PINK FLOYD: ATOM HEART MOTHER (1970)
1. Atom Heart Mother; 2. If; 3. Summer 68; 4. Fat Old Sun; 5. Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast
Best song: SUMMER 68
First of all, this album has like the most awesome album cover in the history of mankind. Is there anything more awesome than Lulubelle the cow? The story goes that Roger, wanting to change the band's image, told album artist Storm Thorgerson to go out and photograph the least trippy thing he could find, and Storm happened upon Lulubelle. Supposedly the record company execs pitched a hissy fit, asking him if he was trying to destroy this record company, but that just shows more proof that all record company execs are fucking morons and should cede their jobs to web reviewers. Or they could just send me like, half their salary and I'll quit bitching. I mean, sure, I can understand why they need that cocaine sculpture of themselves, but their entire family? Selfish pricks.
Anyway, the boys still really didn't have a clue what they were doing, but you can't deny their ambition. Pink Floyd goes prog on this one, and they didn't waste time diving in headfirst into their new style, even though they realized they didn't fully have the chops or the songwriting acumen for it yet. This being 1970, they were right in the middle of that brief window where it was not only acceptable, but perfectly encouraged to cart in a symphony orchestra to help you realize your artistic vision, so the Floyd rented an orchestra and a conductor/co-composor (Ron Geesin) and set to work composing the 23-minute title track. Now, it's far from brilliant and is obscenely overlong--they could have cut it down to at least 15 without losing anything substantial--but it's certainly a noble effort. First, props should be given to Waters and Mason, not exactly the most lauded players in the world, for doing the entire rhythm section in one take--apparently, orchestras, composers, cow photos, and the execs' crippling cocaine habits ate up the entire budget so they couldn't afford to overdub it. Now, it's not like the rhythm section does anything spectacular, but they don't get in the way, either, and you try to play drums for (a significant portion of ) 23 minutes straight without fucking up. Anyway, the main orchestral themes are good (I especially like the "Father's Shout" portion), and Gilmour gets in several great solos, but the noise section is rather stupid and the whole thing just runs out of gas long before it actually ends. Now, kudos to the band for even managing to make this rather radical style shift work for as long as they do--something like this couldn't have been easy, and they get full props for even being willing to try this. Personally, I feel that at some point they should've at least tried to incorporate an actual "song" into the piece, just to see if it worked, but this is fine for a first shot. And it paves the way for what would happen on the next album…
Side 2 is also a bit of a mixed bag. We return to the "Ummagumma" studio idea of everyone writing their own songs ("Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" was largely Nick's idea, and he recorded the actual sound effects), but it works much better this time around. For one, everyone decided to write actual songs. Roger's "If" is the most notable appearance of the depressed Roger we'd all come to know and love in a few years, and it shows a lyrical maturity far past anything else he had written so far. He also gives a beautifully restrained, effective vocal performance, and the guitar breaks are wonderful. Even better, though, is Rick's "Summer 68." At first it seemed rather clumsy to me because he didn't even bother making the lyrics rhyme until the penultimate couplet, but eventually I realized I didn't give a fuck, the song is that good. Honestly, now I think it's better that he didn't try to shoehorn in some crappy rhymes and stuck to his honest feelings about how impersonal groupie sex is. Yes, I realize that sounds completely ridiculous on paper, but listen to the song, it's great. I also dig the return of the horns playing one of the themes from the title track. Too bad Rick would soon quit contributing his own songs (I may be forgetting something, but I believe this is his final lyric credit with the band), because this is truly fantastic.
Too bad the rest of the side doesn't quite hold up. Gilmour's "Fat Old Sun" is quite pleasant, and is certainly his best vocal effort so far (especially in the "sing to me" section), and although the song would become a live favorite I just never really feel the urge to listen to this version. Maybe because live version have more to offer in the way of guitar heroics and I feel inevitably disappointed by this version? Dave plays the bass and drums on this song, for those who care about useless Floyd trivia (so, me and about six other people, all of whom probably already know). Finally, the album closes with the ridiculous "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast." Like the title track, this one in no way deserves to last for all of its running time, and the gimmick of roadie Alan Stiles talking about eating his breakfast gets less and less funny each time you hear it (and it wasn't exactly a gutbuster the first time), but I genuinely like most of the instrumental themes the band comes up with. I rarely want to actually hear it, but it's not a bad way to end the album all in all.
So, this is a transitional effort, and not everything works, but it paves the way for what would come later. It's not an album I want to hear very often outside of "If" and "Summer 68," but I also believe that without Atom Heart Mother there would be no Dark Side of the Moon, and for that, I give it a 10.
Oh! This album also reached #1 in the UK, something neither Dark Side nor The Wall managed to do! Floyd were still an unknown cult band in the US, but they were big enough in their homeland now that somewhere, a record company exec managed to get a solid coke sculpture of his favorite puppy.