Where are 'The Nile Song', 'Free Four', 'Careful With That Axe Eugene', and 'Several...
Chris Jones 2002
The first Pink Floyd compilation in 20 (yes, 20) years is, undoubtedly, a landmark in any major record company's calendar. With Christmas soon upon us, it's only right and proper that EMI should be foisting these psychedelic gems on us one more time. With all the old Floydian guns brought to bear - the sleeve design by Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis with its multitudinous references to past glories (how many can you spot?), massive multimedia marketing campaign and, as a bonus, the tracks sewn together with a slew of nifty new sound effects - how can this fail to please?
All the usual suspects are here with a few glaring omissions and several quite brave choices. Guitarist David "don't call me Dave" Gilmour has already stated his disappointment that the democratic method of selection left out "Fat Old Sun" from Atom Heart Mother, and one can't help but feel that the Floyd's more experimental years (1968-70) have been passed over in favour of safer numbers. Where are "The Nile Song", "Free Four", "Careful With That Axe Eugene", and "Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict"? OK the last one was a joke and these are minor quibbles when we get such treats as Syd Barrett's swansong - the haunting "Jugband Blues" with its poignant self portrait of desolate alienation - and the title track itself, the lovely "Echoes" with its frankly quite funky middle eight.
What brings these tracks back to life after so long at the back of our record collections is the way they've been segued in non-chronological order, creating startling new contexts and contrasts. "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" never sounded lovelier oozing out of "The Great Gig In The Sky". Yet the methodology also has its failings. The fact remains that everything recorded by The Pink Floyd in the 20 years since A Collection Of Great Dance Songs has never lived up to what went before. How could it with the band in a state of slow disintegration? Tracks from The Final Cut and A Momentary Lapse Of Reason sound, in turn lumpen, cynical or just lacking in imagination. Undoubtedly, Gilmour's finest work from this period was always his session work for others and "Learning To Fly" really can't compare to "Us And Them".
Ultimately, however, with the entire album bookended by the first and last tracks of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, the listener is reminded that for at least half of their career this band were truly sonic pioneers. Completing a transition from swinging space cadets to multi-platinum monsters - this album tells the whole story, crazy diamonds and all.