8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 14 May 2004
Ummagumma is seriously not an easy ride for some, especially the studio disc. For starters, the live disc is pure brilliance, and better than their studio versions, especially A Saucerful of Secrets, beautiful humming in that one. The studio album however, is incredibly brave, yet difficult. Richard Wrights efforst, are quite adequately, listenable, Roger Waters' Grantchester Meadows is rather good, though his next effort is nonsense. But the highlight of the studio album, is good ol' David Gilmour, The Narrow Way. This what promotes this album to a 4 star rating. It keeps making you put the studio album on time and time again. But Nick Masons efforts are just sheer awful, really, it is. But thats the worst it gets, so thank god its the final tracks of the album. The final verdict is that, only for fans I think, not for the average buyer thats for sure.
161 of 172 people found the following review helpful
on 16 November 2001
The word Ummagumma was a slang word for sex, now there is good sex and there is bad sex. Ummagumma certainly lives up to that for me. The package is made up of 2 CDs. The first CD is four long compositions performed live. This one disc is essential Floyd. Astronomy Domine is nothing like the versions found on 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' (Floyd's first album), 'Echoes' and 'Pulse' (the 1995 live album). There is no narration of the solar system at the beginning, just quiet keyboards. The keyboards return during the mid section of this 8.30 minute version. (Mike 'Tubular Bells' Oldfield stated that he was heavily influenced by that keyboard break, when he chose the track on BBC Radio 1's "My Top 10". Circa 1983. Listening to his 70's albums one can hear that influence).
Careful With That Axe, Eugene' is next up. At just under 9 minutes it is a very similar version as to the one found on 'Live In Pompeii' video. There is one important difference though. The scream actually gives the impression that someone is being cut into little pieces (and it's not Jimmy Young!). I love this piece and is played live by The Australian Pink Floyd Show to a rousing reception. It is a very moving instrumental which builds to a murderous mid-section and then dies away, slowly. A classic.
Another classic, and again the best official released version is found in 'Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun'. 9 minutes long here, it knocks the excellent studio version into touch.
A Saucerful Of Secrets' completes the disc. It is similar to the studio version except for Gilmour's more pronounced vocal on the 5 minute outro. (The same finale as to 'The Man and the Journey').
The studio album could have pages written about it. It was going to be an experiment using household utensils. Thankfully that idea fell apart. What was released is a right mixture of solo efforts. Firstly, Wright with his musical version of Homer's Greek character Sysyphus pushing his rock infinitely almost to the top of a hill only to let it slip roll down again. To me it is a total waste of 13 minutes. It is the sort of noise that kids would make on BBC's "Music Time". (Who remembers that programme?)
Next two gems from Waters. The beautifully serene 'Grantchester Meadows' and the very silly, but stunning 'Several Species...' A Pict being slang for a Scot. Apparently to get the full drift of the hidden messages on this one track you need to play the vinyl at 16rpm/33rpm/45rpm/78rpm backwards and forwards. Don't worry if you've only got a CD player it is still great fun. Waters contribution comes in at 12.30 minutes.
Gilmour didn't have faith in his lyrics on his 12.20 minute piece 'The Narrow Way'. His voice is deliberately hidden in the mix of part 3. So the lyrics were not printed in the booklet. However, they are easy to find on the net. OK, the lyrics aren't outstanding but they aren't bad for an early attempt. The music is good; moody and powerful if just a little chaotic at times.
8 of Mason's 8.40 minutes are, for me anyway, a waste of time. Again reminders of "Music Time". But were Led Zeppelin inspired by the flute ending on part 3 for their intro to, oh what's the name of the most popular song ever written, oh..., "Stairway To Heaven".
Don't worry that the live album is spoilt by audience noise (like Delicate Sound Of Thunder) it isn't. This was recorded in England in June '69 when the crowd gave polite, respectful silence during each track, just like on 'Yessongs' by Yes. And just like 'Yessongs' the sound quality is superb. Remember this is years before digital recording. This album is only enhanced by being remastered. Finally, great packaging (even if some photos are from the 70's) from Storm Thorgerson who worked on the original album but it is nice to refer to that vinyl to see the original presentation showing different photos and Floyd's second album in one of the mirrors on the wall.
