"The Endless River," Pink Floyd's final studio effort, is billed as a celebration and insight into the work of Rick Wright, but presents a four-part suite that is musically as complete and thrilling a summation as any of Pink Floyd’s half-century journey, a journey now punctuated by this unusual, but nonetheless welcome, final chapter from David Gilmour, Nick Mason and the posthumous Richard Wright.
The four different suites (or “sides,” aptly named since the album is available on double vinyl) take from decades of old material — primarily unreleased instrumental sessions from "The Division Bell" era — to produce a new, yet intimately familiar piece of work for fans. The musical jokes and allusions pull from every corner of Floyd’s catalogue: “Skins” features a pulse-pounding drum beat that echoes passages from "A Saucerful of Secrets," while the duo “Allons-y” tracks feel like a fresh take on "The Wall’s" “Run Like Hell.”
There is plenty of room for these explorations, with the 18-track EP clocking in at a short and sweet 53 minutes. Many of the tracks forsake traditional song structures in favor of melodic meandering, but the impact of hearing the omnipresent Floyd synergy in full bloom is unmistakable. Even if it’s not the greatest Floyd songwriting — which left with Waters in the '80s — "The Endless River" still serves as a top-tier album of ambient music even when divorced from context.
With some context, though, and a disclaimer, this album is not for casual listeners, or for the fanatical purists who rant and rave about Waters’s departure (or worse yet, still fawn over Syd Barrett’s withdrawal over four decades ago).
"The Endless River" is for those fans who get Pink Floyd, who are moved on a profound level by the music, regardless of its origin. This is for the old generation of white bearded old folks who fondly recall opening up "Meddle" for the first time or watching Floyd’s laser show on the water in 1989. This is also for the new generation of Floyd fans, like myself, who were born in a world where Pink Floyd was irrevocably done releasing studio albums. All of these people will find a package that is more than a throwaway collection of demos, but instead a holistic appreciation and examination of Pink Floyd’s full oeuvre.
Ironic as it may be, the final song on the album, “Louder than Words” is the only one with any vocals — and it proves its own point to painful effect. The lyrics, written by Gilmour’s wife Polly Samson, are among the worst in Floyd’s catalog, and contribute nothing except the bucolic assertion that music (and particularly, Pink Floyd) is something special, ethereal or a force greater than the sum of its parts.
Of course, this is already common knowledge to everybody who enjoys music. The corny sentiment leaves a very uncomfortable aftertaste and a deep feeling of being underwhelmed, considering this is the very final musical and lyrical statement from the legendary act. The release is new, yet the production, sound and performance is classic Pink Floyd — that is, outstanding in every way. Gilmour’s soaring, scorching guitar, in peak form balances the sincere melodies and formidable final chords from the always genuine Richard Wright — a revealing example of Pink Floyd’s sonic power after half a century, lyrical gaffe notwithstanding.
But when these three legends drop the lyrical troubles, cease trying to "write an album" and simply focus on what they do best, the results are superb. It’s hard to recommend this album to Floyd newcomers, but to hardcore fans and music appreciators alike, consider "The Endless River" an early Christmas present from the other side of that titular body of water.
Send the repoter your thoughts on the album through the endless river that is the Internet at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @OnlyH_man