Sunday, September 6, 2020

Rethinking Atom Heart Mother After 50 Years


In the repost below, you'll find a na├»ve refusal to even listen to Atom Heart Mother. The post is from the early days of AM, but that is no excuse; I've been writing about rock music since the late 70s. In high school, I wandered around the campus shouting out the Welsh gibberish at the end of "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict," so yeah, no excuse. On the radio show and on Youtube I talked extensively about "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" as one of the first tracks with a run-off groove, so I thought it was time for another listen – ridiculous, nearly 50 years later.

2020 take: Atom Heart Mother is the culmination and a fitting finale to the band's early experimentation. While the album as a whole isn't quite as experimental as Ummagumma's studio disc, it's still the work of a band that hadn't yet figured out its direction. A younger me found this disconcerting. It made Atom Heart Mother feel inconsistent at best.

But with its orchestration and Ron Geesin’s guiding hand, its multiple suites and epic-length ensure an experience that this was practice for later, greater epics like "Echoes" and "Dogs," AHM gets far more right than wrong.

While it is unrepresentative of The Pink Floyd Sound and thus quite an oddity in their discography, Atom Heart Mother is nevertheless one of the most accomplished albums of the early 1970s, and perhaps of rock music in general. Here was the 70's in its infancy, here was the star child from 2001.

The title track, a collaboration with Geesin featuring the John Aldiss Choir, is an extended suite for band, brass and choir that screams concert hall rather than rock record. It could easily be sidelined as one of the numerous rock/classical crossover project of the time, a prog-rock experiment gone awry, if it wasn't so convincingly executed; you can't even tell to what extent it's taking itself seriously, and how much of it is tongue-in-cheek. It's that good. The title track was the most ambitious and artistic venture the band had laid to vinyl. At 23 minutes long, and divided into six movements, the suite is a sonic adventure, leaving one's mind effectively blown, as they'd say, at the end. In between the title track and Alan’s breakfast, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, and Richard Wright write and play their own tracks, something that would ebb with their next offering as songwriting control shifted to Waters (more regrettably with each subsequent effort – I can hear the horror of your responses already, but honestly, is The Final Cut a Floyd LP or a Waters solo?).

Roger Waters impersonates a mentally rather unstable person on the chilling "If," which sends shivers down my spine every time he requests that no one put their wires into his brain.

Rick Wright's "Summer 68" is a more upbeat, piano-heavy track, somewhat anticipating his songs on Meddle and Obscured by Clouds, almost catchy and poppy, while David Gilmour's excellent "Fat Old Sun" continues musically where he left Ummagumma's "The Narrow Way," and just another sublime guitar solo, to boot.

"Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast,” PF’s venture into comedy is dang funny, and sound engineer Alan Parsons' mumbling about toast and marmalade fits succinctly into the bizarre atmosphere laid out by the other tracks.

Okay, this time around, I'm sold. 

1 comment:

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