Thanks for reading this long essay, but it is impossible to describe this double CD in only a few words.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 31 May 2011
This album still stands as a superb achievement in avant garde music. I'm listening to the studio album as I type and it could have been made yesterday. For anyone who thinks Pink Floyd started with Dark Side, they ought to realize that the best and most pioneering work they ever did was in the years before that.
I for one find the studio album stunning. There still hasn't been much music made like this with the possible exception of some of Capt.Beefheart's "Trout Mask Replica" stuff.
Granted, it takes a listen or two, but this is history in the making for the world of modern music. It's even more incredible when you consider the noises they made with the limited technology of the pre-moog days.
Buy it and be grateful! Then you'll find "Dark Side" almost tame by comparison. The band were always at their best before Roger Waters did the "McCartney" thing and became king pin. This is truly a band effort.
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2005
When I first bought this album, I didn't like it. There are only two studio songs with lyrics and at first it is certainly an uncomfortable cacophony. However, the more I listen, the more I like it. The wierdness is composed and put together with the care of a classical composer. From Richard Wright's pseudo classical piano doodlings, to the mellotron and running water interlude that lulls you into a false sense of security before the massive mellotron chord and drum-roll that sounds as though it was taken straight out of a horror film. Several species... is really the dark side of Grantchester Meadows. The Narrow Way begins with an ethereal acoustic jam and ends up as a full blown rock anthem, with Nick Mason displaying drumming of a similar standard to The Nile Song on 'More'. Then he comes into his own messing about with drum loops in the Grand Viser's Garden Party, neatly bookending this madness with a motif on the flute!
Then you have the live album to go. Astronomy Domine has a far more menacing effect than Barrett's version on the first album and the vocals at the end of A Saucerful of Secrets are a true feat, plus Nick Mason really belts those skins again on this one!!
Bands today would never realease an album like this 1) because their money-minded managers would never allow it and 2) they probably wouldn't know how anyway. True creativity in music is clearly not what it used to be.
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
This double album represents the band at a turning point in their career. Their previous official album, A Saucerful Of Secrets, had found them recovering from the trauma of losing their principal singer, songwriter and lead guitarist, and against the odds, coming up with a winner. The sci-fi leanings of Syd Barrett's Astronomy Domine had been matched with Roger Waters' compositions Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun and Let There Be More Light, and Richard Wright had contributed two whimsical pieces, Remember A Day and See Saw. Their new direction, however, was determined by the closing track in which they were given the freedom to do whatever they wanted, A Saucerful Of Secrets itself, a 12-minute epic combining four separately composed instrumental pieces, Something Else, Syncopated Pandemonium, Storm Signal, and Celestial Voices. It set the pattern for the new Pink Floyd.
The idea of this double album was to wrap up their old repertoire with a live album of stage favourites, while launching their re-invented selves with a second studio album in which each of the four members would contribute a quarter in the form of solo performances or constructions.
The Pink Floyd had already launched new material in their More Furious Madness From The Massed Gadgets of Auximenes concerts, but for the Ummagumma sets stuck to familiar material. Recordings for the live album were made at 3 locations - Bromley Technical College, Bromley Common, Kent (26 April 1969); Mothers Club, Erdington, Birmingham (27 April 1969 - a gig I attended) and the College of Commerce, Manchester (2 May 1969). The Bromley concert recording was not used whilst it appears composites from the other two appearances were edited together to form the four song track list of the Live Album. "Parts of Saucerful on Ummagumma came from the Birmingham gig, which we put together with the Manchester stuff," said Richard Wright of the process. The plan rather backfired as the Live Album proved so popular that the band were obliged to continue to play them in their sets thereafter.
