Pink Floyd - Vinyl Reissues album reviews

From psychedelic lynchpins to proto-prog experimentalists in four awkward stages.

Pink Floyd The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn album cover

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Alongside Joy Division’s transformation into New Order, Pink Floyd’s first four albums – re-pressed for the first time in 20 years on 180g vinyl – marked one of rock’s great transitions. Their 1967 debut Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (910) was Syd Barrett’s madcap masterpiece, omitting their more coherent singles See Emily Play and Arnold Layne to showcase his sprawling, dribbling, star-clutching psychedelic miasma of voodoo blues, music hall, The Beatles, pagan folk and backwards ragas. Thanks to its acid-driven experimentations, it came to epitomise the psychedelic era and inspire later generations.

But as the adorably wonky-wheeled Bike collapsed into a cacophony of crazed clockwork and psychotic ducks, omens reared. Come 1968’s Saucerful Of Secrets (810), Barrett’s acid-casualty behaviour had become so erratic – detuning his guitar mid-gig and melting Brylcreem down his face – that he was ousted in favour of David Gilmour.

Largely Syd-less, Floyd developed their expansive prog feel under Roger Waters’s leadership: Corporal Clegg previewed the grandiose operetta of The Wall’s The Trial (but with more kazoos), Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun was a dark, motorik foretelling of their paranoid masterpiece Dark Side Of The Moon, and the title track was a blueprint for their future multi-part meanders, the sound of a drummer, guitarist and piano player having psychiatric breakdowns until, in the closing minutes, they’re miraculously cured by Zeus.

Barrett’s only song here, Jugband Blues, sounded lost – ‘I’m wondering who could be writing this song’ – but it was his bandmates who would spend their next few albums floundering for identity. Their soundtrack for Barbet Schroeder’s 1969 film More (610) found them alternating folk ballads (e.g. Cirrus Minor) with brutal blues batteries (The Nile Song, Ibiza Bar), and the same year’s double album Ummagumma (510) was the ultimate indulgence – one impressive live LP compiling their extended avant-garde pieces, and a second LP on which the four members took a side each to create an elaborate solo work.

Cue Wright’s Sysyphus suite resembling Rachmaninoff being attacked by rabid monkeys, Waters recreating a ferret rave and Gilmour self-confessedly “bullshitting” through The Narrow Way (Parts 1-3). It would take more honing to flog 50 million Dark Sides; this is prog’s emperor butterfly in its pupae stage.

Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont is a music journalist with almost three decades' experience writing for publications including Classic Rock, NME, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times, Uncut and Melody Maker. He has written major biographies on Muse, Jay-Z, The Killers, Kanye West and Bon Iver and his debut novel [6666666666] is available on Kindle.