If David Gilmore is to be believed, this is the end of Pink Floyd. And what an end it is. Some of it ambient. Some of it loud and psychedelic. All of it Floyd in a way A Momentary Lapse of Reason tried to be in 1987.
This album is Floyd more in how it differs from previous work than how similar it is. In the late 1960s, the band tried an album of long-form suites called Umma Gumma in the wake of Syd Barrett’s breakdown and departure. Ironically, Barrett’s solo work proved to be more coherent and interesting, but then the remaining four Floyds still did not know what Pink Floyd was without their eccentric front man. Building on work left over from The Division Bell and around the late Rick Wright’s keyboard work, David Gilmore and Nick Mason revisit the Umma Gumma concept to tell the story, mostly without lyrics, of a band called Pink Floyd. There have been Syd Barrett albums by Floyd and Roger Waters albums and David Gilmore albums, all with Nick Mason weaving some of the sonic flourishes through it from Meddle on until now. There has never really been a Rick Wright album. As “Side 1″ (really, the first three pieces) shows, Wish You Were Here came closest. There are keyboard phrases that hearken back to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” really Wright’s greatest performance with Floyd.
“Side 2,” or the second trio of songs, goes all the way back to the Barrett era and Atom Heart Mother and makes one wonder if Waters sat in listening to the finished recording splitting some herb with his former bandmates. My first thought on hearing the album was that Barrett was actually louder on this album than Wright, and Wright’s fingerprints are all over this, six years after his death and 44 years after Barrett recorded his last note.
Even Waters is present in the bass work, some of which is played by Wright’s son-in-law and Gilmore-era bassist Guy Pratt. Instead of pretending he quit the band in a fit of rage, Gilmore and Mason are telling his part of the story. In interviews, Waters is gracious about his absence Whereas he once railed against the Gilmore/Wright version of Floyd as a fraud, he simply laughs and says, “I left Pink Floyd in 1985.” (Though he and Mason have voiced a desire for one last bow following the 2008 Live 8 performance.)
Many have said it stopped being Floyd when Waters quit in 1985. He, Gilmore, and Mason would disagree. Since his death in 2008, the trio has acknowledged that Wright was the actual essential member. 1983′s Wright-less The Final Cut was essentially a Waters solo album. 1987′s A Momentary Lapse of Reason was written with the idea bringing Wright back, but lacked something that did not bring back all the fans. The Division Bell saw a return to the thematic and musical coherence of albums from Dark Side of the Moon through Animals, but ultimately left many Floyd fans unsatisfied.
The Endless River acknowledges all that was Pink Floyd in all its many incarnations. It’s not a radio-friendly album, and maybe that’s why this coda may be one of the band’s best efforts. It’s all Floyd in 53 minutes that quotes the past without being derivative of it.