The Studio Album proves the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Rick Wright's Sysyphus suite is portentous and somewhat overblown and Nick Mason's Grand Vizier's Birthday Party fares less well. Roger Waters has two pieces, of which the pastoral Grantchester Meadows is the one to which I most return, and both of which provide the lightest and most humorous touches to the record. David Gilmour asked him to write some lyrics for his own piece and Roger Waters probably did him a favour by refusing since The Narrow Way must have shown him that he could write his own lyrics as it was one of the first of a long line of work from his pen. It was either brave or indulgent for the members of the band to expose their strengths and weaknesses in this way, but it cleared the way for more fully realised work by the whole band such as 1970's ambitious Atom Heart Mother, and the superb Echoes on 1971's Meddle
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 13 April 2007
I grew up in the early 70's as these great records came out. I loved everything about them - the heavy, spacy sound, the mystique, even the look of the covers. Each LP was obsessed over and dissected. When Dark Side came out I hated it as a sell out. From the comments below I wonder whether fans still divide around that watershed. I still vastly prefer early Floyd myself, before Roger Waters developed an ego the size of Bono's and Nick Mason started collecting Ferraris. I know that most people now disagree but hey, that's fine. I would, though, utterly repudiate the 'get real' remark below. Relax, enjoy what you like and leave the rest.
This is my favorite of their albums, partly because it came out when I was 14. It's hard to recommend it on that basis because no-one can quite have the same experience of it. It was all wrapped up in the exitement of discovering a completely new music: not only Floyd but Krautrock, the Velvets etc. The records you really value at that age remain with you even if you rarely listen to them again. Though my tastes now tend more towards 'The Fantomas', I only have to hear the wonderful opening to 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' to get the authentic tingle in the spine.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In 1969 Pink Floyd was little known outside the `arty' environment of university concert halls in England. The band was regarded as an avant-garde bunch of intellectual experimenters characterised by live concerts using (for the time) big amplification and psychedelic light shows, space-age themes, jamming over extended and partly-structured musical pieces and quirky black humour. They had no `front man' and did not have, or seek, a mainstream audience or commercial presence on the airwaves. They were an `album band' whose reputation spread through the student population by word-of-mouth and through music-industry press like the Melody Maker.
"Ummagumma" (a 1960s Cambridge University slang word for sex) is the most interesting and distinctive of Floyd's pre-DSOTM albums and something of a milestone in the development of the band's experimental ideas, which led down the road to the more disciplined and structured sound of Obscured by Clouds, DSOTM and WYWH. In no way could this quirky two-disk album be described as `easy listening' but it definitely has its moments.
The two disks are completely separate in style and content. The first contains fine recordings of a live performance at Birmingham and Manchester College of Commerce in June 1969. The four tracks are:
* Astronomy Domine
* Careful with that Axe Eugene
* Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
* A Saucerful of Secrets
Each extends and deepens the studio original to around the ten-minute mark and demonstrates the band's appeal as a somewhat `out there' live act in the late 60s; moving away from straight songs to longer, more involved pieces containing sections of instrumental improvisation over insistent bass lines. Every one of these four tracks demands some listener attention and still sounds great through headphones.
The second disk is where, for some, Ummagumma falls into self-indulgence. Each of the four members of the band contributes ten minutes of their own experimental musical musings and the result is a mixed bag. The least accessible and most obscure is probably Rick Wright's piece `Sisyphus' - an instrumental realization of the classical Greek legend about the king condemned by Zeus to forever roll a large rock up a hill, only to see it roll down again, as a punishment for his hubris and deceit. The fact it found its way onto a rock album in 1969 says a lot about the music industry at the time (good and bad) because nothing like this would be tolerated in the commercially-driven environment of the 21st century.
Next up is Roger Waters with `Grantchester Meadows,' a gentle acoustic guitar ballad themed on a lazy summer afternoon complete with sound effects (Grantchester meadows is near Cambridge) and the indisputable highlight of the studio album, similar in mood and execution to `If' on Atom Heart Mother. The quirky ending has someone trying to swat a buzzing insect, ending with a satisfying final `thwack' - a classic Floyd touch from the Barrett period. It's followed by the outrageous, multi-tracked and downright silly `Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict', clever and witty and prone to induce belly laughs, especially the strong Highland dialect rant at the end (what WAS Roger smoking?).
