OLD REVIEW DUMP #3: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (4/6)
I have literally nothing to say about this one. It seems like I wrote it yesterday.
Here it is, with all fifteen of its meddling kids…
Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me
And do I take you by the hand
And lead you through the land
And help me understand the best I can
And no one calls us to move on
And no one forces down our eyes
No one speaks
And no one tries
No one flies around the sun
People who aren’t so high on Atom Heart Mother tend to rave about this album as being “the good version.” If you saw the heap of praise, masterpiece tag, and subsequent 10/10 on my review of it, you know I disagree. In fact, it was this reputation that made me come into Meddle with some embarrassingly immature resentment, and come out of my first listen not all that impressed. I chalked it up as a noble but mostly uninteresting experiment and went back to “If” and “Summer 68.”
I was dead wrong. Coming back to this album to review it, I found myself completely carried away by the musical landscapes that it offers. After I gussied up and put my immaturity aside, I was easily enveloped in a torrential musical experience. Then “Seamus” happened, but I recovered quickly. After the final notes of “Echoes” had themselves become echoes, I slumped in my chair, filled with utter musical bliss. Then I repeatedly facedesked as I recounted my initial reaction. So yes, Meddle is marvelous, almost as much as Atom Heart Mother.
So let’s start meddling! The album opens with “One Of These Days”, and it’s as instantly gripping as the best Floyd openings. Its looming atmosphere builds, crashes, and builds some more. It never seems to be content with itself, always thinking “yeah, we can get even more atmospheric and surreal.” It’s a joy to listen to, with a ton of excellent payoffs and an amazing set of riffs. It’s creepy, intimidating, dark, heavy, and absolutely brilliant. The whispering wind of the ending transitions into “A Pillow of Winds.” After that menacing intro, this cathartic, folksy, acoustic love song could not be more welcome. I wish the melody was more robust, but it’s beautiful enough to compensate, in lyrics and music.
“Fearless” more or less continues the same cathartic vibe, but this time with a more memorable melody, a more varied tone and even more touchingly personal lyrics. It’s simple, like the ballads on Atom Heart Mother, but it’s very nice. There’s even a cool little part at the end where it fades into a chanting crowd, as if to say “Yeah, don’t let life’s challenges get you down! You’ve got this crowd!” Taking down the energy a bit is “San Tropez”, an amusing diversion that shakes up the style well. It’s a nifty jazz song that’s mostly unremarkable but still totally enjoyable, with more evocative lyrics. And hey, don’t you need more piano solos in your life?
The much-maligned “Seamus” is unfortunately the album’s weak link. A country-blues jam with dog noises in the background, it offers the potential for an amusing comedy number, but it doesn’t use the animal sounds in any interesting ways. It doesn’t have the wacko-experimentation of “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” or the thematic coolness of anything on Animals. It flip-flops between underwhelming and annoying, making it the worst song on the album. It taints my overall opinion of Meddle more then I’d like to admit.
But SCREW that, because now we’ve got side two, and it’s a sidelong! “Echoes” is an absolute masterpiece, a marvelous example of what progressive rock can do when combined with gorgeous sound design and raw musical chops. It opens slowly, with a single echoing piano note bouncing through an icy cavern of crystal sounds. It grows to become an actual melody, and then a chillingly minimalistic guitar joins the conversation. Soon both piano and guitar are playing off one another, complementing the sound the other delivers, and the results are astounding. Then the LYRICS start, conjuring up a vibrant ocean. As the music grows, so does the imagery. The gentle singing sooths the blow of the now much harsher guitar, which gets a breathtaking solo, ratcheting up the tension. It pays off, oddly enough, in a psychedelic blues rock jam, which is nice, classy, relaxing, professional, and all in all a relief. The jam fades into a sound collage of cool maritime sounds, with a creepy wind sound wall backing mystical whale sounds and high notes. It feels as vast and empty as the ocean should, and not any less vibrant. Suddenly, the noises fade into a beautiful hum with that echoing piano note from the beginning, soon joined by guitars that build awe-inspiringly to a climax that ranks as one of the best moments in not just Floyd’s history, but in music history. Then it drops into more lyrics and a return to the triumphant main theme, which has a bit of noodly atmospheric fun before calming down into a soothing outro.
There is not a single bad note, one bad SECOND in the entire twenty-three minute run time of “Echoes.” It’s a sweeping epic of a song, one that must be not just heard but experienced. I don’t consider Pink Floyd a progressive band for the most part (though they do love progressive elements), but this is the prog rock ideal. It’s the best song on the album, and one of the best of all time.
And that’s how to make a massive impression with a very short tracklist. Meddle is mostly bolstered by the fact that half of it is taken up by “Echoes”, but side one still has a lot of great ideas, most of which work. That being said, the emphasis on atmosphere means that the melodies on this album are REALLY sub-par for the most part (though there are some great riffs throughout). The reason I ultimately rank it below Atom Heart Mother is that I can hum you most of the melodies from Atom Heart Mother, which is not the case here. Regardless, if you’re interested in the potential of music as a powerful, cathartic method of immersion, get this album and listen to it with your eyes closed. This is a great thing to do with Floyd albums in general, because they put so much effort into being evocative, but Meddle in particular is as sonically pure and album as you’ll get. Well okay, except “Seamus”, but one song can be easily skipped or ignored. If you’re a Floyd fan and you’ve never heard this album, fix that today.
Listenability: 5/5 Sound over composition, but WHAT a sound!
Themes: 4/5 One point off for “Seamus.” The tones, topics, and ideas here are all evocative and imaginative.
Lyricism: 5/5 Roger is still goin’ strong with his imagery and emotion.
Diversity: 5/5 I can’t name one boring spot on this album. No, not even “Seamus.”
Resonance: 4/5 Darn it “Seamus.” Anyway, I’ve already talked about how immersive this album is.
FINAL RATING: 9/10 A hypnotic collection of music, one that’s all too easy to get enveloped in, though I wish it was more melodic.
Recommended Listening: Echoes, One Of These Days, Fearless, San Tropez, A Pillow of Winds