Prompted by a recent comment from Graham at Aphoristic Album Reviews that he was happy to see Obscured by Clouds being included in my previous Sunday Six installment, I decided to revisit Pink Floyd’s seventh studio album. Even though its June 1972 release falls between Meddle and The Dark Side of the Moon, two of my favorite Floyd records, Obscured by Clouds was, well, a little obscure to me. After having listened to it again, I agree with Ultimate Classic Rock, which called the album ‘underrated.’ They also said it was “one of rock’s most under-appreciated treasures — and perhaps the most underrated album in Pink Floyd’s impressive discography.” I’m less sure about that statement.
Obscured by Clouds was set in motion when film director Barbet Schroeder approached Pink Floyd to ask whether they could do another soundtrack for his upcoming film project La Vallée. Previously, the British group had written and performed the soundtrack for More, Schroeder’s 1969 theatrical feature film directorial debut. Obscured by Clouds was recorded at Strawberry Studios at Château d’Hérouville close to Paris, France over a span of just six weeks.
The two sessions took place between late February and early April 1972 during two breaks from Pink Floyd’s Japan tour. At the time, the band had already started early work on what would become the brilliant album The Dark Side of the Moon. Quoting from drummer Nick Mason’s autobiography Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, Ultimate Classic Rock noted Mason confirmed the group utilized the same methods employed on More, where Pink Floyd could be found “following a rough cut of the film, using stopwatches for specific cues and creating interlinking musical moods that would be cross-faded to suit the final version.”
French TV station ORTF captured a short segment during the first recording session, which featured interviews with Roger Waters (bass, vocals) and David Gilmour (guitar, vocals). After they had completed recording the album, Pink Floyd had a falling out with the film company and decided to release the record under the title Obscured by Clouds rather than La Vallée. As a result, the French film was retitled La Vallée (Obscured by Clouds) when it appeared in July 1972. Time for some music!
Side 1 kicks off with the title track, an instrumental co-written by Gilmour and Waters. The monotonous synthesizer line and drum part combined with Gilmour’s slide guitar give the tune a haunting sound. It has a largely improvisational feel to it.
Burning Bridges, another Waters-Gilmour co-write, is the only song off the album I had been able to name prior to this review and perhaps the most memorable tune. It also features Waters and Gilmour on vocals.
Wot’s… Uh the Deal? is a nice acoustic tune featuring multi-tracked vocals by Gilmour. The lyrics were written by Waters, though the song is credited to both him and Gilmour. According to Wikipedia, the words “Flash the readies, Wot’s…Uh the Deal” is a phrase Floyd roadie Chris Adamson apparently used.
Side 2 kicks off with Childhood’s End. Notably, this was the last Pink Floyd song entirely written by Gilmour until A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the band’s thirteenth studio album from September 1987, and the first without Waters. The tune was named after a 1953 science fiction novel by English sci-fi writer Sir Arthur Charles Clarke. I have to say I really like that track!
Free Four became the record’s only single released in July 1972. Solely written and sung by Waters, it did not chart. Songfacts notes, The lyrics are rather depressing, but the song is very upbeat (including Roger Waters gleefully uttering a line about the angel of death). It’s about how our lives pass by – most of the time with no real effect on the cycle by which we all live and pass. Wikipedia cites a review of the single by music industry trade magazine Cash Box, asking “Would you believe a happy song about death?”
The final track I’d like to call out is the closer Absolutely Curtains. Credited to all four members of the band – Gilmour, Waters, Mason and Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals) – Absolutely Curtains is a largely instrumental tune that ends with a chant of the New Guinea indigenous Mapuga tribe who is also seen in the film. The instrumental section has a cool spacey sound reminiscent of Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here albums.
Overall, I think Obscured by Clouds is a pretty solid studio effort by Pink Floyd. Perhaps the problem is that unlike Meddle and The Dark Side of the Moon, it lacks easily memorable tracks like One of These Days or Money. Still, to me, Burning Bridges and Childhood’s End are standout songs.
Remarkably, Obscured by Clouds climbed to no. 6 in the UK on the Official Albums Chart. It also went all the way to no. 1 in France – I assume because of the film – and reached no. 3 in The Netherlands. In the U.S., Obscured by Clouds got to no. 46 on the Billboard 200, marking Pink Floyd’s highest-charting record there at the time. The band’s relative obscurity drastically changed when the clouds were chased away by The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here that topped the Billboard 200.
Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube