Pink Floyd Albums, Ranked From Worst To Best
The vast majority of their albums, and the backbone of Pink Floyd’s tradition, arrived courtesy of David Gilmour, Mason, Rick Wright and Roger Waters — a lineup which, over a period from 1968-79, served as the architects of career-making moments like ‘The Dark Side of the Moon,’ ‘Wish You Were Here,’ ‘The Wall‘ and ‘Animals,’ among others. But Pink Floyd also issued a pair of ’60s-era recordings with the late Syd Barrett, including one (‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’) as a quartet with Waters, Wright and Mason and another (‘Saucerful of Secrets’) in a five-person configuration that also featured Gilmour.
Later, Pink Floyd recorded two as a trio, 1983′s ‘The Final Cut’ (with Gilmour, Mason and Waters) and 1994′s ‘The Division Bell’ (with Gilmour, Wright and Mason). They even fashioned one album after Waters’ mid-’80s departure as a duo, with only Gilmour and Mason appearing on ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason.’
But how do these 14 projects stack up against one another? We took a moment find some order in this lengthy legacy of music, ranking Pink Floyd Albums from Worst to Best …
Pink Floyd wasn't quick to discover a post-Barrett direction, trying and discarding a number of concepts after their original frontman disappeared. Here, they settled on the idea of presenting solo material -- and that only served to illustrate the concept of a sum being greater than its parts. Wright offered a four-part avant-garde keyboard suite, Waters endlessly dabbled with sound effects, and Mason unleashed nearly nine minutes of percussive noodling. Gilmour later admitted he "just bull---ted" through his piece. Really, they all did.
'More' represented a turning point more than a success story for the group, as Floyd took its very first steps without either Barrett and producer Norman Smith. We hear Waters begin to move to the fore as a songwriter, even as Gilmour handles all of the vocals for what would be the first of just two Pink Floyd albums (the other is our next entry, 1987's transitional 'Momentary Lapse of Reason'). The results, unfortunately, are more experimental than they are focused. 'More' simultaneously makes a rare foray into folk, even while (on the thundering 'Ibiza Bar') unleashing some of the band's heaviest sounds ever.
'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' (1987)
The now-departed Waters tried to sue to stop this guest-star-laden "comeback" album from happening, saying Pink Floyd was a “spent force creatively.” 'Momentary Lapse of Reason,' with its too-poppy hit single 'Learning to Fly,' too-draggy 'Sorrow' and too-familiar 'Dogs of War,' nearly proved it, too. But the dream-like 'Yet Another Movie/Round and Round' represented the best of what the remaining Floyds still had to offer, even as it provided a glimpse into the smaller successes that the reconstituted trio of Gilmour, Wright and Mason would muster for 'The Division Bell.'
'Obscured by Clouds' (1972)
This was originally conceived as a soundtrack to the French film 'La Vallée,' and -- with its series of short, incidental pieces of music -- too often plays like that, rather than as a full-fledged album effort. Still, there were important pointers to what lay ahead: 'Free Four' was one of the first songs in which Waters dealt with the death of his father, while 'Childhood's End' found Gilmour trying his hand at lyric writing for the first time. 'Wot's ... Uh, the Deal?' later became part of Gilmour's solo setlists, too.
'The Final Cut' (1983)
Originally envisioned as a soundtrack to 'The Wall' film, this didactic "band" project became a stand-alone effort when Waters became outraged over England's involvement in the early-'80s Falkland Islands conflict. By this point, Wright was already out the door, and Gilmour clearly didn't feel like fighting anymore. He had only one vocal, and a few bursts of guitar brilliance. The rest was Waters, who unleashes a series of searing diatribes on the kind of conflicts that tore his family apart -- but without the magisterial musical accompaniment that used to give them flight.
'Saucerful of Secrets' (1968)
Gilmour's first Pink Floyd album was also Barrett's last, though the five-man edition of the group only appears on Waters' darkly mysterious "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun." Elsewhere, Barrett's eerie 'Jugband Blues' appears, but only to close things out. By then, Pink Floyd had begun to frame the sound and scope of their own myth -- in particular on the expansive four-part title track. Unfortunately, that greatness is more often hinted at than achieved.
