French Version: http://humeursurmusiquemoderne.blogspot.com/2011/05/pink-floyd-wish-you-were-here-ou.html
When we start the review of a record from a band like Pink Floyd, we must be sure we have understood all the stakes and the subtleties that represents. We have here one of the most mystical and yet unknown band of all time… We have to understand for instance that, without them, music and drugs would not really be what they are today. Pink Floyd’s music, their lyrics and behavior have influenced a countless number of people. I myself have discovered their music through this Whish You Were Here on a long summer night, on one of these endless South of France’s roads, in the car of a close friend, the kind of friend able to show you things that will influence you for the rest of your life. He had discovered the band during his childhood through his father, an admirer of the Floyds, who often watched one of their live. So Pink Floyd is more than just a band. It’s a legacy passed from beloved one to another. We can’t show safely this unique music to someone who won’t be influenced and changed by it like you have been. This music is an unusual experience; you must be able to accept it to understand it.
We have a strange context here. After they have conquered the world with the famous Dark Side of the Moon, the English quartet comes back between two world tours in the mythical Abbey Road Studios of London. What we need to take in consideration here is that, at this time, the band’s success is tremendous and its members have experienced everything during the last tours of 1973 and 1974. They are both cherished by the critic and the public (yes, at these times, people still understood some things… or used more drugs). They are rich, known and recognized; they own pretty much everything they desire. Moreover, during this period of time, the band is composed of strong and diverse individualities and each one of them seems to lock itself in a chemical bubble of a different shape and power. Syd Barrett, the band’s founder, who had showed the way for a while regarding experimentations of all kind, ended rejected (by the others and himself) because he was beginning not to be able to struggle against schizophrenia’s voices echoing in his head caused by the seas of acid in which he was drowning into.
The context in which the record has been written is not joyful and is pretty far from it. The band members don’t seem to take any pleasure with each other anymore, the drummer’s wedding flounders and above all, Barrett will pay a surprise visit to his former mates whom won’t be able to recognize him considering he has physically changed a lot. However, proof we have here the smartest band of the entire history of modern music, the work resulting from this particular atmosphere is up today, one of their best if not the very best. The album is being built first during the tours, particularly with a track that grows up little by little to end up lasting more than 20 minutes. We are talking about "Shine On You Cray Diamond", track the band will have all the troubles in the world to record and they will decide to cut into two parts. They will interpose three songs in between in order to lighten the record in a way but nothing is really light in the work of the four British. So it’s with "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" that Whish You Were Here starts.
Slowly, the music and organs rise, metallic and low as Hell. We remain on a single chord while the synth leads the music, quietly. The tension begins to rise, softly. We are still waiting for the second chord to show up but instead, it’s the guitar, snapping, which announces the ceremony’s opening. Everything is perfect, neat. The guitar’s strings lightly shiver in the highs before everything calms down to set place, after a silence that seems to last forever, to the four most worrying guitar notes in modern music history. There, everything is accelerating. The drums thunder and quickly ramp up to finally explode. The track is launched. The four notes keep on echoing but they are less worrying now the whole is on track. Guitar and synth solos end this majestic and grand 7 minutes long introduction. What we have here is something revolutionary for that time regarding the instruments sounds, the recording but also the composition. It’s hard to make something more progressive and yet, the song remains light and easy to reach. The song starts quietly with voice explosions beautifully harmonized. The impeccable and immutable rhythmic is supported by Roger Water’s bass making the perfect link between the complex harmonies and a basic but efficient rhythm. The whole is lead and shaded by the synths. Last but not least, the guitar as a conductor, leads the song along with the voice. We then get to the baritone saxophone’ solo that will strike you directly in the guts and that will announce a new rise underlined by the gloomy guitar arpeggios, materialized by the alto saxophone ‘solo and a change of rhythm. A quiet yet powerful explosion. We are guided, haunted by the whole fading away, little by little… Without realizing it, we just spent like that 15 minutes listening what looks like a perfect mix between jazz and prog rock regarding the solos and the structure.
The calm is quickly disturbed by weird and frightening sounds. We don’t quite know where we are before the guitar and voices start. The synths lead the whole with some sounds we’ll find back a few years later, in the musical darkness of the 80s. Let me just reassure you, theses sounds have nothing in common with any hit from Billy Idol unlike what music gave us later. They are beautifully and smartly used in Pink Floyd… This “Welcome to The Machine” is worrying and disturbing and we quickly understand that the sweet ballad of before was in fact just there to initiate the going down to the limbs of this title. We are in the real Pink Floyd spirit here, pessimistic and grey as reality and human madness are… The song ends as it started, with strange noises placing us in the middle of a noisy and happy crowd calming down little by little to set place to a bluesy guitar riff and a funky rhythmic. Here again, the synths darken substantially the whole making it gloomy. “Have a Cigar” remains in the typical Pink Floyd sound and spirit. It ends with an angry solo of Gilmour and once again, on weird noises: we have the impression of listening someone listening to the song, impression lasting all the record, of a music nested in something else… a great way to make the emptiest TV host (there is a redundancy here) completely schizophrenic…
We can then hear, far away, the introduction of “Wish You Were Here” that really starts at the same time than the acoustic guitar solo, simple and beautiful, bringing us back to the sound of the record. The ballad starts softly; the slide guitar and the piano would almost make it sound country. It is well shaded and led, dotted of some brilliant acoustic guitar solos. Some have tried to understand and interpreted the meaning of “Wish You Were Here” and its lyrics, allegedly written as a tribute to Syd Barret, founder of the band who has then been kicked out, so I won’t linger.
The record ends the same way it had started, with the following parts of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. The second part begins in a more worrying way than the first, which confirms the band’s will to drive us crazy. We had just ended a quiet ballad, and there we are, back in a thick fog again. We are pulled by the synths first, then the guitar. Both instruments mix oddly and we are constantly pushed forward by this aggressive bass. The whole calms down quickly then, and we get back in the sonorities and arrangements of the first part of the song which starts again where we had left it. It set place again to the same gloomy arpeggios leading this time to a groovy part led by the Rhodes and the bass, dotted with weird high-pitched… The whole set place little by little to the final part. When find back here the sound of the initial synths, some piano chords and an aquatic bass line support the quiet solo, immutable. We have the feeling everything run smoothly, according to plan, cold and efficient. The album closes on a major chord (the first?) for a hint of enthusiasm almost ironic.
This ends a very imaged and strong journey, spent almost too quickly and that we’ll soon do again. When listening to this masterpiece, we have the feeling of listening to pop-rock music while reading a classic of English or French literature. I’ll quickly speak about the technological and theoretical revolution this record means to modern music. This album is more than a simple record: it’s an epic that only you can live.