Friday, June 17, 2016

Classic Albums: Pink Floyd, Meddle

When people talk about the great Pink Floyd albums, they'll mention Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, those two staples of classic rock radio, Those with an appreciation of the band's Syd Barrett incarnation will talk about Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. Wish You Here will get some attention, especially from the more serious fans, and there will always be some overly-intense young men who will name Animals as their favorite.

Rarely will you hear talk of Meddle, the album Floyd put out in 1971 that bridged the gap between their psychedelic years and the arena-ready sounds of Dark Side. Those who know Meddle know its power, however. I was not surprised years ago to read in an interview that Johnny Greenwood, guitarist for Radiohead, counts it among his favorites. This is an album of moods more than songs.

The one real rawk song is the first, the sinister "One Of These Days." It begins with the sounds of howling wind, and then an overpowering bass riff unlike anything on a rock record to that point. I hear this song as Pink Floyd throwing down the gauntlet and announcing a new beginning, much like the Stones' similarly up-tempo "Jumpin' Jack Flash."  The song sounds like a horde of horsemen sweeping across a wind-blasted plain out for blood, a feeling confirmed by the only words, spoken through a voice distorting modulator: "One of these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces"

"One Of These Days" grabs the listener's attention with its brute force, but the rest of the album is decidedly mellower as it segues into the appropriately named "A Pillow Of Winds." The tone is set by David Gilmore's gentle slide guitar, and million miles from the slash and burn we've just heard. While this song is a nice little gem, the following song, "Fearless," is one of my all time favorites. Just today I was bumming around Central Park, killing time before my school's graduation while I listened to this song as a cool summer breeze blew through the trees. The song and experience were a perfect, serene combination. Whenever I hear this song I feel calmed, uplifted.

I'm not the only person who loves it. In Everybody Wants Some, his most recent film, Richard Linklater devotes a whole scene to the characters listening to the song while smoking up and listening to the resident pothead philosopher's enthusiastic promotion of it. It's also an interesting example of Floyd bringing in outside noises into the studio, something that Dark Side would very successfully incorporate. The beginning and end use recordings of Liverpool soccer fans chanting "You'll Never Walk Alone," still sung today at Anfield stadium. The song gives real meaning to the lyrics; it's impossible to hear and think that you're alone in the universe.

And just to make things even less consistent, the next song "St Tropez," is a jazzy little number that sounds like something a 40s lounge band might've played. Again, it's less a song than a mood, one of detached decadence in the sun of the French Riviera. Refusing to stick to a theme, the last song on side one is "Seamus, " a joke song. It features David Gilmore playing Delta blues slide guitar over the sound of his dog Seamus howling and moaning. As a song it's not all the great, but on the record in contributes to the surreal feeling established elsewhere. There's an intimacy here, as well as the rest of side one, which has made this album a favorite of mine to play as I lay down to go to sleep.

Pink Floyd developed a reputation for concept albums later in their career, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any hard and fast concepts on the first side of Meddle. Side two has a very simple concept: an album-side length song: "Echoes." It starts with the crystalline sound of piano keys that ping like sonar or a faint signal from a distant star. Those pings come in throughout the song, which has few words and a lot of musical interplay. It's a song I love getting lost in for awhile. When I listen to all twenty-three minutes of it and clear out other distractions I feel greatly refreshed by the time it ends. Unlike a lot of other prog rock of the day the musicianship does not over power the song or kill the mood with excessive showiness. The feeling is the most important thing in this song.

The feeling that this whole album gives me is why I keep coming back. It is a feeling of comfort and belonging. In a day to day existence that is full of too much work and stress, these songs reveal the secret veins of the universe, the deep rivers of meaning beneath all of this material garbage. If you need 45 minutes to transport yourself off of this vulgar plane into a world of beauty and mystery, then look no farther than Meddle.

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