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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Pink Floyd

Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd

Review by Gary Hill

Best of compilations are always a mixed bag. Certainly what one person considers the best, someone else might think of as “eh.” And with a group like Pink Floyd that’s such an album based band it’s hard to take individual tracks from the whole disc and expect it to hold up as well. In answer to that complaint they did a nice job of segueing these pieces into one another to make it feel like all of them may have originally been released in this format. All in all, this is quite a good compilation. It makes a great way to jump start a Pink Floyd collection – or to get a different feel for the songs we know so  well from the albums taken in this new context. Please note that  since I already reviewed a number of these songs on their respective albums I've used or modified those reviews here for the sake of consistency.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
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.

See Emily Play
Another early Pink Floyd piece, this is a psychedelic freak out. At times it’s catchy, and yet there’s some spaceyness and real strangeness. There are some seriously cool segments in the soaring space segment. 
The Happiest Day of Our Lives
A helicopter and an angry voice lead this off and they jump out into a pounding, dramatic and yet understated arrangement. This basically serves as a break between the two sections of “Another Brick in The Wall.”

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Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)
This (in one form or another) is a track that got a lot of airplay. This rocks out quite well.
Echoes
Now, this is space rock at its finest. Starting with a spacey chirping sound, this builds very gradually. Eventually we get a soft spoken vocal line and the tracks continuing upward movement intensifies. Further down the road they fire out into some killer jamming. The guitar wails while the rhythm section chugs along. Around the half way mark, this massive beast weighs in at over fifteen minutes, this great instrumental section gives way to pure space. After a time this drops back even further than the opening chirps.  A different melody rises up gradually after a while. This grows upward for a time until it takes us back to the vocal segment we heard earlier and then the track grows again in much the same way. Eventually this moves out into an almost jazzy progression. If you’ve ever heard the old Dark Side of the Moon Wizard of Oz thing, I’ve never really thought that worked all that well. There is a related one, though – and as far as I’m concerned it’s amazing. Get a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cue it up to the “Jupiter and Beyond” title card and press play on that just as you start this track – of course, you’ll want to shut the sound off for the movie. Prepare for a great ride. This is an exceptional piece of music – one of my favorites from the Floyd – with or without the eye candy of the movie.
Hey You
Now, here’s one of the coolest tracks on  the Wall disc. A dramatic and very typical Pink Floyd acoustic driven ballad-like motif starts it off. This reminds me quite a bit of something from Wish You Were Here. They bring it up after a time, but still not to the bombast that permeates so much of this set. No, instead they keep it mellower and more dramatic for the next verse. Then when they do scream out it’s in one of the coolest riffs of the entire Wall album. This track is classy and classic. When they shift back out to the balladic it’s with a new energy and vitality. This gives way to a more cinematic mellow movement and then more of the Wish You Were Here sounds.
Marooned
This is an instrumental that seems to me to reinvent some of the Dark Side of the Moon melodies at points in its length. I definitely hear “Us and Them” in the progression that makes it up. We get some tasty guitar soloing, but also some nice keyboard work. It’s a strong number that keeps growing steadily upward.
The Great Gig in the Sky
The motif that leads us off here is a mellow, rather bluesy one – classic Pink Floyd, really. We get an old-timer talking in the background. When the gospel singer wails over this it’s one of the moments of Dark Side of the Moon that I personally regard as weak. I just think the performance goes way over the top at times and I could have lived without that portion of the disc. They work through several variations of the musical themes, but this woman just does not stop. She drops back after a time, but keeps on going, wailing even in the backdrop.
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
In some ways I think of this as an earlier, more psychedelic version of “Echoes.” It has a similar spacey quality and gradual building pattern. I can even hear similarities in the melody. This is dramatic and trippy. Of course, this is considerably shorter in length.
Money
Since this was the first track of the second side of the original LP of Dark Side of the Moon it doesn’t continue (like the earlier tracks on that album) where they left off. Instead the sound of a cash register leads us off and then Roger Waters’ bass guitar enters to carry the track. This is another classic Pink Floyd track that really lives up to it. It’s always been a favorite of mine despite being one of the most played numbers on that album.  This also includes a killer saxophone solo. It’s one of the hardest rocking jams of Dark Side… and is just incredible.
Keep Talking
This has got a killer classic Pink Floyd musical texture. The words from Stephen Hawking are a nice touch. This is without question the high point of the Division Bell CD. It rocks out quite well and features some of the tastiest guitar soloing from Gilmour on that entire disc. This feels a lot like Animals. There is also a tasty keyboard solo on this. The female backing vocals call to mind a different era of the band, though than Animals. If you needed more evidence of a link to that album, though, we get some talk box guitar.
Sheep
