Although Meddle was not the album that immediately preceded Dark Side of the Moon, it set the stage for the experimentation and ethereal soundscapes that evolved into Dark Side. It was Obscured By Clouds, a soundtrack for the film of the same name, released in 1972, that fit between Meddle and Dark Side.
Why is Meddle significant? Meddle was the band making a significant leap forward, and gave the band confidence and more control in the studio to create their soundscape visions.
Meddle was David Gilmour’s fourth studio album as a member of Pink Floyd and the band was becoming a tight musical collaboration. Gilmour’s expansive guitar talent broke open the door to this new level of dreamscape that started with Syd Barrett. The band would travel beyond the psychedelic flavor of the late 1960s into something with bigger teeth. Just as Roger Waters grabbed the opportunity to create deeper lyrics that explored life from the inside out, Gilmour helped thread the needle for grand sonic experimentation. Mason, Wright and Waters were only too happy explore this new territory.
The band produced Meddle themselves, with engineering assistance mainly from Rob Black and Peter Brown. Abbey Road Studios was of course home to the Beatles, an EMI artist, which Pink Floyd also was through the EMI subsidiary, Harvest Records. Pink Floyd recorded some of the album there but also moved to other studios where they could be accommodated with tape machines with more tracks. If you recorded for EMI in the 1960s, only the boys in the white coats could touch the knobs on the recording equipment. Pink Floyd was exerting more control over their recordings and more independence from their label.
There are two sides of the Floyd, the bluesy, folksy acoustic incarnation, and the spacey, progressive-rock band that pushes the boundaries of the soundscape. Both bands are displayed on this record.
“One of These Days” opens the album. Gilmour/Waters/Wright/Mason (instrumental) 5:57 The throbbing bass line and organ chords are familiar, like it could lead into Dark Side of Moon. The sophistication of the basic instruments surrounded by sound effects and a driving wall of sound shows the band is adapt at constructing and arranging a very interesting piece of music. The band have come a long way from “Intersteller Overdrive,” which they faithfully played in concert during these years. This rousing instrumental is a maturing of the band to compose a complex musical portrait.
“A Pillow of Winds” Gilmour/Waters 5:13 A gentle acoustic guitar song with layered bass and other guitar parts including some wicked slide guitar. Gilmour has gotten better at vocals. He used to sound tentative, now his voice has a gentle texture to it.
“Fearless” (including “You’ll Never Walk Alone”) Gilmour/Waters (including Rodgers, Hammerstein II) Gilmour on lead vocals 6:08 A nice, folksy acoustic song with some great guitar parts, Gilmour is really bringing some wonderful guitar pedal effects to the recording process. Pink Floyd didn’t always need to be about big concepts and themes, quieter songs like this were also their forte. The inclusion of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is interesting.
“San Tropez” Waters 3:44 An old-fashioned song, but nicely played, written and lead vocal by Waters. The song is an interesting juxtaposition with the other musical styles on the album. Wright shines on acoustic piano, and nice slide guitar by Gilmour.
“Seamus” Gilmour/Waters/Wright/Mason 2:15 A group collaboration, bluesy piano and slide guitar with a funky bass, and accompanying howling dog.
“Echoes” Wright/Gilmour/Waters/Mason Lead vocals by Gilmour and Wright 23:31 The sonar-type ping, which is a effects-laden repeating piano note. This is the Pink Floyd we all know and love, the spacey keyboards, elongated guitar notes, deep echo and snarling drums, forming a long suite of musical pieces woven around one central core. This is a glorious song, all 23 minutes of it, to call it a psychedelic journey would be misleading, though it is a musical layer cake, of luscious flavors, for the mind. This is as wonderful a slice of progress-rock as you’ll find. Genesis, Yes, ELP, King Crimson and others were these long form songs with different musical sections, art-rock, as it was often called. These creations often borrowed structure from classical and jazz forms. Over the course of 23 minutes, there is a lot of variation of style, time and repeating motifs.
A short piece of the song.
Pink Floyd would attempt to cover this same ground for the much less successful Animals album, a few years in the future. “Echos” works in part because it is truly collaborative and not just a Waters-penned song. The band is really tight creatively, each section is energetic and allows some room to breathe. Long form songs of the era tend to be very repetitive and boring, “Echos” includes some improvisation, but there is some craft involved in it’s creation. Admittedly, it has been awhile since I have listened to this song in entirety, so it was a delight to partake of it with headphones to hear the intricacy of the themes and layered recording process.
The year was very eventful for Pink Floyd. Work began in January on Meddle and lasted through July when the final mixing took place. During the year, the band played various concerts while finding time to work on the album.
From the Pink Floyd timeline: 4 October 1971
Pink Floyd began four days of filming at the Roman amphitheatre in Pompeii. The film, directed by Adrian Maben, and eventually titled Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii, went on general release in the UK in 1972.