As of the 17th November 2014, a week after the release of what is likely to be their final album, Pink Floyd’s ‘The Endless River’ reached number one in the UK charts. This is a major coup for the band if not a major cultural anomaly. Excepting the final aptly titled track Louder Than Words, the album is a non-lyrical expression of ambient and atmospheric music. It is a challenge to the modern day status quo of music consumption, namely isolated songs, Spotify playlists and music videos on YouTube.
Considering that the album is made up almost entirely of old material from ‘The Division Bell’ sessions twenty years ago, some may balk at the idea of calling it a new album, and even more may be disappointed at the prospect of it being a final album. However, the decision to build on old material featuring the late Richard Wright was highly respectful and appropriate. The album works well as a fitting swan song for Pink Floyd, but also as a wonderful eulogy for Wright, whose playing was vital to the overall sound of the band.
His posthumous contribution to the album is significant and the idea of a final Pink Floyd album without his sound is almost inconceivable. His presence is felt throughout the composition, especially on tracks such as It’s What We Do where there is a subtle hint of nostalgia for Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
The fifty-three minute musical odyssey is thematically built on the idea of a more soulful form of self expression. David Gilmour’s guitar work is as smooth and slick as ever while Nick Mason offers a steady hand through which the music can be safely carried. Song titles such as album opener Things Left Unsaid, as well as Unsung and It’s What We Do point towards a confident awareness of what Pink Floyd means to the remaining sum of its parts.
Unfortunately this expression is devalued later when Gilmour spells out exactly what the album represents in the finale Louder Than Words. While the idea of their music being louder than words is appreciated, the irony of having to say it is not lost on the listener. Arguably among the most uninspired lyrics to land on a Pink Floyd record, this otherwise superb album could have done without them. Fortunately the album jogs to its conclusion without these words leading the way.
As a finale to the Pink Floyd story ‘The Endless River’ is effective. It’s a wonderfully complex sequence of music which requires a start-to-finish approach from the listener. As great as songs like Anisina, Eyes To Pearls and Surfacing are, they work best relative to the wider picture, which is what makes Pink Floyd so very important to music, and now music history. Gilmour is right to call it a day with this record as it will later come to represent a fine hour in the history of the band, as well as a fine farewell.