Tuesday, November 11, 2014

... by the way, that soup is bloody good. One to warm the cockles of your heart & put hairs on your chest.

Not that you may wish to have hairs on your chest, of course. Still ...


Turning over my reactions to the new Floyd album, trying to account for the feeling of dismay at such a feeble effort. Perhaps they are the perfect embodiment of what Mark Fisher et all would describe as post-Fordist capitalist economy. The non-communication trope acting as an admission that such music has severed any meaningful ties to its society & listeners. That it will be bought via iTunes & loaded into iPhones etc by no means a contradiction in terms - rather the proof of the commodification and explicitly 'product' nature of album.

Which wasn't the case thinking back to Piper at the Gates & early Floyd's direct involvement in the 60s counter culture. This was a music that was, in its well-behaved trippy way, challenging, opening up new avenues. Move on to Dark Side (when, by all accounts, most of the basic material for both Wish You Were Here and Animals was being test-run at concerts) and there is still a purpose - the possibilities offered by new studio technology, the stadium experience, even the notorious 'invisibility' of the group created (paradoxically) a bond with its fan base. Floyd had mystery. The album covers contained clues. Something was being communicated precisely by being concealed (hence the raising of Syd to quasi-martyr status).

Ironically, The Wall is both an acknowledgment of the collapse of relation between the group and its audience (Waters' infamous spitting at a fan) as its solidification. No matter how much the voices chant "bring down the wall" the tumbling blocks on stage do not embody what is occurring in social space. From now on Floyd music becomes a fought-over territory of capital investment - which the lawyers on both sides knew.

Post-Waters Gilmour & Mason find themselves in an invidious position. Owners of a brand which has fabulous commercial potential but in a social and political (not to say personal) situation that has effectively sealed off the music from anything other than ever more elaborate pastiche (verging on parody). Sadder still, few cared - certainly not the record company who saw a cash cow; nor, it seems, many 'fans' who simply wanted the 'flavour'. As a result we witness the bringing in of session musicians & producers charged with capturing that 'inimitable' (heavy irony) Pink Floyd sound and the updated Mrs Gilmour as lyricist.

The subsequent albums are therefore exercises in simulation driven by crude financial imperatives (ex-wives, yachts, vintage cars, etc) masquerading as keeping the fans happy. Revealing was the willingness to finally compile a 'best of' - what better way of saying the integrity of the album was now irrelevant in the face of discrete chunks of music product. Never forget, Waters was training to be an architect & the sense of an album as a built construction runs deep within (even his worst) work. However, such sonic architectural constructions simply don't mesh with the prevailing economics dictating the buying & consumption of music.

& so we arrive at Endless Drivel ... sorry, cheap joke ... River. Initial problem: how do we dress up & justify a load of old (second rate) product. Brainwave! Call it a tribute to Rick Wright. Syd had been milked to death & Floyd have from his departure been trading in mourning. Perfect. Not only is there an absence of musical ability & compositional intelligence to really make something interesting out of it (no John Zorn, no Frank Zappa, no Teo Macero) but absolutely no commercial sense: a set of odds & sods plays perfectly into the iTune generation's habits - wait for the number of ringtones you hear off this album. Television documentary soundtrack technicians will be rubbing their hands with glee. It's perfect, too, as Amazon raters have pointed out for Pilates classes. Shove it on the flash disk & play it on the car stereo. Or light a candle in the bedroom & drift off to sleep. However ... & this is the point ... do anything but actually listen to it. Rather just have it 'around' as most music is being consumed these days.

Which, again, goes so much against the grain for what I & - I think - many Floyd fans loved in their music. That sense of architecture & of a narrative which would hold you across a 20 minute side. Think of Echoes. Think of the shape of the two sides of Dark Side. Think of the way Shine On You Crazy Diamond bridges side one and two. Think of the development of Dogs & Sheep on Animals & the way Waters works Pigs on the Wing like parentheses. Like or dislike the music, you have to admit that there is a considered structure & a sense of the material base of the music: a duration of concentration. A best of anthology cuts right against this & only serves to cheapen what - in context - are valid compositional methods (the slow openings, the sudden erupting chords of Gilmour's guitar, the solos, the hiatus moments which then open out ... even the musique concrete elements & voices). Consider how well the snippets of dialogue work in Dark Side in counterpoint to the music; how the transistor radio of Wish You Were Here creates an unnerving effect of space - there are many more instances. Tempting as it is to attribute this solely to Waters I am not so sure. It is more the result of a compositional architecture & a sense of shaping an object not - as now - a product. Try to simply duplicate these motifs (for want of a better word) irrespective of compositional logic & the whole thing collapses into pastiche (worse, self parody).

Do they care? Probably not (that awfully smug postcard photo speaks volumes). However, looking at many of the reactions on Amazon there's a strong impression of people - the die-hard fans - feeling decidedly let down, if not frankly betrayed. That's the irony: listeners who seem to care far more about the music than their stars. A very sad & sorry state of affairs.

Anyone else see a parallel with our current politics?

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