Monday, 10 August 2009
As a fervent fan of the psychedelic Pink Floyd, for a long while I viewed the band’s post-Barrett recordings as worthless, the work of a group where all the talent had been removed and all that was left was the desire not to get a real job. Over time, however, I have come to appreciate their struggle to remain afloat, and have developed a sneaking interest in the series of uneven LP’s they made between Barrett’s departure and their eventual transformation into the rock monolith they would become after the release of ‘Dark Side of The Moon' .
‘Atom Heart Mother’, their fifth LP, was released in 1970. Completely representative of the group’s issues at the time, half of the record is dull and directionless, featuring a second division solo work from each member rather than a unified band approach. The other half, however, is a very different matter. A twenty three minute suite for group, orchestra and chorus, the title track is strident, pompous, experimental, wildly ambitious and a great listen.
Masterminded by wayward composer, arranger, performance artist and Floyd associate Ron Geesin, the suite had its roots in a noodling guitar part that David Gilmour couldn’t crowbar into a song. Geesin, who already had several unusual, experimental and often very amusing albums to his credit, was brought in with a brief to turn the oddment into something the material starved group could record. Given the run of Abbey Road, Geesin responded with an elaborate score for a cast of hundreds split into six ‘movements’ and recorded as one long, fluid piece that was far beyond the capabilities of the group at that time: part classical, part prog, part overblown rock opera, a fascinating piece that sounds like a David Axelrod production of the best bits of the postwar British classical scene. Gilmour, Waters, Mason and Wright shuffle about in the background, providing a prosaic blues jam and a wonky rhythm track, but any doubt that Geesin is in charge is finally removed when the track moves into a four minute section for electronics and sound effects that is pure Geesin and could have sat quite happily on any of his interesting solo LP’s.
More than happy to tour the piece with a full orchestra on a money losing tour in the early seventies, Gilmour and the ever charming Roger Waters now regularly deride ‘Atom Heart Mother’ as ‘crap', although their sneering dismissal may well be due to the fact that they actually had very little to do with one of the better moments in their dreary back catalogue. Anyway, what do they know? They’re the tosspots that sacked Syd Barrett.