Pink Floyd, The Endless River

When Richard Wright died in 2008, the introspective and unique musical fabric of the group personified (see, for example, his work during the band's early days such as on Saucerful of Secrets and Atom Heart Mother), the eulogies of his bandmates and ex-bandmate poured forth as if the heart and soul of the band had passed on and that would be the end of Pink Floyd. Of course, unreleased performances and session recordings have ways of raising the departed, and on modern equipment even noodling and idle jams can gain full flesh after the fact. I'm not sure if another album was needed after 1994's The Division Bell, particularly given the David Gilmour-led incarnation's tendency to unfocused auditory textures and vapid lyrics, but I'm pretty sure it's not this one. It's competent, there's no doubt; we would have expected no less from the inveterate musical aesthete he is, notable in its technical excellence and scrupulous internal consistency. However, it's also in some ways an unimaginative summary document of every Floyd album that's gone before, popped into a computer given orders to incorporate this material from this session and that to make it appropriately "Floydian," which is why you hear bits of "Run Like Hell" in "Allons-y (1)" and snatches of "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party" in "Skins" (snicker) and "Terminal Frost" in "Anisina" (a particularly nice piece, I must admit, especially with those crazy wind instruments howling along on their separate melodic threads) and "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" throughout almost all of the lead tracks on the various "sides." In fact, the whole album is a great big "Wish You Were Here" for Wright just as the original was for Syd Barrett, but compared to its spiritual ancestor it suffers for being derivative and forced, and long on elegy and short on meat. Wright's solo credited works are slight, being limited to two short tracks remarkable only for their painful brevity and one being named "Autumn '68" (see Atom Heart Mother again), and if the songwriting credits are to be believed he barely features on half the tracks at all. Given his limited output, then, why constrain the entire album to merely post-production odds and ends? The especial low point is an obvious castoff from the "Bell" sessions recycling Stephen Hawking's electronic oration ("Talkin' Hawkin'", egad); he may literally have phoned that in. Gilmour closes the album on its sole vocal track (the decent "Louder Than Words"), a sort of gentle ballad that could have at least broken up the monotony of what preceded it if he'd only written one or two more. Currently, he's on record as saying this will be the final Pink Floyd album but as a long-time fan of the band I kind of doubt it and I certainly hope against it. This is not the note I'd go out on, nor do I believe Richard Wright would have wanted to either. The deluxe box adds a few more tracks on Blu-ray, including some additional Wright compositions, but is mostly intended as a video source; the high fidelity and additional material still don't counter the main album's fundamental imbalances. (Content: a single mild expletive.)