A long one, coming in at over 10 minutes, this is the most dynamic cut on the Animals album. Amidst the sounds of sheep grazing in the background a Fender Rhodes plays a rather rocking melody. As this continues a bass line, much like the one in "One of These Days" (appropriate as this cut is about sheep waiting to be lead to slaughter) comes gradually in, then moves to the fore. The track shifts abruptly to a hard-edged segment with the words "Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away." This rocks out harder and more ominously than anything else on that disc. It drops to a more atmospheric jam that calls to mind Wish You Were Here before jumping back up in intensity. After an extended jam it drops back to more weirdness, this time accompanied by the sounds of sheep and what can best be described as a spoken (I guess you could call it that) "Sheep's Prayer.” As the number resolves forth from there it is transformed, becoming frantically charged and extremely powerful. The ending segment here is incredibly strong! 
Sorrow
Much of this song has a bombastic (albeit understated) texture that feels like it really could have been an outtake from The Wall. There is one mellower and moodier section of vocals and a dramatic spacey instrumental placed in the midst of this.
Disc 2
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-7)
This is an epic piece from the Wish You Were Here album. It grows very gradually, starting in extremely sedate territory. At around the four minute mark the motif that began this falls away and we get a false ending. Then a new melody comes in and rises tentatively up. The percussion brings it all to the fore and we’re in the first really rocking motif of the piece. This is also the first part to feature vocals – albeit after some instrumental excursions without them. During the midst of this non-vocal foray we get a considerably tasty guitar solo and some nice keyboard showings, too. When they shift back out into instrumental territory after the vocals we get a great saxophone solo. This movement takes it to a false ending and then they rebuild this with a dramatic bass line serving as the backdrop for the next instrumental journey. They turn into seriously hard rocking music after a while, with a great guitar scream. Eventually it moves out to the main melody line and we get another section of vocals to bring it all back in. There are moments of this that remind me a lot of Dark Side of the Moon
Time
The cacophony of bells and clanging that opens this as an alarm clock should wake just about anyone. In some ways we might need it to bring us back to the forefront after the psychedelic elements that preceded it. The rhythm section of the band weave an intriguing soundscape as this carries forward. On the one hand they work within the template of a ticking clock. On the other they expand upon and reinvent this texture into a powerful piece of music. The rest of the band join after a time and we’re off with a rocker. David Gilmour gives us a killer guitar solo later in the track.
The Fletcher Memorial Home
This has a dramatic and theatric approach and feels like a lot of the music from The Wall. This piece moves through a number of changes, and it’s OK, but rather forgettable. If there is a track that I’d say doesn’t belong on this set, it would be this one. 
Comfortably Numb
Here’s another of the band’s hits. It’s a dramatic and lush slower piece. There is a hypnotic quality to this music, which is fitting when you consider the lyrics.
When the Tigers Broke Free
This track was originally released at the time of The Wall, but it didn’t make that album. I think it was sort of a sequel (or perhaps prequel) to it and came out as a mini-LP single. I had it and loved this track, but when I got rid of my turntable when it died, I got rid of the record. Symphonic and dramatic, this is a great piece of music. It seems related to the closing music from The Wall, but is also more evocative and powerful.
One of These Days
Here’s another Pink Floyd classic. Coming from atmosphere bass guitar enters tentatively and then starts a frantic pattern. Keys come over the top as they start to build this up. This moves along in this way for a while and then a weird echoing pattern takes it. A distorted voice comes over and says, “One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces” and they launch out into a more potent jam based on the earlier themes. 
Us And Them
A song that points up the futility and irrationality of war (and other societal woes), much of this is in the form of a slow moving, jazzy groove. They power it up for a more intense interpretation of the musical themes at points. This is a track that’s both great and thought provoking. This includes some exceptional piano work. There is also a tasty saxophone solo.
Learning to Fly
Here we get one of the more well known tracks off the Momentary Lapse of Reason disc. It fires out with the distinctly heavy David Gilmour dominated Pink Floyd sounds. It’s slow moving but also quite potent. They drop it mid-track to an ambient section laced with sound clips of radio traffic. Then it comes back to the song proper after a short burst of a guitar solo.
Arnold Layne
We get another from the psychedelic era of the band. If there were two tracks I’d leave off the set, this would be the other one. It’s a decent enough piece, just too pop oriented. I guess it was a big hit for the band, though – so from a historical point of view it should be here. 
Wish You Were Here
This is another Pink Floyd classic. It’s essentially a balladic number, but when you talk Pink Floyd it’s seldom that simple. This is a great piece of music that’s rather bluesy and has hints of folk rock. There’s a cool instrumental section that’s very prog rock based, but somehow manages to play up the bluesy side of the cut at the same time. 
Jug Band Blues
Another from the early period of the band, the “song” part of this is very psychedelic and Beatles-like. When it moves out into weirdness later, though, this is far stranger than anything that band ever released. 
High Hopes
This is moody and pretty and very definitely Pink Floyd all the way. 
Bike
Here is fun pop type early Pink Floyd 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 a 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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