Pink Floyd – Endless Monotony (Endless River Review)
Pink Floyd’s The Endless River is not a meaningful album. Stripped of almost any attempt to engage lyrically, the record falls back upon a series of intriguing but largely uninteresting instrumental tracks which never feel like they justify the decision to keep voices off of the album. That isn’t to say that The Endless River is not a good album or that dedicated fans won’t get something of value from the various instrumental passages found therein, but they are unlikely to gain the type of reflective insights that made the group’s earlier output so noteworthy. The album says nothing and, based upon the only lyrical song on the album, ‘Louder Than Words’, it has nothing to say.
There is nothing wrong, in principle, with an instrumental Pink Floyd album. Their past output has shown them remarkably capable of communicating mood and ambience with their instruments alone but this newest collection rarely achieves the standard set by past instrumental Floyd. At times David Gilmour’s guitar soars above the ambience but few of these pieces feel complete. They don’t feel like fully formed instrumental experiences. They feel like backing tracks screaming out for melody and depth. Considering the increasingly warm relationship David Gilmour and Nick Mason share with long-estranged bass player and lyricist Roger Waters, the latter’s absence is a surprise, of sorts, and a deep aggravation. The Endless River is not a worthy swansong.
It is equally strange that no one seems to be talking about the path not taken. Plenty of critics have something to say, mostly negative, about the record but Waters’ absence is a stunning omission that demands comment. It seems that neither guitarist/vocalist Gilmore nor drummer Mason approached Waters about the possibility creating the lyrics for their left-over instrumental album. Of course, even if they did the famously-prickly Waters may well have declined such an offer but the limited evidence available seems to suggest that no approach was made. With the death of keyboardist Richard Wright in 2008, and the archival nature of most of The Endless River (it was recorded by the group in the mid-90s), this collection was the perfect opportunity to reintegrate their former lyricist and vocalist. It was the perfect opportunity to create a true and meaningful swansong for the band. Instead, The Endless River will stand as a monument to the stubbornness of all involved (or not involved, as the case me be).
Much though it is tempting to do so, we cannot judge the album the band didn’t make. Sadly, that leaves only this mostly unremarkable collection of meandering, sometimes interesting, instrumental tracks. The only lyrical song on the album, the aforementioned ‘Louder Than Words’ is marred by some of the worst, most trite lyrics in the band’s history. It is a clichéd mess, utterly devoid of the artistry shown even on the Division Bell, to say nothing of the lyrical depth the band mined under Waters in the 70s. The sentiment behind the track is sweet –it concerns Gilmour and Wright’s sometimes fraught relationship– but the execution is miserable. Thankfully, the rest of the album is a far superior product, but it falls far below the standard the band set for themselves, during and after Waters’ tenure with the group. Judged on its own merits, The Endless River is a pleasant, if unremarkable, instrumental journey. Judged against the rest of the band’s catalogue, however, and its transient charm quickly disappears.