Maybe you were sitting in the car with your dad, blasting The Wall over vibrating speakers. Maybe you put your headphones on in a crowded place and let Wish You Were Here take you somewhere desolate, yet oddly soothing. Or maybe you were lying on your back in a basement with the lights off, meditating to Dark Side of the Moon, pondering greed, insanity, and how quickly 10 years have gotten behind you.
For decades, Pink Floyd’s music has elicited these kinds of pseudo-spiritual experiences in fans and music lovers more generally. Perhaps it’s the psychedelic sound effects, epic guitar solos, or cathartic and often off-putting builds. Perhaps it’s the rock operas, or the 50-minute-long concept albums that play through without pause. Indeed, Pink Floyd’s volume of work is more than just a collection of music: it is a series of album-long journeys, with each journey greater than any one of its parts. Floyd’s first new album in 20 years, The Endless River, is no exception, as the band takes us on one final journey to reflect on the past and to say good-bye.
The Endless River feels a lot like its album cover, which depicts a lone boatman paddling on a vast sea of clouds. The sunset he paddles toward is comfortingly reflective, as though we know he’ll never reach it, but we are content to aimlessly float toward it with him. Endless River is a hugely sensory experience, built on swells and ambient sound effects that mindlessly and gently carry us in the direction of that sunset.
The journey is divided into four “Sides,” with each song a “part” of one Side. The first track on the album, titled “Side 1, pt. 1: Things Left Unsaid,” sets the tone for what follows. Its title calls attention to the album’s fascination with words, language, and communication—which is ironically played out without very many words at all (only one of the album’s 21 tracks has sung lyrics).
The first few seconds are reminiscent of the beginning of Dark Side of the Moon: a brief moment of silence followed by an assortment of distant noises and recorded voices. On Dark Side, those voices spoke about insanity. On River, they speak about failed communication. “There are a lot of things unsaid as well,” one voice says. “We shout and argue and fight and work it on out,” another says, shrouded in echo.
Organs, synthesizers, and dreamy guitar grow to create the peaceful, cloudy river that our lone boatman finds himself on, ebbing and flowing toward God-knows-where. These sounds flood into “Side 1, pt. 2: It’s What We Do.” After another minute of floating, we finally hit something concrete. The drums enter with authority, a synthesized horn plays a floating melody over the still swelling organ and the newly introduced bass, and David Gilmour scatters familiar guitar licks. It’s one of the best moments on the album—the culmination of an almost six-minute-long introduction that will make you smile with nostalgia and say, “Welcome back.”
The album is clearly a good-bye album; its best moments are self-referential, calling back to earlier Pink Floyd material. “Side 3, pt. 4: Allons-y (1)” is a clear imitation of The Wall’s “Run Like Hell.” “It’s What We Do,” along with much of the rest of the album, has a very “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (from Wish You Were Here) kind of vibe. In typical Floyd fashion, the album is almost completely continuous with only a few breaks in between songs.
With Endless River, Pink Floyd isn’t breaking new ground as it did with Dark Side or The Wall. Instead, the members are journeying through the characteristic sounds that it invented, with scattered examples of the experimentation on which it’s always relied. Longtime fans will be moved again, even if to a smaller extent. The uninitiated will not understand, even if they are moved. In its entirety, The Endless River is a journey of reflection, a journey of sonic landscapes both past and present, and a journey that grasps meaning coming at the end of a larger one.
Featured Image Courtesy of Columbia Records