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Floyd in search of direction
on 1 November 2005
The patchwork nature of "A Saucerful of Secrets" reveals a band in a quandary over the mental demise of their erstwhile frontman, Syd Barrett. Roger Waters hadn't yet seized the role of band visionary, but did contribute three songs to Rick Wright's two.
As on their debut album, Pink Floyd journeyed into space, but whereas Barrett's space twinkled with cosmic explosions, the Barrett-less Floyd probed darker, silent, barren reaches. Take the title-track, at over ten minutes the album's centrepiece. "Interstellar Overdrive" it isn't. Much of it consists of keyboard drones punctuated by vaguer sounds that give it an eerie quality. A middle section featuring a tumbling drum pattern breaks it up, but overall the track is an example of style over substance. For me, it is partly successful, intriguing but not breathtaking.
Of Waters' songs my favourite is the first, "Let There Be More Light", though after the lively opening bass riff the slow, deliberate chant of the verse reveals that the band have lost some of their lustre. "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" seems to be widely popular, but is not one of my favourites, its hypnotic melancholy being a little too long and repetitive. "Corporal Clegg" by contrast makes you sit up, if rather uncomfortably.
I like both of Wright's songs. Barrett's lingering presence flickers across "Remember A Day", courtesy of his distinct guitar contribution. This is another eerie track, though Wright is these days embarrassed by it. "See-Saw", with its flowery explosions of sound is perhaps the one song that wouldn't sound out of place on "Piper".
The last word goes to Barrett with his "Jugband Blues". Ironically, his clipped diction ("It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here") has never been more lucid on record. But of course he has to leave the scene with a pointed, unresolved moment ("And what exactly is a joke?").
"A Saucerful of Secrets" is an album I return to occasionally, often to remind myself of the title track. Odd and mysterious.