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Pink Inc.

The secret to the Floyd's success isn't what you might think

by Patrick Keller


Not a bad run for fans of ol' Pink, wouldn't you say? Having just been blessed with the release of live DVDs from both Waters and Gilmour, and the prospect of "solo" albums from both men on the horizon, the glacial pace of releases from the Floyd four has hit something of a high water mark after years of drought.

(Poor Barrett devotees, though, only got teased with the release of one new song after some 30 years. But I suppose that's better than nothing.)

The DVDs are interesting to have side-by-side. Without the Floyd legacy to live up to (or under), but rather to pick and choose from as they so please, each man's personality is in full view. Roger's concert is a regimented affair, little different from the version I saw in Chicago earlier in the tour. (Fortunately, the DVD does not suffer from the same anonymous moron sitting next to me, insisting upon pointing out obvious observations during the entire first half of the show. Perhaps this option could have been included as a bonus feature, but I doubt it would be very popular.) His In the Flesh tour was not a departure from any tour he's been on for the last 25 years. This is a formal presentation, organized in every detail, even the "improvisations" carefully laid out. Theatrics were, of course, in full force.

Conversely, Gilmour seems almost laid back by comparison. The setlist was nearly devoid of "hits" (applying that word to Floyd seems somewhat silly), instead leaning towards a healthy selection of Gilmour's personal favorites. And compared to Waters' structured backing corps, some of Gilmour's choices seem downright sloppy by comparison. (Had Robert Wyatt even heard "Comfortably Numb" before he sang it? I have my doubts.) "Visuals" began and ended with some house lights (though you could count pretty girls from the choir, I suppose). Though largely left off of the DVD, at these shows, Gilmour had his share of fun with the audience, with between-the-songs banter going well beyond his usual "thank you very much indeed." Before the debut of his new song, "Smile", he advised the bootleggers in the audience to start their tape-recorders (as though they already hadn't...). At one show, he even halted and restarted a performance of RickWright's "Breakthrough" because they tanked the ending in a manner befitting a less professional troupe.

Admittedly, Gilmour's release was not the result of an extended tour, but rather of playing a few relaxed selected dates close to home. But again, this seems to be fairly indicative of the man's real life attitudes, as was Roger's driven, calculated move to reclaim the Floyd legacy.

None of this should be surprising to anyone with more than a passing familiarity with Pink Floyd. (Those of you unfamiliar, howdy! Pull up a chair.) What may surprise you all is what this has to do with Britney Spears.

I'll let that one settle a bit.

Pink Floyd has more in common with Britney Spears and her calculated appeal than I would like to admit.

You see, there's this oft-revived argument amongst a group of my friends concerning Miss Spears, and only tangentially involves her looks or the percentage of synthetic parts contained in her body. A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless to avoid having epithets like "*NSUCK LOVER GO HOME!" spraypainted on his home) believes that we are all ignoramuses of the highest order for refusing to accept the artistic validity of Spears' music.

What Floyd fans probably find most objectionable about Britney and her ilk is the bald-faced commercial pandering of the material. (I know there are other objections, but work with me here...) Broad commercial appeal, apparently, relies on broad emotional recognition, which in turn does not lend itself to depth or darker emotions. All this is a fancy way of saying that bubblegum pop prefers happy, lovey stuff to a broader spectrum of emotions. Fair enough, I say. As they say in the Bible, "When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things." Don't ask me to appreciate Britney now; I don't relate to her music or her attitude at all.

What I've realized, however, is that Pink Floyd has a lot more in common with Britney and her calculated appeal than I would have previously liked to admit. You see, I am so used to viewing the Floyd from an artistic standpoint that I--and, I would guess, a lot of my fellow fans--have a resistance to looking at them as a business. A lot of derision from people who side with Roger is aimed at post-'83 Pink Floyd releases, but the fact is the band became a largely financial concern as early as A Saucerful of Secrets. Is it blasphemous to say that the music was secondary to the fact that these men were more financially successful together than they could manage apart?

Apart from the title track, Saucerful was largely a concerted effort to recreate the style evoked by Syd, something I would say even Syd himself failed to do. Had the band continued on this path, they likely would have produced one or perhaps two more mediocre albums and disappeared. Fortunately, they discovered another fruitful vein to mine. But, I would venture, they only did so because it proved successful enough with audiences to do so.

Fast forward to Dark Side. The band had found a style that had built on the audience of the Syd era, or perhaps more accurately, discovered a new one. Roger has stated repeatedly that the band effectively ran out of goals at this point. The band that wrote "Money", ironically, found themselves wrapped up in the pursuit of exactly that. It was, I would posit, the promoters and record company that kept the band alive during this time more than anything else. That the band produced a masterpiece like Wish You Were Here is remarkable, but it was nowhere near the collaborative effort that Dark Side was. The atmosphere in the studio was the worst in the band's history up to that point (and the fact that it continued to degenerate subsequently and yet they continued to record, I think, lends credence to my thesis), and the sessions were plagued with mishaps.

The obvious deviation, though, is The Wall. Everything about the album is a sharp departure from the pattern that preceded it. There are more (and shorter) songs, there's a linear (sort of) storyline, the shows featured no music from previous albums and massive amounts of (expensive) theatrics that required special venues of limited size... And so on. It was a huge risk for all involved (save Rick Wright), and yet it was clearly a calculated move given the choices the band had at that point. They were at the time tax exiles in their own country, meaning they could not actually live there for too much of the year or they would be taxed into the stone age. They were suffering from poor investment decisions and needed cashflow. And yet they were reliant on Waters for material.

Lest we forget, Waters presented them with both The Wall and Pros and Cons as potential albums, and they chose the former. But why? I would venture that The Wall was chosen because it held more commercial appeal. Those involved have said that Pros and Cons was rejected because it was "too personal." Now take a moment to recall what I said about Britney's calculated commercial appeal. The Wall appears to be the exception that proves the rule.

The Final Cut, in hindsight, appears to be the result of a miscalculation of what made The Wall so successful. It was, in actuality, a mixture of elements and plain good luck and timing, rather than just Roger's concept and music. When the music was focused just to that, the results, while occasionally brilliant, were largely dismal.

It's easier for most to see the financial perspective after Roger's departure. Dave is not and probably never will be the conceptualist Roger was, but he made a good play at it. The two studio albums produced after Roger left were calculated attempts in many ways to recapture or at least evoke the mood and tone that made the 70s such a fruitful time for the band. Had Gilmour simply produced a solo album using a lot of the material, it likely would have produced a different end result.

Though it may appear so, I am by no means trying to sideline the band's artistic accomplishments. But I have to wonder if, in an attempt to justify the band's artistic merits, the very real business motivations that exist aren't ignored so as to separate the Floyd from the Britneys of the world. That the members of the band no longer have to play slave to such financial concerns allows us to view their motivations in a somewhat purer environment.

And, anyway, just because the stimulus to produce their work may have been slightly different than pure artistic concerns doesn't mean we aren't free to enjoy the fruits of that stimulus all the same.

Patrick Keller is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon, where he is busy being kept down by The Man.