What I’ve Been Listening to: Pink Floyd/Obscured by Clouds

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


Gov’t Mule Rule With Powerful Pink Floyd Set

Southern jam rockers and Avett Brothers bring their summer tour to central NJ

When I told a good friend from Germany the other day that I was going to see Gov’t Mule for a Dark Side Of The Mule show, he had the same initial reaction I had a few weeks ago: What’s a southern rock band got to with Pink Floyd? And why would such distinguished musicians with plenty of own material devote an entire gig to the British psychedelic rockers? Well, because not only does Mule dig great music, but they also like to celebrate it during their own shows. In fact, they always have done so since they were founded in late 1994, though thus far, Pink Floyd is the only band to whom they dedicated an entire show.

As I previously wrote, Mule first introduced the concept in 2008 in Boston when they added a second set to their set of original tunes, which solely consisted of Floyd covers. They repeated it at the Mountain Jam music festival in 2015. And now the band is doing this dedicated show for the third time during a short co-headlining summer tour with The Avett Brothers – something I didn’t want to miss as a huge Pink Floyd fan, especially since one of gigs was happening right in my neck of the woods at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. last night. Based on Mule’s corresponding live album, my expectations were high – and boy did they deliver!

The Magpie Salute

But first things first. The evening was opened by American rock band The Magpie Salute, which was formed in October 2016 by guitarist Rich Robinson, a co-founding member of The Black Crowes. He pretty much co-wrote all of their songs with his brother and lead vocalist Chris Robinson. I didn’t know any of the band’s songs but liked what I heard. Their remaining current lineup includes two other former Black Crows members, Marc Ford (lead guitar, vocals) and Sven Pipien (bass, backing vocals), as well as John Hogg (vocals, percussion), Matt Slocum (keyboards) and Joe Magistro (drums). The Magpie Salute currently have one live album out from 2017 and are set to release their studio debut High Water I on August 18, 2018. I’ll definitely keep that on my radar screen.

The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers: (from left to right) Bob Crowford, Joe Kwon, Scott Avett and Seth Avett

Next came The Avett Brothers, a band that except for its name I hadn’t known. To get a sense of what to expect, I checked setlist.fm for the first date of the tour. It didn’t help much, since they made many changes to their set last night! The band’s core members include brothers and multi-instrumentalists Seth (vocals, guitar, etc.) and Scott Avett (vocals, banjo, etc.), Bob Crawford (double bass, bass, etc.) and Joe Kwon (backing vocals, cello, piano, etc.). The current touring lineup is complemented by Mike Marsh (drums) and Tania Elizabeth (violin, vocals, kazoo).

The origins of The Avett Brothers date back to the late 1990s when Seth’s high school band Margo combined with Scott’s college rock outfit Nemo. After Nemo had released three albums, Seth and Scott started The Avett Brothers as a side project, playing acoustic music with some friends. Eventually, this resulted in the release of an EP, The Avett Bros., in 2000. Their fist full-fledged studio album Country Was appeared in 2002. To date, the band has released eight additional studio records, three additional EPs and four live albums. I was impressed with the craftsmanship and warmth they used to deliver their music, which blends folk, bluegrass, Americana and indie rock. I didn’t record any video, but here’s a YouTube clip of a tune they did last night: Down With The Shine, from The Carpenter, their seventh studio album released in September 2012.

And then it was time for Mule to rule, and boy they certainly did! While like The Avett Brothers they mixed things up compared to the tour’s opening night, they kept the same format.

Gov't Mule 2018
Gov’t Mule (left to right): Danny Louis (keyboards), Matt Abts (drums), Jorgen Carlsson (bass) and Warren Haynes (guitar)

After kicking off their set with two original songs, it was on to mighty Pink Floyd. Last night, the original tunes included Thorazine Shuffle and Banks Of The Deep End, from the Dose (February 1998) and The Deep End, Vol. 1 (October 2001) studio albums, respectively. Here’s Thorazine Shuffle, a co-write by Mule co-founding members Warren Haynes and Matt Abts.

Following their two original songs, Mule launched into a transitional instrumental that blended into One Of These Days, from Meddle. Floyd’s sixth studio album from October 1971 happens to be one of my favorites. All for a sudden, it felt like the band had kicked up the intensity by a few notches. The song’s bass line came across like a furious jack hammer – since I didn’t anticipate it and didn’t want to start recording after it had started, unfortunately, I missed capturing that one.

After this powerful rendition of the first Pink Floyd tune of the night, Mule kept their foot on the gas. Next came Echoes, another gem from Meddle and perhaps my all-time favorite Floyd track. Again I didn’t record that one, figuring if my arms wouldn’t fall off holding my smartphone, the device would probably run low on battery power, given the length of the tune! Next it was on to a series of songs from Dark Side Of The Moon, my favorite Floyd album released in March 1973. Here’s The Great Gig In The Sky, featuring Mule’s outstanding backing vocalists

In addition to Dark Side Of Moon and Meddle, Mule also heavily drew from Wish You Were Here, another Floyd gem and the follow-on to Dark Side, which came out in September 1975. Here’s Welcome To The Machine.

Before playing some additional tunes from the Dark Side and Wish You Were Here albums, Mule threw in Nile Song from More, Floyd’s first soundtrack and their third studio release from June 1969. Then it was time for the cash register to ring with Money, another track from Dark Side. Again, I thought the band did a great job with the tune, especially the saxophonist who killed it!

The epic Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V) rounded out Mule’s regular set. Like on the Dark Side Of The Mule album that I previously reviewed here, this was the track where the band took the most artistic freedom, especially Haynes on lead guitar. And just like on that record, I thought he did a nice job, so the deviations didn’t bother me at all. No Pink Floyd show would be complete without Wish You Were, which the band threw in as the encore.

As mentioned at the outset, I thought Mule’s show last night was outstanding. But, as I also noted before, Dark Side Of The Mule is not a note-by-note rendition of Floyd’s music. I imagine not all hard core Floyd fans may like the artistic freedom Mule occasionally takes. As a former hobby musician, I can fully appreciate that artists want to add a little bit of their own flavor when playing covers. If you feel the same and dig Pink Floyd, this show is for you, if you live in the right corners of the country. There are only four remaining dates: Xfinity Center, Mansfield, Mass. (today, Jul 14); Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center, Noblesville, Ind. (Aug 23); Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL (Aug 24); and DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI (Aug 25). But there is always hope for additional dates, though Mule’s summer 2018 tour schedule looks dense through the second half of September.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Mule official website, YouTube