Thursday, July 30, 2020

Ummagumma - A Lesson in Mid-Floyd

Ummagumma is that turning point between Syd's Pink Floyd (Piper and Saucerful) and Meddle. In a band like Yes, there is that iteration, from The Yes Album through Going For the One, that stands as the group's canon, with none of the rest of it really Yes. For Pink Floyd, though, there were two ensembles that co-exist: the Syd Barret years and beyond.
Even with David Gilmour, the band that began as The Pink Floyd Sound had no real direction after Syd was whisked away to Wonderland. They'd made film scores for More and Zabriskie Point, which they shared equally with odd bedfellows The Grateful Dead, though unlike The Dead, the soundtracks showed Pink Floyd floundering. Nonetheless, the PF track “The Violent Sequence,” would later become “Us and Them” on Dark Side of the Moon.

Ummagumma was released during that period as the first Harvest label LP. The album falls neatly into two parts: record one, a live recording (The Mother Club, Birmingham, 1969), and record two, a studio effort with half an album-side devoted to each of the four members. The live tracks are reworkings of the core material of the first two LPs in a bluesy style, interspersed with spaced-out movements that suggest what was coming next. "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" and "A Saucerful of Secrets" are the definitive versions of these early year songs. And, of course, there's the haunting "Careful With That Axe, Eugene."

The solo efforts are Richard Wright's "Sysyphus " (sic), a puzzling keyboard workout charting the Sisyphus myth replete with falling rock in an avant-garde tone poem.
Roger Waters' "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathering Together and Grooving With a Pict" is an experimental spaced-out drug experience, I guess; at any rate, it's just what the title promises and my fave on the LP. "Grantchester Meadows" is little more than Waters sitting in a wheat field strumming an acoustic guitar, getting high. Fair enough.

David Gilmour's "The Narrow Way" is the closest the studio disk comes to a standard bluesy Floyd song, and Nick Mason's "Grand Vizier" is a mixture of flutes and odd percussion that ends in a seven-minute drum solo. It is the lease inspired track on the LP. It's awful, actually.

The cover art by Hipgnosis is the last depiction of the band on an LP cover and is done utilizing the Droste Effect, kind of like when a mirror is reflected in a mirror, an illusion named for the Droste cocoa can. The other famous branding that utilizes the Droste Effect is Land O Lakes. What's different on Ummagumma is that the band members change positions with each iteration. The original cover is depicted below with the Broadway musical soundtrack, Gigi, leaning against the wall. This was airbrushed out for copyright infringement on later versions of the LP, only to return with the reissue.

Ummagumma is a lesson in Floyd, a survey of where they'd been and where they were going. Here's another lesson. It's Ummagumma, like the u in Gum, sometimes. Waters has said it both ways; Mason said it like the OO in zoom. So, IDK?

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