Monday, 26 April 2010

10. Atom Heart Mother - Pink Floyd

Purchased : May 1982

Tracks : Atom Heart Mother ( Father’s Shout ; Breast Milky ; Mother Fore ; Funky Dung ; Mind Your Throats Please ; Re-emergence) / If / Summer 68 / Fat Old Sun / Alan’s Pyschedelic Breakfast ( Rise And Shine ; Sunny Side Up ; Morning Glory)

This was the second and final purchase from my friend Francis who left school that summer to work for the local council instead. It is the first album in my story to be “from the past” since “Tubular Bells” . Pink Floyd , The Moody Blues and Kraftwerk were the bands whose back catalogue I deemed worth exploring since they were cited as major influences on the current bands I liked around this time and I enjoyed what little I’d heard from them – in Floyd’s case this was “Another Brick In The Wall”, “Breathe” , “Money” and “Interstellar Overdrive”. As well as that there was an alluring mystique around them - the individual members were personally anonymous, they hardly ever released singles and they’d made an album nearly ten years before which had never stopped selling since. So when this one, their first number one in 1970, was offered to me for £2 I jumped. I think it’s the only quadrophonic LP in my collection.

Now first of all, Marcello has already got to this on Then Play Long but I’ve purposely not read that yet so that this doesn’t become a riposte to him.

This isn’t going to be an easy review and probably not a very long one either. How much can you say about an album that’s been regularly rubbished by its creators, with an instrumental track that takes up the whole of one side and that you know is basically a jam with no coherence or meaning ? Even the title came from a random delve into a newspaper. Does it say anything about its time other than that middle class white boys in the early 70s were prepared to waste their pocket money on patently self-indulgent nonsense to fulfil their need for something weightier than bubblegum pop ?

Let’s start with the facts then. This is Pink Floyd in their transitional phase from the UK’s primary psychedelic pop band to world-conquering stadium rock act. It was the follow up to the bloated, often unlistenable, double LP “Ummagumma” and the band had well-documented difficulties in completing it to the extent that they called in avant-garde composer Ron Geesin to give some structure to the sprawling twenty minute long title track.

“Atom Heart Mother “ itself is split into six different parts according to the sleeve but there are no timings given so it is a matter of conjecture where 2-6 begin and where 1 to 5 end. Please feel free to disagree with my interpretation. "Father's Shout" starts with a minute of a brass band tuning up before drums and bass kick in followed by a series of sound effects, horses neighing, cars revving up and then a motorcycle speeding up. This is followed by a sad cello melody while Rick Wright doodles around in the background. Then Dave Gilmour comes in for the first time with a languid guitar solo which eventually gets louder and starts competing with the brass. The part ends with a quiet organ part.

"Breast Milky" which I would guess is largely Wright's work sees the John Aldiss Choir come in first with a female soloist then more female voices before the males join in. It is wordless, ethereal and brooding,Wright's doleful chords hinting at a deep unease. Towards the end Mason's drums come in to no real purpose marring for me the best part of the suite.

"Mother Fore" begins with a bassline before Gilmour retuns with some echoey guitar and Wright shows off some of his jazz chops.This is the simplest part and gives the first airing to their trademark 70s sound.

Then the choir return with some unintelligible chanting which I take to be the start of "Funky Dung". There's a brief return to the brass refrain from the first part and then what sounds like a dialling tone on the organ. This is the worst part as we're now treated to a passage of horrible atonal noises and shrieks which just reek of self-indulgence. This goes on for two minutes during which someone says "Here is an important announcement" which thankfully heralds the end of this nonsense.

"Mind Your Throats Please " isn't much of an improvement, a minute or so of backwards production tricks before another interjection "Silence in the Studio".

"Remergence" then revisits some of the earlier moments, Waters' bassline, the cello solo, two competing guitar solos before finally the brass band and choir return for a final resolution before a lingering final chord.

The other side sees a pocket version of the "Ummagumma" concept where each member gets their own song to work on although the others have to help Mason out with his. It begins with Roger Waters' "If" (no relation to the Kipling poem) which has attracted comment for being a rare moment of introspection from the (over-) politicised bassist. Like many of his songs it begins with a simple acoustic strum and his hoarse whisper . Some of the lyrics are just nonsense "If I were the moon I'd be cool" but there's also some hints of self-criticism "If I were a good man I'd understand the spaces between friends". Gilmour and Wright add some colour after the first couple of verses and Mason joins in softly towards the end but can't disguise that the song is melodically dull.

"Summer 68" is Rick Wright's contribution , an unsympathetic song about an encounter with a groupie based around a jaunty piano riff. Wright starts grumpily interrogating the girl after the fact about how she feels " before you leave to greet another man ". There's more than a hint of misogyny in there. The song has instrumental choruses where the brass band returns to some effect. After the second one the music slows down and reduces to just acoustic guitar and piano and Wright gloomily intoning "Goodbye to you, Charlotte Pringle's due " (that's a fictitious name by the way) before another blast of brass brings it to an end.

"Fat Old Sun " is an easygoing English blues song akin though inferior to "Man Ogf The World". It conjures up East Anglian bucolic bliss with Gilmour imploring someone not to break the spell "And if you see, don't make a sound ,pick your feet up off the ground".
It's chiefly interesting now because its themes were revisited in the final Floyd classic "High Hopes" which repeated the use of bells at the start and end of the track.

The album ends with the three part "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" which drew howls of protest from my passengers when I put it on a mix tape. For those not familiar with this famously bad track it features the sounds of their roadie Alan Stiles making himself breakfast in Nick Mason's kitchen, kettles whistling, rice krispies popping and unlovely mastication noises and musing on his preferences. These break up the three pieces, music , "Rise and Shine" a meandering bit of cod-chamber , "Sunny Side Up" a lazy Gilmour blues duet with himself and "Morning Glory" piano-led and more purposeful with some nice Hammond bits towards the end. It ends with a dripping tap which goes on forever if you've got the original vinyl and the right ( or perhaps wrong ) record player.

I was bemused to say the least and it would be over a decade before another Floyd album joined it on the shelf. A friend of mine bought it recently and was so appalled he took it back to the hop on quality grounds. Is it any good ? Well it has some attractive bits but no , if it weren't for the group's later triumphs it would be completely written off as a product of its excessive times.

That's enough. Allow me to pop over and see what Marcello makes of it.

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