'The Division Bell' (1994)
This one plays like a long, slow exhale after the novelization of Pink Floyd on 'The Wall' and 'The Final Cut.' Sure, the songs, written without the Waters, often weren't as narratively strong. (And some, quite frankly, went absolutely nowhere.) But with Gilmour, Wright and Mason each making important contributions, 'Division Bell' nonetheless emerged as Pink Floyd's clearest group effort since perhaps 'Wish You Were Here.' And it sounded like it too, as they crafted something that recalls that album's rangy, at times almost free-jazzy, triumphs.
'Atom Heart Mother' (1970)
Mason and Waters played the entire 23-minute, side-one-encompassing, fascinatingly episodic title track in a thrilling, one-take burst of rhythm brilliance. Compositionally, 'Atom Heart Mother' was even more important -- illustrating where the band could take earlier more compact instrumental successes. It's becoming clear that 'The Dark Side of the Moon' and 'Wish You Were Here' were nearly within Pink Floyd's grasp. Too often-overlooked gems 'If' and 'Fat Old Sun,' both from Side Two, were also subsequently resurrected on solo tours by Waters and Gilmour, respectively.
'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' (1967)
The title — taken from a chapter in Barrett’s favorite children’s book, 'The Wind in the Willows' — illustrates the kind of whimsical, very British humor that Floyd's doomed and soon-departed frontman once possessed. (See the positively poppy 'Astronomy Domine,' a song which the reconstituted band opened each show with during a 1994 tour.) But, make no mistake, this isn't cutesy. Instead, 'Piper' is balanced by this friction between Syd and the band, as his hallucinogenic lyricism is met by the spacey gloom of the instrumentation — in particular in the keyboard work of Wright.
'Meddle' didn't have a very auspicious start, having evolved out of a series of experiments in musicmaking with everyday objects titled 'Nothings,' 'Son of Nothings' and then 'Return of the Son of Nothings.' Yet, in exploring so far outside of the realm of the every day, they were clearly onto something. 'One of These Days' and 'Echoes' (both featuring weirdly involving instrumental elements) became signature favorites, while an unused song evolved into 'Brain Damage' for 'The Dark Side of the Moon.' They were mere steps away from greatness.
A bracing reinvention of the Orwell theme from 'Animal Farm,' 'Animals' found Pink Floyd pushing back -- and hard -- against the looming, punk-driven idea that they had grown soft into middle age. At the time, this searing commentary on societal decay in the late-'70s couldn't have seemed more different from its predecessors. Today, it's clear that 'Animals' represents the first stirrings of Waters' more political bent (one that would dominate his recordings past his association with the group he co-founded), even as it finds Wright making his last important contributions of the Waters era.
'The Wall' (1979)
A torrent of emotion over issues of abandonment, sudden fame and isolation, 'The Wall' is Roger Waters' most personal album, his greatest individual triumph, and the stone that dragged Pink Floyd down. The early free-form psychedelic influences had finally, sadly, disappeared by '79. Floyd albums, once a series of trippy vignettes and (later on) trippy long-form themes, would transform into word-bound explorations of Waters' obsessions through his exit. That said, no rock opera has even been more celebrated -- and rightly so. 'The Wall' remains a towering achievement.
'Wish You Were Here' (1975)
It debuted at No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, and has been tabbed by both Gilmour and Wright as their favorite Pink Floyd album. Still, 'Wish You Were Here' was no 'The Dark Side of the Moon'; it never could be. And that -- as much as anything -- seems to have relegated this 1975 follow-up to a life of perpetual underrated status. It’s a pity. There isn't a more conceptually concise Pink Floyd album, nor one as musically inviting. Even as Gilmour and, in particular, Wright pushed the work into deeper, more progressive musical themes, they helped fashion the last truly collaborative studio project between Waters and his increasingly disgruntled bandmates.
'The Dark Side of the Moon' (1973)
A choice as inevitable as it is necessary, 'Dark Side' holds a talismanic importance to this band, their era and all of rock. Its endless invention -- musically, conceptually, technically -- has been dissected with the attention previous generations gave to great novels and works of art, resulting in a rainbow of conclusions echoing its bold, contemporary cover image. And for good reason. Countless listens continue to reveal new layers, as every element of the Floyd legend is crystallized in one place -- the outsized explorations of 'Meddle,' the razored commentary of 'Animals,' the fizzy instrumental flourishes of 'Wish You Were Here.' Ultimately, whether it's their best or not isn't the point. 'Dark Side of the Moon' remains definitive.
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