OLD REVIEW DUMP #3: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (2/6)
More adjectival and adverbly experimenting. It’s not as emotionally fueled as the Funeral review, but I’m getting there. There’s a few imprecise words and hazy descriptions I would be more careful to weed out if I was writing this today, but the review as a whole holds up fine.
Here it is, in all its lack of maternity…
If I were a swan, I’d be gone
If I were a train, I’d be late
And if I were a good man,
I’d talk with you
More often than I do
If I were to sleep, I could dream
If I were afraid, I could hide
If I go insane, please don’t put
Your wires in my brain
1970: the magical time when a picture of a cow was going to sell you an album. What happened to the art of cover design?
Atom Heart Mother is a wonderful little experimental album. It’s more ideas then substance, but the concepts are strong enough to hold the album together. There are only five songs, and even though two of them are over ten minutes, the album is a brief, clever, and enjoyable listen. It’s more polished and focused then Ummagumma by light years. There are no excesses here, just good ideas.
So let’s get mooooving. The title track is a sidelong suite divided into six sections. The first section, “Father’s Shout,” is a brass-based introduction that builds very nicely, giving the track a grand and uncompromising feel and setting a good first impression. The next part, “Breast Milky”, doesn’t flow from the last section well at all, but neither does any other, so…crap. We get a keyboard and cello playing off each other very well, and the pace becomes more and more frantic before dropping into a brief soothing, mellow part and then picking back up with a slide guitar and chorus. It’s a nice combination of instruments, and the flow is dynamic and fun to listen to. “Mother Fore” brings in a brooding organ and atmospheric voices, creating a thick atmosphere. As more voices join, the distinctly funeral sound becomes even more apparent. It’s hard not to connect the disembodied voices with a million souls gathered around an organ-backed procession. The section does run a bit too long, but it’s just, for lack of a better word, cool. Then comes “Funky Dung”, which completely changes the tone again. It’s a blues-funk jam session with a nice slow guitar solo. It builds to more chanting, and…say, is that the melody from “Father’s Shout?” Nice. “Mind Your Throats Please” pretty much ruins the grand mood by devolving into some insane noisemaking. There’s a lot of playing with the sound channels, fading instruments in and out, and some echoic string effects. It feels like an incoherent mess, unfortunately, though I do like how instruments and melodies from all over the suite are played with. “Remergence” does this as well, bringing in several previous elements into a triumphant and genuinely epic conclusion. The suite ends on a suitably climactic note. It’s a decent sidelong, certainly an entertaining one, but it’s extremely clunky and makes almost no attempts to gel. I wish there was more of an overarching style or concept to tie it together at least superficially. On the very positive side, it’s a twenty minute song that doesn’t feel its length, with is ideal for any song this long.
Side two opens with the unassuming ballad about assumption, “If”, one of the bands most poignant and gorgeous songs. It takes a simple lyrical idea, a simple guitar backing and a simple solo to make a piece with absolutely no BS. It’s minimalist by Floyd standards, but ultimately better for it. Usually I prefer the more theatrical, visceral side of music, but this is one of my favorite songs of all time. Oops.
“Summer 68” switches from guitar to piano as its main conveyer of emotion, and it works marvelously. A ballad about the emptiness of a one night stand, it plays with the piano in ways that enhance the lovely melody, bringing in some trumpets for good measure. It’s a bit tonally eschew considering the lyrics and subject matter, but it’s still wonderful.
The ballads close with “Fat Old Sun”, which is pleasant if relatively uneventful. It doesn’t have the emotional punch of “If” or the musical prowess of “Summer 68”, but it’s got nice, warm vocals and production. It drags on past the point of engagement, and is probably the worst song on the album, but it’s a decent diversion.
Then we get to an oh-so-polarizing sound experiment known as “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast.” I’ve heard one person call this the greatest Pink Floyd song ever and another go on for five paragraphs about how it’s “not a song.” It starts with a guy (Alan, I guess?) discussing with himself what to have for breakfast. The sounds of him preparing breakfast are used as backing for some café-worthy music. Then some high notes fade into a tea kettle and more sounds that really, really make me feel like drinking some orange juice and eating some eggs and bacon. Speaking of bacon, the sounds of bacon frying and Alan devouring said bacon are used as backing for a calming Gilmour solo. In the final part, a piano jam walks us out of the kitchen and gets us ready to do…microbiotic stuff, possibly. More instruments slowly join in, chattering away like people at a breakfast table, playing off one another entertainingly. This climaxes in more sounds before the song winds down. For all its weirdness, I adore this song. It’s amusing, it’s inventive, it’s never boring, and more than anything it’s just relaxing. I have yet to eat breakfast with this song on loop in the background, but that sounds marvelous.
And that’s the best way to describe Atom Heart Mother: marvelous. It is a criminally underrated gem in the same vein as A Saucerful of Secrets, More and Obscured by Clouds. This is not only one of my favorite Floyd albums, but one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s more low-key and unassuming then most of Floyd’s discography, even with the theatrical suite, but it’s confident enough to make it work. It’s oddly uplifting and fun, not in spite of its slowness but because of it.
Listenability: 5/5 This album is almost dreamlike. It’s serene, calming, clever and fun all at the same time.
Themes: 5/5 There’s a suite, three emotional ballads, and atmospheric breakfast. You can’t blame them for not trying.
Lyricism: 4/5 It’s not an out-of-the-park or anything, but the ballads work extremely well in the lyrics department. They feel personal and genuine, finding a good spot between hard emotion and poetic fancy.
Diversity: 4/5 One point off for “If” and “Fat Old Sun” more or less using the same musical ideas. It’s hard for me to get bored with this album.
Resonance: 5/5 You want to be swept away in prog-orchestra splendor? We’ve got that! Want your heartstrings pulled on? We got that! And seriously, how many bands have made music that you’d want to EAT to?
FINAL RATING: 10/10 The musical equivalent of a pat on the back, brimming with serious effort, wonderful musical ideas and a listenable tone. A masterpiece.
Recommended Listening: >asking me to pick highlights on an album with five songs