Pink Floyd - Atom Heart Mother
The Floyd's most inscrutable album.
Pink Floyd is a strange band. A very strange band. The type of band that when you listen too them, you shake your head and go "How did they ever manage to persuade their record label to actually release this stuff?" No, don't take that as a dig against Pink Floyd, because I'm not slamming them. I've listened to them for years, love their work, but some of their records it's amazing that any major record label would let a rock band be so damned experimental with their work.
ATOM HEART MOTHER, along with the studio/live UMMAGUMMA, is the premier example of Pink Floyd at their most experimental, and, dare I say it, obtuse. For the general consumer, this album is impenetrable, and you won't play it that much if at all. A lot of Pink Floyd albums are comprised of only a few songs, some of which take up the majority of the playing time. This is one of those albums. AHM is over 50 minutes long, with only five tracks. And why is that?
Well, the title cut is a 23:44 minute instrumental, with Pink Floyd backed by a symphony. For my money, this is probably the band's best instrumental track pre-DARK SIDE, and the symphony works quite well with the band's sound. The music is very memorable, and for classical music fans, there is a lot to sink your teeth into. For bootleg fans, there's some recordings of the band going thru the instrumental without the orchestra that is apparently of interest. Overall, however, the general listener may find it rather difficult to get thru all 23 minutes, especially as the middle section drags for those less then sympathetic to progressive rock. Still, the main instrumental section that begins the track is some of my favorite rock/orchestra work of all time.
The next three tracks are the easily the most accessible for regular rock fans. The songs are concise, and have a rather folky feel to them that listeners unfamiliar with their pre-1973 music may find rather strange coming from this band. "If" is a great Roger Waters song that is part of the acoustic singer/songwriter creed or way of life, and lyrically would have fit in well with DARK SIDE, THE WALL, or any of those bitter dark records. It's one of those "my world is awful, life sucks, I'll write a song about it" tracks, which is good because Waters excels with melancholy material. "Summer `68" starts out slow but then becomes pretty fast tempo. "Fat Old Sun", a David Gilmour track, is nothing to write home about, but is passable.
Then we get to the absolute nadir of the Pink Floyd Catalogue. "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast." Imagine almost 14 minutes of mostly sound effects of a guy walking around, cooking breakfast, eating, etc. Inane. While Pink Floyd showed themselves quite capable of using sound effects on a recording to enhance the song ("Money", almost all of DARK SIDE, parts of ANIMALS and THE WALL), here there is no song. It's sound effects and studio engineering simply for the sake of -- who knows why they did this. There was no need to issue such a recording (one hestitates to call it a proper "song", per say) on one of the major albums. It's a B-side recording . . . if that. Better to leave it in the vaults. It would be unimaginable that a record company would issue anything like this on one of their new albums today, let alone a recording that takes up so much time on the album. Sadly enough, there are a few portions of actual music in "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" that, had they cut all the breakfast part, would have resulted in a very nice instrumental that would have been a great way to end the album. That would also free of running time so they could have some shorter songs on the record as well.
Interestingly enough, if you look at bands like Pink Floyd (Rush is another example) with such obtuse, impenetrable records like this issued in the early 1970s (though Rush started in mid to late 1970s), but the 1980s and 1990s, their records have totally changed, with more songs per album and without the insane running times. There's no way a band these days could issue an album as obtuse and as difficult to get into in today's market.
The best thing about the album is the cover, designed by Storm Thorgerson. (Storm did all of Pink Floyd's album covers, as well as a lot of work for other rock artists. Very famous. Recent work includes the cover for Audioslave's LP). Without a doubt, this is one of Storm Thorgerson's all time best album covers. The picture of the cow is so wonderfully strange it fits the album to a tee, and appropriately enough has absolutely nothing to do with the music inside. That, along with the strange title, tells you this is not one of those normal records of popmusic or Mama and Daddy's Gospel Hour, but some far out stuff indeed. It's also notable this is the first album released by a major label that does have the band featured on the record sleeve.
Overall, ATOM HEART MOTHER is one of those records purely for the Pink Floyd fans and progressive rock fans. No one else will bother, which is sad as the first four songs are rather good, as well as the musical portions of the abominable "Breakfast".