I divide the history of Pink Floyd into four phases. 1) The Syd Barrett Years. 2) The Classic Years. 3) Roger Waters as Pink Floyd. 4) Pink Floyd After Waters (or, The David Gilmour Years).
Look, everyone has their favorite albums and period. The Classic Years was the most creative and produced the material that most of us remember and groove to when songs from that period are heard.
My least favorite periods are the Syd Barrett Years and when Pink Floyd was essentially Roger Waters.
Syd Barrett was a strange guy. Was he brilliant or mad? His behavior ventured more toward the latter which led to his many problems. Some of his pop musings are interesting but the band was itching to evolve beyond those pop music outer markers.
“Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive” from the first album hint at what’s in store.
Then, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and “A Saucerful of Secrets” on the next album took the journey deeper into psychedelic rock. David Gilmour joined during this period, replacing Barrett. This began what would be the classic period, but it would make some weird side trips before The Dark Side of the Moon came into view in 1973.
Following the Classic Years, which ended with The Wall, Roger Waters had essentially taken over direction and writing. Richard Wright was fired and Gilmour’s contribution was reduced.
The Final Cut, essentially a Roger Waters solo project, barely included Gilmour and Nick Mason. It was a somber affair, addressing autobiographical elements in Waters’ life and Waters’ reaction to Britain’s invasion of the Falkland Islands. Heady stuff. Musically, it was not creative, and mostly, it was a rock opera that did not rock. It has its moments and parts of it are quite moving, but it’s not Pink Floyd.
The band was essentially in limbo after that. Waters left the group, saying that is was creatively done. Gilmour wanted to carry on with the name and told Waters he intended to do so. Legal action ensued, naturally, as Gilmour used material intended for his next solo album, as the starting point for him and Mason to work on. Gilmour even recruited The Wall co-producer Bob Ezrin to come aboard. Gilmour hired back Richard Wright, although not as a full member of the group – yet.
While Gilmour and his team recorded and shaped an album of songs that fit together but not with a concept, teams of lawyers worked to resolve the Gilmour-Waters dispute over the Pink Floyd name.
What emerged in 1987 was A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the first album without original member Roger Waters.
A single, “Learning to Fly”, and the obligatory aeronautic video for MTV, rocketed up the charts. The album has a very industrial sound, partly from the sound effects and recording techniques of the period, and because it’s a tough album to warm up to. There are several outstanding tracks that hint at past Floyd songs from the 1970’s.
A Momentary Lapse of Reason was criticized by some as a Gilmour solo album, much as The Final Cut had been as a Waters solo project. The comparison is not without merit, but Gilmour’s project was much closer to the Floyd sound, and frankly, it was easier to listen to.
Gilmour and company toured, recording the shows, and released Delicate Sound of Thunder, a set of live performances in 1988.
Pink Floyd’s next release of new music was The Division Bell in 1994, the best Pink Floyd since The Wall. Richard Wright was back in the fold as a member, and contributed mightily on the new album, even singing lead on one of his compositions.
“High Hopes”, “What Do You Want From Me”, “Take it Back” and “Wearing the Inside Out” were very good songs, but not on the level of The Dark Side of the Moon. But what is?
Pink Floyd launched a massive tour and naturally, recorded the tour for a live set released in 1995 as Pulse.
Over the next two decades, the Pink Floyd vault was emptied of numerous sets of past material, including a live album of the tour supporting the release of The Wall.
Gilmour released solo albums and toured, as did Roger Waters. Both included Floyd
material in their live shows, and Waters toured The Wall around the world and then back again.
In the meantime, Richard Wright passed away from cancer, and Gilmour, working from unused material recorded from The Division Bell, along with some new musical ideas, fashioned The Endless River, a “new” album of Pink Floyd material released in 2015.
Gilmour said this was essentially the end of Fink Floyd, he couldn’t imagine it going on now that Wright had passed.
The new album both pleased and bemused fans, although it was hardly a traditional Floyd album. It was really a collection of musical poetry, not really songs, just washes of musical ambiance, hearkening back to their soundtrack albums of the early 1970’s. It’s not a bad collection; it has stronger moments and those that are more like mortar between the bricks.
Gilmour told Mojo magazine:
“Unapologetically, this is for the generation that wants to put its headphones on, lie in a beanbag, or whatever, and get off on a piece of music for an extended period of time.”
Pink Floyd after Roger Waters was David Gilmour’s band, although both Mason and Wright had seats at the table. Pink Floyd without both Gilmour and Waters is less of a band. Let’s just acknowledge that. Gilmour has a gentler voice than Waters, but he lacks the lyrical vision of Waters. Gilmour possesses more musical muscle than Waters and since their split, has written better melodic rock songs. Waters, hands down, is a stronger showman and wrote more of the Floyd’s classic material.
The Pink Floyd A.W. period is a bold, and often satisfying one. If we can’t have the Classic Years, then A.W. is still a good one. Put on the headphones and groove while lounging on your beanbag.