#211 – Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
June 30, 2013
I’ve never deliberately sat down and listened to this album before, and so was surprised to discover that I knew almost all of the songs on here. Certainly all the song titles were familiar, but the only one I thought I actually knew was the title track. I’ve always had a soft spot for that song–it’s a rare piece of heartfelt prettiness from a band best known for their sleek, obdurate art rock, and while it’s by no means a perfect song, it’s a very, very good one. I had a good old friend who used to sing it, one who has suffered his own battles with mental illness, and who I am remiss in having lost touch with. I wish he was here. I feel something in hearing this song that I don’t generally associate with hearing Pink Floyd.
The rest of the album did far less for me. I was surprised to recognize “Have a Cigar,” and liked it well enough. But the rest, from “Welcome to the Machine” to the over-long, multi-sectional synth odyssey (and titular punchline) “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” felt both bloated and stale. There’s some good measure of sonic impressiveness to it all, but it’s difficult to shake the sense of it as a disappointing sequel to Dark Side of the Moon, a tired, faintly desperate seeming rehashing of similar themes but without the perfect long-form cohesiveness that earlier work achieved. This album tries very hard to achieve the sense of a unified work, especially through the device of splitting “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” into two distinct parts on either side of the record, but it ultimately feels more scattershot and vague, filling in the spaces with long, noodley synthesizer bits. The title track further damns the attempt by providing a counternote of unexpected soulfulness that is elsewhere absent. It’s the best thing on here, but it kind of fucks with the flow, such as it is.
I gather that there exists a sentiment, including among some members of the band, that this is their best album, a more quietly perfect work than the better known behemoth that preceded it. I haven’t heard that record in a while, and am not enough of a fan to have much stake in it anyway, but upon first listen, that argument seems preposterous. It’s always tempting to take a massive album like Dark Side down a peg and call it overrated–which perhaps it is–but there’s no way that this album does it anywhere close to better. Structurally, thematically, and most importantly musically, it came across to me as a much vaguer, more ponderous outing, and one kind of lame seeming for delving so quickly back into the themes of alienation and insanity explored on the album prior. (Though really, I guess, those seem to be the big themes of every post-Barrett Pink Floyd album.) It had its moments, but the only real keeper of the bunch for me is the title track, which has so little to do with the rest of the album from a musical/soulful standpoint that it’s really best enjoyed as a freestanding anomaly.