Pink Floyd

Capitol, 1969

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In a sense, Ummagumma can be seen as a disc which was supposed to close a period of Pink Floyd's history. Summing up the first few years of the band's history with their first live release, and having a studio disc tacked on which allowed each member of the band to explore their own musical patterns, this was, according to All-Music Guide, one of the band's best-selling discs for years.

But it would also be incorrect to say that Ummagumma marked the end of Pink Floyd's psychedelic side in terms of album releases. True, they were still a few years away from their breakthrough disc The Dark Side Of The Moon, or even Meddle, but there was still a bit more musical weirdness to expect from the Floyd before they almost became an AOR band.

I've owned this record for well over a decade, and despite numerous listenings over the years, Ummagumma is still a record which both delights and confounds me. It all depends on which portion I listen to at a certain stage in my life, and the answer never seems to be the same twice. Something tells me that the casual listener will find this disc a bit too much to take, while someone who has dabbled in pre-1973 Floyd will understand things a little more.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The live disc is made up of a whole four songs, the most notable probably being "Astronomy Domine," which loses little of its luster in the live setting. Even without Syd Barrett, there is enough spaciness in the performance of this track to keep the memory of his presence alive. Likewise, "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" drifts off a little too much into the ether, but Roger Waters and crew do have the power to reel it back in without losing a lot of the song's power.

The same can't quite be said for the other two tracks. "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" is a bizarre trip that doesn't really seem to go anywhere - and, if you listen closely enough, you could almost swear that Aerosmith copped their guitar licks for "Living On The Edge" from this one. Likewise, "A Saucerful Of Secrets" just doesn't seem to translate as well in the live setting as it did in the studio - though I'm willing to concede that maybe seeing it performed in the flesh would have made things a bit clearer.

Of the four musicians' contributions on the studio disc, is it really any surprise that Waters and guitarist Dave Gilmour provide the most clear efforts? Waters's two tracks, "Grantchester Meadows" and the trippy "Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict," almost show the direction that Pink Floyd would be going in the mid-'70s, and are most enjoyable. (I liked putting on the latter track in the last few weeks just to piss off my wife - nothing like hearing what sounds like squirrels on acid eminating from the speakers to get a toaster hurled at your head.) As for Gilmour, if there were ever any doubt about his abilities as a guitar player or songwriter, the three-song suite "The Narrow Way" removes all doubt.

Richard Wright's four-song suite "Sysyphus" tries to be a magnum opus, but after the overture, it seems to dissolve into just so much noodling on the keyboards. If the mess of keyboard scrunches was supposed to illustrate the myth of Sysyphus pushing the boulder up the hill for eternity, well, mission failed. Likewise, Nick Mason's three-song suite "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party" starts off strongly, but turns into almost a collection of sound effects, and doesn't really serve its purpose very well.

If I'm so critical of Ummagumma, how come I continue to dust it off on a regular basis and slap it onto the turntable? Truth is, I dunno. As much as I am critical about certain aspects of this release, there is something that draws me back to it time and time again to give things another shot. Or maybe it's the animals in the cave calling to me. Either way, approach this one with caution.

Rating: C

User Rating: C-



© 2005 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol, and is used for informational purposes only.