1. Astronomy Domine (live)
2. Careful With That Axe, Eugene (live)
3. Set the Controls for the Heart of The Sun (live)
4. A Saucerful of Secrets (live)
6. Grantchester Meadows
7. Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict
8. The Narrow Way
9. The Grand Vizier's Garden Party
by William Egarr
Ummagumma Album Review
By William EgarrUmmagumma is one of those albums which even Floyd fans admit to hating. Many people with whom I have discussed the album have described it as "terrible," and at the very worst, "unlistenable," and even the band must admit that it is, without doubt, one of the weakest albums they have ever produced.
That isn't to say that I don't like it, because I'm one of the few Floyd fans that actually does and, before reviewing the album song by song, I would like to take a few moments to explain why that is.
Ummagumma is probably the last Floyd album still to have a little bit of the influence of Syd Barrett in it. The entire first CD/record consists of four ten minute sections in which each of the four musicians takes the limelight, playing compositions they have written with some limited backing from the rest of the band. Barrett was the main advocate of improvisation in the band, often sinking into atonal depths to create a unique atmosphere which he never really managed to reproduce on either of his solo albums, and it is nice to hear the Floyd doing something similar for what is, arguably, the very last time.
Song by song review:
SYSYPHUS (Rick Wright)
Rick Wright grabs the limelight with both hands and provides a stunning exhibition of his classical piano skills. It is a well-constructed piece which weaves its way from one point to another whilst still managing to maintain a main theme. Many people dismiss this track as rubbish because of its atonal tune, but I tend to shy away from being so judgmental; in my opinion, music doesn't have to be pleasant to listen to to be enjoyable. It is the unpleasant atmosphere which "Sysyphus" creates which makes it a good track.
GRANTCHESTER MEADOWS (Roger Waters)
Being that the song begins with almost a minute of bird song, I was expecting something along the lines of Cyrrus Minor. The song is actually a piece of descriptive narrative, with a flowing acoustic guitar line which creates the image of a riverside. The atmosphere is backed up by several choice samples, and the lyrics are well-written, if a little pretentious.
SEVERAL SPECIES OF SMALL FURRY ANIMALS GATHERED TOGETHER IN A CAVE AND
GROOVING WITH A PICT (Roger Waters)
A bizarre piece of music which would point to Roger Waters going as insane as Syd Barrett. Basically, the music sounds exactly like its title. Small creatures squeal and beat out rhythms on God-knows-what, then a mad, medieval Scottish guy croons on insanely about a battle between the Picts and the Romans. While listening to this piece always makes you feel a little uncomfortable, and while it should never have appeared on an album, it is still quite listenable just for the humour value.
THE NARROW WAY (Dave Gilmour)
Probably the best track on the album. It has more structure and tonality than the others, and allows Gilmour to showpiece his astonishing talent on the guitar. The long, drawn out opening introduction sets a haunting, somewhat uncomfortable atmosphere, before the main body of the song kicks in. The lyric is haunting, if a little pretentious.
THE GRAND VIZIER'S GARDEN PARTY (Nick Mason)
The most experimental track on the album by a long way, and therefore I am loath to criticise it as much as most people do. While anybody will concede that, by normal standards, a ten minute drum solo is a bit boring, Mason manages to do enough new things with the drums to hold the listener's attention throughout the piece. The flute solos/duets at the beginning seem an odd addition, but add a strangely haunting feel to the proceedings. All very strange, but quite listenable in its own way.
ASTRONOMY DOMINE (Syd Barrett) *LIVE*
This live performance of Astronomy Domine (without Barrett) is quite good, though it could never, ever aspire to be as good as the original. While Gilmour is technically a far better guitarist than Barrett, he shies away from improvisation much more easily, which often means that his solos sound clinical and rehearsed. The tempo is quite a lot faster, it all sounds a lot less psychedelic than it was supposed to, and Barrett doesn't do the vocals, all of which detract from it.
CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE, EUGENE (Waters, Wright, Mason, Gilmour) *LIVE*
This is a sublime tune, which lacks a little of the punch of the studio version, but is still more than listenable for all that.
SET THE CONTROLS FOR THE HEART OF THE SUN (Roger Waters) *LIVE*
Although this live version is still listenable, it doesn't even hold a candle to the original studio version. Waters' lyrics are virtually inaudible and the refrains often lean a little too much in the direction of atonality. It is also overlong.
A SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS (Waters, Wright, Mason, Gilmour) *LIVE*
Not the greatest of Floyd tracks anyway, performed adequately, but entirely ruined at the end by Gilmour's inane warbling over the top.