October 17th, 1975
FROM THE ARCHIVES:Playwright Stewart Parker reviewed the Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here on its release in his regular High Pop column.
THE MUSIC of the Pink Floyd is very English; like cricket, it moves with a slow and repetitive deliberation, occasionally erupting into movements of unexpected drama. To appreciate it, you have to attune your mind to this premeditated but seemingly casual slow motion.
All this occurred to me while listening to the new Pink Floyd album, Wish You Were Here. It was only afterwards that I read about the Pink Floyd XI, which plays regular fixtures against such other eminent cricketers as the Roy Harper XI. So there you have a thesis topic for some future music student: the influence of cricket on English progressive rock.
This is the first Floyd album for two years, since the hugely successful Dark Side of the Moon. The delay may be partly explained in the theme of this new work, which is one of sardonic disenchantment with the rock music industry and with their own success.
The most explicit statement of this comes in Have A Cigar, the song of a record company shark. [ . . . ]Listening to successful, well-heeled performers moaning about their disillusionment can be a tiresome experience. But the Floyd’s situation has an extra piquancy: the visionary who virtually moulded the band in his own image, and led it through the early days of public ridicule and critical abuse, was guitarist Syd Barrett. After the public and press had begun to catch up with his music, and to heap rewards upon it, he dropped out and became a recluse, which he remains to this day.
The remaining four members of the group are still in Barrett’s thrall, to some extent, and the whole album is like a dialogue between them and him. It opens and closes with a direct exhortation to him, called Shine On You Crazy Diamond – “You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon . . . come on you painter, you piper, you prisoners, and shine!”
The middle two songs are satirical of the pop-showbiz scene which Barrett rejected, as the titles indicate: Welcome to the Machine and Have a Cigar. Then comes the title song.
This poses the inevitable question: who was right? Is it better to work on within the system or to reject it and retreat into your own mind? [ . . . ]The nature of this dialogue gives an over-all shape to the album . . . which is not always common in the Floyd’s work. Musically, there are long-winded parts . . . But there are also many felicities, such as a ravishing Dick Parry sax solo at the end of the first track, hoarsely eloquent.
Welcome to the Machine employs mechanistic sound effects which are effective in a comic-strip way, and Have A Cigar . . . fades as sporting the strongest Dave Gilmour guitar work on the record.
All in all, it’s full of fascination, and a very fine album indeed from a band which many critics had written off.