OLD REVIEW DUMP #2: THE SQEAKUAL (2/7)
Ooooooh, I’m still inexplicably infatuated with Saucerful. Once again I would raise the “Reasonance” category, though I’m not sure if it would be a 4 or a 5 (probably the former because of “Corporal Clegg,” which is still hilarious).
The review itself is more or less on par with the Piper one, though I was getting more adventurous and imaginative in my description of the sound. It’s a short review of a short album and like it’s subject doesn’t really flow or build, but the bits themselves I’m still reasonably proud of.
Here it is, in all its SoS. I was not expecting to make a Youtube Poop joke today.
Remember a day before today
A day when you were young
Free to play alone with time
Evening never came
Sing a song that can’t be sung
Without the morning’s kiss
Queen – you shall be it if you wish
Look for your king
Why can’t we play today
Why can’t we stay that way
-Remember A Day
Okay, so originally the plan was to review Please Please Me this week and alternate between Floyd and The Beatles, but seeing as how I’m now in a Piper at the Gates of Dawn mindset, there’s no better time to get its kid brother A Saucerful of Secrets out of the way. Besides, I’m uploading this on Monday, there’s plenty of time to review Please Please Me later on this week. Cool? Cool.
At this point, poor Syd was badly deteriorated. He was spacing out in the middle of concerts, screwing up press interviews, and generally not helping the band’s reputation at all. In the following transitional period, Syd was phased out of the band. The result is this short album, consisting of outtakes from Piper and some new material. Basically, it was hastily slapped together to fill time, sounds almost nothing like the preceding album, and Syd only has one song on it. It’s an incoherent, mad scramble with no flow between any of the songs.
And yet…I adore this album. I honestly think it’s one of the most underrated albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening too. Yeah, it doesn’t really work AS AN ALBUM, but as a playlist, it’s great. I don’t dislike a single song on here. Even if you disagree, you can’t deny that it’s far more accessible then Piper. Less fascinating, to be sure, but still interesting and perfectly enjoyable in its own right. Spoiler: it gets a higher rating then Piper. I know that sounds like blasphemy to a lot of Floyders, but my love for this hodgepodge takes me beyond the boundaries of caring. Kind of like LSD, actually, though there’s less of that on this album.
So let’s strap into our interstellar-ready cockpits! The opening track “Let There Be More Light” is a Roger Waters piece, and he finally reveals his chops as a songwriter. The bassline for this song is something of a minor legend in its own right, giving the song a unique body. The lyrics detail contact with aliens or something like that, and though they’re not deep they’re certainly clever. There are references to sci-fi, history and…The Beatles? Yeah, at one point they mention “Lucy in the sky.” It doesn’t mean anything, but it sure is cool that my two favorite bands had some incidental crossover. If there’s a problem with this song, it’s probably the second half, where it devolves into a lengthy and mostly uninteresting jam. If this song was three or four minutes instead of five and a half, it would be a lot less tedious.
The next song is a Richard Wright space ballad called “Remember a Day”, and it’s awesome. A Barrett-worthy longing for childhood, the song’s wistful, lush tone is just lovely. They have some fun with the slide guitar, and the vocals are nice. Pink Floyd wasn’t really a “feeling” band at this point, but this song is genuinely sad, nostalgic and beautiful.
But as much as I love “Remember a Day”, it’s slightly nudged out by “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, my favorite song on the album. I can’t listen to this song without getting chills. The floating, cosmic, meditative atmosphere is so thick you could slice it and sell it in cans. Headphones, a reclining chair, dim lights, a blanket and closed eyes are a must for the full experience. It’s got some pretty cool lyrics too, though Roger admits to “borrowing” them from a book of Chinese poetry. They certainly are poetic, adding to the dreamy feel. And hey, are those seagull noises in the midpoint of the song? Could that be another nod to The Beatles? Either way, the song is amazing, a pure experience if Floyd has ever produced one.
Side one closes out with another Waters song, “Corporal Clegg”, and my god, aside from the more complex melody it might be just as bad-yet-amazing-in-its-existence as “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk.” It’s awkward, inflamed, clumsy, sounds like crap, and features a kazoo solo. A KAZOO SOLO. TWO OF THEM, IN FACT. It must be heard to be believed. Well, okay, it’s got at least one thing going for it: aside from the unintentional hilarity, it’s actually got a few amusing lyrics in its anti-war ramblings. Roger has come some distance from “Stethoscope”, as hard as it is to believe.
Side two opens with the instrumental title track, credited to all four members (except Syd, because obvs). It’s just about as good as “Interstellar Overdrive”, maybe better. The basic idea is that it details a battle in space. The first four minutes are really trippy and menacing, representing the pre-battle tension. Then military-style drums kick in, and the forces clash for the next three thunderous minutes. Then the ghosts observe the battleground, apparently, with some spooky organs for a minute and a half. The last three minutes are the mourning of the dead, with some downright beautiful funeral-style music (no, not Funeral style music, that review’s coming later) that transitions into a heavenly chorus. There isn’t a dull second in this entire twelve minute song. It’s an engaging, evocative little story that stands as a major technical and artistic accomplishment for the band at such an early stage.
Richard Wright is up to bat again with “See Saw”, which, on the recording sheet, was apparently listed as “The Most Boring Song I’ve Ever Heard Bar Two.” Despite what Mr. Wright says, it’s a good song, finding an advantageous spot between wistfully beautiful and bouncily fun. Like “Remember a Day”, the vocals are rich and the atmosphere very pretty and sweet. You wouldn’t hear something like this on Piper, that’s for sure.
The album closes with “Jugband Blues”, Syd’s lone contribution. It’s just okay, both musically and lyrically. The only real reason this song stands out is simply the fact that this is Syd’s last stand. Its calm outro and final lines are rather melancholy when its place in history is taken into account.
And that’s Floyd in transition. It’s a mess, but it’s a mess of enjoyable material. It’s not as interesting as or anywhere near as revolutionary as Piper, but for whatever reason I’ll take this album over that one any day of the week. Maybe I just have crap taste.
Listenability: 4/5 More accessible and then Piper at the Gates of Dawn for sure, though not as interesting.
Themes: 4/5 The songs don’t gel in any conceivable way, and the album never really comes together as a result. Still, we do have love, war, memories and more space as topics here, which are perfectly worthy in their own right.
Lyricism: 4/5 Less memorable then Piper, but interesting nonetheless. Waters truly impresses for the first time.
Diversity: 4/5 Atmospheric jams, sweet ballads, space battles, whatever the crap “Corporal Clegg” was supposed to be…the album is short, but it’s never wanting for ideas.
Resonance: 2/5 More or less the same as Piper, but it does have some lovely ballads.
FINAL RATING: 9/10 Quite possibly the best hodge-podge of all time.
Recommended Listening: Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, Remember a Day, A Saucerful of Secrets, See Saw