Something that bothers me about Pink Floyd’s recent resurgence in popularity is that it tends to fall into one of two camps. One camp is the Syd Barrett Appreciation Society, who like the first album Piper at the Gates of Dawn and the live recordings of this period, while ignoring everything else as though it is irrelevant compared to the ridiculous reverence of the strung-out not-actually-all-that-great-so-there Syd Barrett. This phenomenon is presumably related to both the ongoing fascination with all things psychedelic, and the hero-worship of missing or dead musicians with extremely short careers. The second camp is the Dark Side of the Moon Appreciation Society, who quite often tend to be the type who only listen classic rock and like to shout “ALL MUSIC NEWER THAN 1990 SUCKS FUCKING BALLS”.
Anyway, these camps often both ignore a wealth of material in between these two records. In fact, Pink Floyd released as many records between these two as they did after Dark Side of the Moon.
Atom Heart Mother is one such record, and is often seen as an ugly duckling of the catalogue – along with its predecessor Ummagumma. Ummagumma deserves this reputation, because it is in fact Dumbagumma, or possibly Ummagonnathrowupfromlisteningtothisrecord, or even Ummmabongoumbongotheydrinkitinthecongo. Let’s face it folks, the only way Ummagumma could be any crapper is if it had been pressed not in vinyl but in solidified crap. Atom Heart Mother on the other hand is what I’d call an enjoyable failed experiment – although I’m sure it’d be tastier if it had been pressed in beef LIKE I ASKED (ignore that).
On side one, it features Pink Floyd playing alongside an orchestra. To stretch this over the course of an entire LP side, they mess about with various editing techniques, cutting and pasting together the entire colossal pompous monstrosity into one hilariously awesome piece of music. The main component of Atom Heart Mother apparently evolved from a very cool extended jam that has been called at various times The Amazing Pudding. This in itself isn’t that exciting, but the orchestrations add a cheery bombast that I find quite wonderful – even if the members of Pink Floyd themselves have all since indicated their distaste for the marching brass band sound.
Also featured are choral sections (including a kind of tribal chanting), and moments where the orchestra vanishes completely. The orchestrations for Atom Heart Mother aren’t exactly integrated into the composition. Rather they consist of ornamental flourishes and textures – that I happen to really enjoy. Unfortunately, the song kind of rambles on in its second half with no real direction, resulting in a series of dead-end studio noise collage experiments, motorbike noises and other nonsense before reprising the opening section.
Side B of the record features three “solo” pieces as it were, written by the band’s three songwriters, Roger Waters (If), David Gilmour (Fat Old Sun) and the recently deceased and always criminally underrated Rick Wright (Summer ’68). Each of these is good, as atypical self-contained Pink Floyd songs. Gilmour still performs Fat Old Sun in concert – and well he should because it is a) a song he wrote b) a good song. This is something of a continuation of the Ummagumma solo-sides concept, but fortunately here on AHM it is limited to a song each, thankfully excluding Nick Mason whose Garden Party on Ummagumma warrants a reaction of Ummagonnagivethatoneamissinfuture.
Once these three are out of the way, the band delves into weirder territory with Alan’s Psychedlic Breakfast. This track drifts through the sounds of a man discussing, making and eating breakfast, with several quaint musical interludes of note. Acoustic guitar, and the usual Floyd jamming. You get the picture (of a cow’s arse).
Anyway, the long and short of it is this: I am a huge Pink Floyd fan, but I’ve listened to their entire catalogue to death, and listening to them can be something of a chore these days. Atom Heart Mother is one of the least choresome listens for me, although I will admit, it is not objectively their best (and yes, I do believe there is some room for objectivity in judging the quality of music), and nor is it actually my favourite. I don’t know whether it’s the experimental (even by Pink Floyd’s pioneering standards) nature of the bookending tracks that keeps bringing me back, or the fact that the cover is the arse of a cow, but here it is folks: This album truly does mildly arouse my nipples…