THE UPSIDE with Shane Whitbread: A MEDDLE(SOME) REVIEW

So I am gonna let you in on a little secret here, I don’t really listen to much classic rock.  I skipped that phase of my teenage life deliberately.  While my friends were all going through their Led Zeppelin phase and their Pink Floyd phase, I was often listening to shit way outside that norm.  Let’s call it “pretentious crap” for lack of a better term.  Now that isn’t to say I hated 3783everything, just I actively avoided all of it but like, “The Stooges’, Eno, “The Velvet Underground”, Syd Barrett aged “Pink Floyd”, “Pere Ubu”, “King Crimson”, “Kraftwerk”, “Chrome”; the more underground side of the 1960’s and 70’s.  If you handed me a copy of the Rolling Stone’s Top 500 records of all time, I might have heard 20% of the albums listed.  Maybe.  That said, how many Milton Babbit pieces have you heard?  Yeah I thought so.

When my mom got sick, I lived in an apartment with what I would call “classic rock dudes”.  Yes they listened to stuff outside of that universe, often at my encouragement or via me drunkenly taking over the turntable and forcing it on them.  During that period I started seeing some value in going back and listening to a few of those bands.

Also, I am doing this in kinda a different way.  I am gonna start with a song by song break down of the record and then go into overall feelings on the record.  This will probably be the typical format for these reviews; focusing on the individual parts and bringing it together at the end.  An album either works as a whole or it is a collection of songs so I figure breaking it down both ways is best.

Anyway enough with the preamble bullshit.  Let’s talk about “Meddle” by Pink Floyd.

I actually have this record in my collection, though i think I listened to it a grand total of playing “Echoes” one time.  I bought it mostly because of the association with “Live at Pompei”, which is still one of the best shows you can possibly buy on DVD.  It’s just bad ass.

One of These Days“:  Starting off on an instrumental is always good with me.  I’m not the worlds biggest fans of vocals, and I honestly think bands use them far to often as a crutch and focus too heavily on their placement and importance in their music.  There are exceptions to this rule.  ANYWAY.  So it starts off with a tribute to the binson echorec on bass guitar doing a pretty typical Floyd delayed bass line.  It’s cool and I get that this was probably pretty new sounding for 1971 (unless you lived in Germany).  Gilmour eventually shows up with some decent minimal slide work and moves the song forward.  The flurry of Leslie’d organ is nice.  It transitions into an awesome tremolo heavy section while the background track is clearly modeled after the original Delia Derbyshire “Dr Who” soundtrack.  Actually, this entire track seems to be modeled after the “Dr. Who” theme after this point.  In comes the Ring Modulated voice and the track takes off into TARDIS land, with drums joining the fray.  It’s a neat opening track and a fun groove.  I stand by my “Dr Who” comparison.

ONE OF THESE DAYS by PINK FLOYD

 

A Pillow of Winds“:  Man, Gilmour was really into playing slide during this period.  The track is prototypical half psyche half prog most people expect of a band in 1971.  It’s almost a more refined Barrett composition from one of his solo albums had Barrett not lost his mind to LSD experiments (this isn’t shocking as David Gilmour produced a lot of Barrett’s post-Floyd work).  It’s an ok track.  Nothing super special or unique to it.

Fearless“:  Another slow-paced song.  That is two in a row, and it has almost exactly the same mood so I am starting to see their overall plan for this side of the record in my head.  Some nice volume swells in this one, but I’ll 65467always have a weakness for volume swell bullshit.  I am getting really tired of all the fucking slide guitar; here and there is cool but this is too much.  There seems to be a little “Zeppelin on quaaludes” vibe in this one.  The sound effects at the end are kinda lame filler.  Not particularly great sound design.

San Tropez“:  This is awful.  I know at this point Waters is capable of writing ok songs.  This one is just the shits.  I hate nearly everything about it.  The shuffle can eat a fuck.  The slide solo is the highlight, and not much of a highlight at that.  Fuck honky-tonk piano.  I loathe this song and am regretting taking on this review right now. Filler pure and simple.

Seamus“:  Oh good there is nothing I like more than a blues scuffle beat with a dog howling in the back ground.  Seriously?  Like fucking SERIOUSLY?  This is fucking painfully awful.  Side 2 can’t come fast enough.

Echoes“:  This is the first time during this review I’ve felt the need to turn up my stereo.  Finally something is fucking happening. The hyper spare and ambient opening is refreshing after the last four tracks.  Finally some real space in (well the empty sort of space I typically gravitate towards).  I actually like the harmony vocals on this; they work super well and their voices mesh fantastically.  The build going on under them is a nice false change leading back to another vocal section.  Finally at the 6 minute point of this track something feels like it is happening on this album.  Gilmour is taking more Pink Floydof an active roll, ripping a decent blue based lead as the music starts to finally  build to an intensity higher than being  stoned on a Sunday afternoon.  Shit starts feeling like it’s getting real around the 7 minute part when the drums really kick in and Gilmour and Wright begin to branch out more.  More noise elements start getting mixed in underneath adding in some nice delayed guitar skronk for texture.  The pacing of the solo is great and the way Wright starts playing under it adds a wicked sense of movement. Oh great, here comes the  infamous in the guitar community plugged in backwards wah part.  I hate the “Seagull” sound (except a couple placements of it) but the rest of the song is awesome and super ambitious for 1971.  It’s a great part and a studio triumph for the time, but I would love to have a mix with about two-thirds of the screeching wah bullshit removed (not that I have anything against screeching bullshit; I like merzbow for fucks sake).  It’s all about context, and here that sound gets overly distracting and pulls me away from the chill out mood while not creating any additional tension; its atonal sound for the sake of it and while that can work wonderfully it kinda fails here.  Near the end we get a palm muted delayed guitar playing a line that almost sounds like an analog sequencer: this is offset by a cool synth part ending with a sweet fuzz bass consuming the mix.   A great section.  I have to say in my small, pathetic universe this is vocals done right; they appear when they are needed and they never overstay their welcome.  They lead the song in a new direction or as a transitional tool instead of being the primary focus.  The outro is a mixed bag, I love the sound design, but I hate Gilmour’s playing here.  It’s just kinda dull uninspired blues wank.

ECHOES by PINK FLOYD

Meddle” is a frustrating album that sounds like a band searching for direction and finding it here and there..  It starts off high and ends amazingly, but the middle section is just fucking boring; plodding, pointless songs that go nowhere and aren’t particularly well written  They add nothing to the album, and are somewhat of an ordeal to sit through..  I’d honestly suggest people just to skip most the album and listen to “One of These Days” then flip the LP and put on “Echoes”.  Hell, if the ambient parts on “Echoes” weren’t so fucking well done for 1971 I’d say skip the entire damn thing and just watch “Live at Pompei” again.  I doubt I’ll ever listen to this album again.  It’s not bad, it’s just that what I like about this record has been done way better by other people. – SHANE