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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Pink Floyd

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Review by Gary Hill

While we were working to assemble this issue the word came out about the death of Pink Floyd founder (and famed recluse) Syd Barrett. It seemed appropriate, especially since one of the themes this time around was the 1960's, to have a look at the only full album Barrett created with the band. The band at this time were heavily immersed in a psychedelic pop euphoria that they tempered with their own version of space music that was often manifested in extended (and sometimes seemingly aimless) jams. I have to say that I doubt the entirety of this will appeal to a lot of people these days, but there is enough solid material to make it worth the time. When you add in the historical importance of this disc, it seems like it should be a "must have" in a lot of rock collections. Rest in peace, Syd Barrett - your memory will always live on with your music.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at

Track by Track Review
Astronomy Domine
Echoey distorted voices start this off, then a somewhat dissonant spacey guitar sound enters and creates a driving rhythmic pattern. The cut takes on serious psychedelic elements as the vocals enter and this becomes a quirky, trippy, spaced out cut with definite pop aspirations. After running through like this for a time it drops to ambient tones and seems on the verge of turning into a space jam. Instead the bluesy, but odd guitar returns and then the group launch into an acid drenched instrumental procession. The voices from the intro return, like the sounds of mission control on this space mission. The guitar shows signs of classic rock and roll and even surf music, but still infused and overloaded with spacey elements of psychedelia. As this resolves into the stream of consciousness sort of vocal section later it shows the most elements of what would later become known as the band's trademark sound.
Lucifer Sam
The texture of this one, a surf music, secret agent man type of sound is pretty cool. After this introduction (my favorite part of the piece) a more standard (at least for this period of the band) verse chorus arrangement takes over. The intro returns as a recurring instrumental break. Later on, they take this into an incredibly dramatic instrumental progression that's full of intriguing characteristics. This one is really a highlight of the album.
Matilda Mother
A more contemplative sound this one is sort of a Pink Floyd styled ballad. It turns faster paced and quirky later, but the early segments ooze with that early Pink Floyd acid soaked mellow sound. While overall this song doesn't do too much for me, the Eastern tinged jam later on with the whispering over the top is quite effective. I also rather like the lilting psychedelic lullaby texture that serves as the outro.
Floyd in those days were prone to some serious weirdness and this opens with some of that dark, textural strangeness. It changes quickly to a really weird cheerful sound. This is just a bit on the "too odd" sound for me, and frankly feels a bit like Spinal Tap's "The Flower People" from my standpoint. When it moves out into the expansive, but rather meandering instrumental segment, it does pull the track upward a bit, though.
Pow R. Toc H.
Well, if the last cut started with weirdness, this one is fully immersed in it. It has an odd tribal texture in the early sections - feeling a bit like a strange Monty Python take on Native American rituals. The thing is, once this goes away it moves out into an evocative and extremely effective piano solo backed with kettledrum sounds. At between a minute and a half and two minutes in, though, this shifts back into mayhem with spacey instrumentation and a return of the voices from the introduction. This one seems to me to suffer a bit in terms of comprehension these days. I attribute that to the fact that the audience who this was directed towards was known to have a lot more chemical alteration of their perceptions than is common today.
Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk
This is a quirky and fun garagey sort of rocker. It has a definite roots rock and roll feel to it along with a healthy dosage of early Who and the Kinks. They eventually dissolve this one out into a spacey jam that's pretty cool, though, even though a bit chaotic. I'd look at parts of this segment as Pink Floyd plays The Doors. While sometimes the band's free-form space explorations could be a little hard to take, this one has enough structure to keep it cohesive. It's an excellent example of how these things can work.
Interstellar Overdrive
This comes in with a hard rocking sort of 1960's texture. The group work through a pretty standard progression of this motif. The thing is the guitar soloing that comes overtop as this carries on is anything, but standard. It is crunchy and a little dangerous. The track starts to transform from this point, too, moving gradually toward a free form hypnotic form of consciousness altering sounds. There isn't a lot of reason to this, instead working through on instinct. Then it drops to atmospheric elements as it moves even further into space. Once again, I'd think that drug usage might be of assistance in appreciating the more "freaked out" sections of this cut. This thing really does get extremely weird in the course of its nearly ten-minute course of trippy space.
The Gnome
This is the most playful, '60's pop psychedelia on the whole disc. It's catchy and fun, but not all that exciting.
Chapter 24
This one reminds me of some of the more tripped out music that the Beatles did. It's cheery and catchy, but yet has enough of an artistic, psychedelic tone to give it a bit of a bite.
Percussion begins this in odd patterns and carries it for a time until keyboards join in. This is another of the odd Barrett psychedelic pop music.
The album closer is another fun pop type track. This has just enough weirdness to make it interesting, but yet it's still catchy. I'd have to say that of this type of track, this is one of my favorites of the group's output. They move it out into another spacey random sounding excursion later. Overall this one is quite effective at combining the two main textures the band were working with at the time. It makes for a satisfying conclusion.
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