Friday 12 March 2010

Fun With The Floyd

Two stories in the news today made me laugh. This one is just a classic (though it shouldn't hugely surprise anyone who's ever had a chat in the pub with a fireman). And then there’s Roger Waters’ prog rock hissy fit about single tracks from Pink Floyd 'concept albums' being downloaded as if they were, you know, just tracks off any old album, not a (drum roll please) concept album. This is all about money of course, but Roger and the boys have come up with this artistic defence in the latest leg of their ongoing struggle with EMI (yeah, stick it to The Man!) – a case, note, with such massive potential implications for national security that it was heard in camera. Get over yourself, Rog! Who – apart from a man insulated for decades from reality by vast quantities of money, adulation and impregnable self-importance – gives two hoots about 'concept albums' these days? They were one of the worst ideas (sorry, concepts) ever to occur to the drug-addled brain of a prog rock noodler. Their appeal at the time was strictly limited to navel-gazers with no sense of humour and too many drugs at their disposal. They were also the undoing of many a band, offering a slippery slope into absurdity that was altogether too tempting. For myself, my brief and faint interest in Pink Floyd, piqued by their early singles - quaint specimens of English psychedelia - was quenched altogether by the departure of Syd Barrett and the arrival of Dark Side Of The Moon. Funny, isn't it, how the Floyd didn't complain at the time about making big money and career breakthroughs by releasing singles? Rock 'n' roll!


  1. Ho ho, back with some controversy. Blimey if you think Dark Side of the Moon was the sharkjump you can't have heard Ummagumma. If Rog Waters was ever going to get over himself he'd have done it long before now...

    Btw, have you heard "Effervescent Elephant"? Sublime Sydness.

  2. DSOTM is the only one of theirs I like.

    Quadrophenia is a good concept album (and a great film). Tommy, not so much.

  3. Dear Nige,

    I rather like concept albums, but not usually for their concepts--whatever they were supposed to be--mostly because they allowed an expansive and almost symphonic approach to the music with recurrent themes and elements.

    But yes, Roger always was a bit of a prima donna. One need only listen to about 30 seconds of Ca Ira to get that point. And, oh my goodness, how delicate the situation must be that this cannot be heard in public.

    That said, I like Dark Side, I like Umma Gumma, I like Atom-Heart Mother, and I like Pink Floyd in general. I'd like to be a track or two--oops! guess I'd be breaching artistic integrity.

    Thanks for this.


  4. funny indeed... I wrote today at my blog ( , sorry, in portuguese only) the first LP that I bought was Meddle , and to me ,never more the band made nothing best... It sounds like a summer almost gone.Wish you ( and to your mum ) health !

  5. Back with a bang Nige. Wiki defines a 'concept album' as 'unified by a theme', but you and I know that it was usually an attempt, at the fag-end of rock-n-roll,to find a 'third way', and push popular music toward the crumblies. Get an idea (Jon Lord), hire the RPO for a few days, and use 104 blokes instead of just the four.
    Or fake the string sound (Moody Blues), get an 'ace' guitarist (Yes), or get symphonic (Oldfield/The Nice). Or try everything at once (ELO).
    Seems to me it only really worked when it was completely original and, well..light (Fab Four/Pepper).
    Only Wagner can do Wagner.

  6. It was all downhill after Sgt Pepper.

  7. Did you forget Abbey Road and Let It Be, dearieme?

  8. Well, Roger is right: after all, you can't just read one section of "The Waste Land", can you? Listening to "Money" out of context would be like dipping into "Death by Water" without having first read "A Game of Chess"! No one just leaps into the middle of "The Faerie Queene" or Pound's Cantos, do they? Philistines! [sarcasm off]

    And let's not forget the kings of "concept" albums: Jethro Tull. (This ages me, I know.) I like Ian Anderson and company, but "Thick as a Brick," "Passion Play," etc. were a bit much. Come to think of it: were those "concept albums" or just huge "concept songs"?

  9. OK, let's stop fannying around here. The earliest 'concept album', although he didn't think of it like that, was set down almost 300 years ago in Leipzig by a bald bloke in a wig. Neither, did he imagine when he was writing Matthauspassion that he was creating one of the artistic cornerstones of western civilization.
    Still above ground, and thrashing out concept albums are the Georgian Giya Kancheli, bald but no rug - try the liturgy Vom Winde Beweint, which could be the great undiscovered Yes Album but is in fact an extraordinary lament as the title (Mourned by the Wind) suggests.
    Or, if you're feeling really game, try Kalevi Aho. This Finn really knows how to pile on the layers of a concept. His Symphony 12 (Luosto) is written for two orchestras, ideally located outside, facing each other in a valley. The first movement is a timpani 'battle' subtitled The Shamans. This is real music, of frightening intensity.

  10. This might be a valid point if not for the fact that individual tracks have been played on the radio for decades.

  11. mahlerman, your screeds make me nostalgic for my UIUC school of music days when I had much less money but much greater quanities of drugs (Merry Pranksters forever). "Concepts" such as the Chopin preludes, Mahler (!) Fourth Symphony and the late Beethoven string quartets (especially op 131) shared mindspace with Harry Partch's "Delusion of the Fury" and Stockhausen's "Kontakta" and even Feldman's "Piece for piano & string quartet," before the drugs won out and I fell asleep. For sure, Abbey Road and Sergeant Pepper belong with this group; and if it took Roger & Co to enshrine this concept in IP law, I'm OK with it.

    If you're looking for a good latter-day version, I recommend "Walkabout and Back" by Paul Koonce (available on Mode records). Dream on -- may the best concepts live!