The title of Pink Floyd‘s 15th — and, if singer-guitarist David Gilmour is to be believed, final — studio album, The Endless River, is taken from a line in “High Hopes,” the closing song on the band’s last full-length effort, 1994’s The Division Bell. The connection is deliberate, as the basic tracks for this LP were fashioned from more than 20 hours of exploratory jams recorded by Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason and now-deceased keyboardist Richard Wright during the Division Bell sessions. The result is that River is not so much a collection of songs as it is a grouping of ambient, mostly instrumental pieces, outfitted with overdubs and loosely arranged into four movements.
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The album is characterized by a deliberate pace and a sound that is all soft edges — at moments, the music approaches New Age territory. Still, it’s a gripping, varied effort. Several pieces emphasize Wright’s keyboards; others afford ample sprawl for Gilmour’s liquid guitar leads. There are also nods to the band’s own history: “It’s What We Do” borrows the spacey synths and chord progression from “Welcome to the Machine,” while “Allons-y (1)” and “Allons-y (2)” are propelled by a “Run Like Hell”-style guitar figure.
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And though the lyrics to the one Gilmour-sung track, the elegiac “Louder Than Words” (“We bitch and we fight…”), seem intended as a Pink Floyd summation, the absence of co-founder Roger Waters keeps the song from having a true sense of closure. A riveting and beautiful piece of music, yes, but not quite a definitive statement. The same might be said of The Endless River as a whole.
This article first appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of Billboard.