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Pink Floyd, ‘The Endless River’ – Album Review

Columbia

Pink Floyd aren’t hiding the basic facts behind what will probably turn out to be their last-ever album: ‘The Endless River’ consists of leftovers from their last studio LP, 1994’s ‘The Division Bell,’ includes mostly instrumental tracks and was assembled as a tribute to keyboardist Richard Wright, who died in 2008.

So if it sounds like a collection of old outtakes at times, that’s the point. And if it has more in common with the band’s post-Syd Barrett, pre-superstardom records than the mid-’70s epics that turned on millions of headphones-wielding fans, that’s sorta the point, too.

‘The Endless River’ sounds like it was made by a band in transition. And in a way, that’s pretty much what Pink Floyd are these days, with only singer-guitarist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason left. Wright plays on these tracks, but he’s almost an ethereal spirit here, drifting above, below and alongside the songs with ghostly detachment. He gives ‘The Endless River’ its familiar qualities, but he also gives it some purpose and some of its aimlessness.

As such, don’t go into the album expecting ‘The Dark Side of the Moon,’ ‘Wish You Were Here’ or even ‘The Division Bell.’ ‘The Endless River’ is subtler, and less inviting, than that. This is not an album of songs so much as it is a collection of ambient music pieces, sculpted together from leftover fragments of a 20-year-old album that, let’s face it, is no classic.

But tracks like the opening ‘Things Left Unsaid,’ ‘It’s What We Do’ (whose synth and rhythm passages echo ‘Welcome to the Machine’) and ‘Allons-Y (2),’ which features a signature searing Gilmour guitar solo, remind fans that, before they became one of the planet’s biggest rock bands, Pink Floyd were scoring long, complex instrumental pieces for people to trip out to.

Many of ‘The Endless River”s 18 cuts are stitched together so that it all flows together as a 53-minute instrumental suite with separate sections. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always come together seamlessly. The sweeping ‘Anisina,’ a highlight, gives way to ‘The Lost Art of Conversation,’ a short, snoozy piano-based track that leads a string of similar, less-than-two-minute songs that were most likely unfinished studio fragments in their original forms. And the plodding ‘Talkin’ Hawkin’,’ which includes a sampled 1994 commercial with physicist Stephen Hawking (and is a sorta sequel to ‘The Division Bell”s ‘Keep Talking’), is more novelty than a fully formed number.

So when Gilmour’s voice cuts through the clutter on  ‘Louder Than Words,’ the closing track and the album’s only song with a lead vocal, it’s like a memory from the past, reminding us that ‘The Endless River’ is a Pink Floyd album.

But the thing is, it really isn’t. It’s more like a remix record of previously unreleased songs that just happened to be assembled by the artists who made the music. It may not be the final LP fans want from one of classic rock’s most beloved bands, but as a closing-chapter tribute to both their late bandmate and lasting legacy, it’s kinda fitting.

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