versions would have (I'm specifically thinking about the version in the Live at Pompeii film), and like "Set the Controls" is a song I like, but rarely listen to the studio version.

Given the strife that surrounded the recording, A Saucerful of Secrets is actually a much better album than it could or probably should be. While it would take the new-look Pink Floyd awhile to shake the image of merely being Syd Barrett's backing band, the work on this album was a clear step in the right direction, establishing Gilmour as a competent guitar player (although he hadn't really developed his style yet), and Wright and Waters as talented songwriters. The album is certainly flawed, but it remains a worthy edition to the Floyd canon.