Aside from a couple of strategically placed spoken-word samples, these striking lyrics make up the first sung vocals to appear on the recently released, and highly anticipated, Pink Floyd album The Endless River. If the words themselves do not immediately pique the interest of even the most casual listener, they are certainly made all the more notable in that they appear nearly 45 minutes deep in the musical experience, a lengthy stretch of ambiance even for the sonically expansive, technically proficient prog-rock masters that are Pink Floyd. On an album largely obsessed with themes dealing in the necessity of maintaining and improving communication in our shared human experience — indicated by song titles such as “Things Left Unsaid”, “The Lost Art of Conversation”, and “Louder Than Words” — this relative absence of lyrical content may seem to be paradoxical, even hypocritical. A sparseness of singing is certainly the chief complaint I have heard from others regarding Pink Floyd’s first — and supposedly final — offering in over 20 years. However, to assume the decision by the band to relegate vocals to a specific and climactic moment is rooted in anything other than deliberate intent would be a mistake.
With these lyrics — which come during the final track of River, the aforementioned “Louder Than Words” — one might be tempted to assume guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour has indicted global society as a whole, expressing in clear and simple terms the root of our animosity, conflict, and miscommunication with one another. While this may not be a poor or even wholly incorrect interpretation, especially considering the often intentionally ambiguous and open nature of music and lyrics, it is not indicative of the imagery and meaning that was immediately conjured in my mind.
During my first experience of the album, I had been toying with the idea that The Endless River seemed to perhaps be not only a swan song for the group (which has been stated by Gilmour in interviews) but also perhaps an extension of the proverbial olive branch, a way of resolving and seeking closure for their occasionally tumultuous past and history. Anyone even casually familiar with the story of Pink Floyd is certainly aware of the bitter and lengthy rift between former bass guitarist and vocalist Roger Waters and the rest of the group. In fact, when the announcement for this album was made official in April earlier this year, Waters was quick to distance himself by publicly and loudly reminding all of us that he had no input or involvement in this Pink Floyd offering (we know, Roger…we all know). So, it is not a stretch to believe that “this thing we do” refers to the career and history of Pink Floyd itself, and that the lost art of communication which Gilmour laments could be speaking of the toxic communication between the members, each other and Waters.
The argument that this swan song is also a last rights of sorts, a pleading for reprieve from the suffering of past sins, exists wordlessly throughout the rest of the album, as well. With The Endless River, the entire history and lifespan of Pink Floyd passes before our eyes, as the instrumental journey retraces steps from notable points throughout their storied career, from the early Syd Barrett days, to towering achievements such as Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, all the way through this album’s now 20 year old predecessor, The Division Bell. As dearly departed keyboardist Richard Wright’s contributions — Wright tragically succumbed to a battle with cancer in 2008 — were largely culled from unused improvisations recorded during the Bell sessions, one might expect to hear some similarities to that album. However, when we come across echoes of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” in “It’s What We Do”, saxophone and guitar/synth interplay reminiscent of moments on Dark Side during “Sum” and “Skins”, and even the grandeur and ostentatious choral splendor of The Wall on “Allons-Y”, this album’s exploration and homage to their past cannot be mistaken for anything other than deliberate, meaningful soul-searching and self-appraisal. This is the work of aging artists gaining a newfound wisdom, and looking back to dissect and lay to rest the wreckage of their turbulent past. After all, this Life, this thing we all do, is bigger than each of us as individuals.
What, then, to make of the album’s title itself? The Endless River. Given the smooth, languid flow of the album as well as the fluid pace of the musical journey we as listeners experience, the title seems fitting enough. But how do we reconcile what has been indicated by Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason to be their final output as this band with a titular reference towards eternity? My feeling is that this album is intended to mark Pink Floyd’s departure from this, our physical reality, into the afterlife, so to speak. The endless river could refer to something along the lines of the river Styx, which in Greek mythology forms the boundary between and connects Earth and the Underworld. The endless river is the universe itself, the primordial ether from which all things spring and to which all things return. Fitting, then, that Pink Floyd have chosen to sail into the great unknown by embracing and reconciling every part of themselves, so that their entrance into eternity comes from a state of weightless innocent bliss, just as we all “are” when we come to be.
One can only hope we all have such a sublime and restorative opportunity at our own end, to rejoin the universe in shimmering ecstatic motion as pure, immaculate light and water…
Do you agree with these musings? Feel as though something warrants further exploration? Am I completely full of shit and do I need to clean out my ears?! Sound off in the comments!
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