Dave Gilmour's `The Narrow Way' (in 3 parts) follows - the final part in particular is good with a powerful minor-key melody over slow driving rhythm and restrained vocal line. Nick Mason's rather forgettable `The Grand Vizier's Garden party' concludes: instrumental and percussive, attempting to tell a story through music as with Wright's piece. It might appeal to drummers but for the rest of us, it's neither great nor memorable.
It's instructive to listen to Ummagumma 40 years on and realise how far the music industry has travelled in the intervening years. It's inconceivable that something as experimental and self-indulgent as disk two might be even contemplated by any record company in these more superficial, money-obsessive and image-driven times.
In conclusion, Ummagumma is worth buying for the live disk and, especially, for `Grantchester Meadows' and maybe `The Narrow Way' on the studio disk. Overall it's a four star album - though the live stage recordings on disk one, if released as a single disk, might on their own qualify as five-star.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 July 2004
Despite being a fan of the Floyd from very early childhood, I have to concede agreement to some of the other reveiws of this album.
However, along with Atom Heart Mother, this album helped me shape my initial musical instincts that ultimatly have lead me to a career as a muscian. It wasn't the live disk, (which lets face it, is awesome!) but the studio disk that I used to enjoy most as a kid. Pretentious, ego driven, maybe they are. But in the right circumstances, with the lights off and the mind wandering, they can be fantastic stuff. And anyway, no-matter what it sounds like, how could anyone knock a track with such an amazing title as, "Several Species of Small Furry Animals, Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict"!!! CLASSIC!
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 25 May 2001
For many years, this double LP/CD was one of the most popular albums in Pink Floyd's pre-Dark Side of the Moon output, containing a live disc and a studio disc all for the price of one (in the LP version). The live set, recorded in Birmingham and Manchester in June 1969, is limited to four numbers, all drawn from the group's first two LPs or their then recent singles. Featuring the band's second line-up (i.e. no Syd Barrett), the set shows off a very potent group, their sound held together on stage by Nick Mason's assertive drumming and Roger Waters' powerful bass work, which keeps the proceedings moving no matter how spaced out the music gets; they also sound like they've got the amplifiers to make their music count, which is more than the early band had. "Astronomy Domine," "Careful With That Axe Eugene," "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," and "A Saucerful of Secrets" are all superior here to their studio originals, done longer, louder, and harder, with a real edge to the playing. The studio disc was more experimental, each member getting a certain amount of space on the record to make their own music - Richard Wright's "Sysyphus" was a pure keyboard work, featuring various synthesizers, organs, and pianos; David Gilmour's "The Narrow Way" was a three-part instrumental for acoustic and electric guitars and electronic keyboards; and Nick Mason's "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party" made use of a vast range of acoustic and electric percussion devices. Roger Waters' "Grantchester Meadows was a lyrical folk-like number unlike almost anything else the group ever did. In 1994 the album was remastered and reissued in a green slipcase, in a version a lot louder and sharper (and cheaper) than the original CD release.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 30 October 2011
Pink Floyd's awesome qualities as a live act are brilliantly captured on the first part of this recording. "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" covers the whole gamute of the band's sonic armoury. Always atmospheric it unfolds as eerie - beautiful interplay between keyboards and guitar - then climaxes with a stunning crescendo impelled by furious percussion playing. Similar territories are explored during "Sauceful of Secrets" - the band's most ambitious composition prior to "Atom Heart Mother" and "Echoes" - and this piece concludes in a majestic finale. Fantastic stuff.
Ummagumma part two is given over to studio material wherein the band each do their own thing in turn opening with Rick Wright's "Sysyphus." A rather ponderous piece that I only enjoy listening to on a very occasional basis after making a sisyphean effort. "Granchester Meadows" by Roger Waters is a pleasant pastoral piece that is more compelling. That's followed by "Several species of Small Furry Animals..." which is a terrific and eccentric collaboration between Waters and Ron Geeson. David Gilmour's "Narrow Way" has nice guitar playing but doesn't stand up as a composition. Finally "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party" from Nick Mason has moments of nice whimsy, best visited infrequently.
So, the album drops to an overall "4 star" rating because three quarters of the studio content is lack lustre. In my view it's worth getting Ummagumma for the live material alone. The remastering really does enhance the listening experience.