On its 50th anniversary, Tom Liversidge revisits Pink Floyd's sixth studio album Meddle.
Anytime I happen to listen to Meddle, or hear any of its strange and - quite frankly, confusing - array of tracks, I appreciate more and more the circumstantial limbo that this weird and beautiful album found itself conceived within (hear me out - the context is important, and slightly intriguing) – and how this ultimately birthed what is now considered one of Pink Floyd’s greatest achievements.
It’s no secret that Pink Floyd were going through a rough, and creatively inconsistent patch following the nervous breakdown and departure of founding member, frontman, and writer Syd Barrett in 1968. With new talent in the form of David Gilmour, who would later fuel Floyd’s more accessible and famous sound, they were yet to release a palpable, consistent third album – and so the group were let loose upon Abbey Road studios in early 1971, collaborating properly as a band for the first time. And in the improvisational revelry, in the search for an elusive, mysterious sound, unfolded Meddle, released in October of 1971.
"Meddle as an album - to me at least - makes no sense"
I say all of this because Meddle as an album - to me at least - makes no sense. The album comprises an eclectic side A of five contrasting tracks, and a side B of only one song - the epic, mesmerising, 23-minute-long Echoes, somewhere between prog-rock and post-rock: art-rock and soundscape. Ranging from the intensity of the opening track One of These Days, to the melodic, lackadaisical central songs – music akin to floating on the clouds – and eventually, back to Echoes, which shatters the peace and resonates with a fervid grandeur that’ll somehow make you wish the 23 minutes (and 33 seconds) would never end.
In fact, it’s really not fair of me to group the central four tracks together so haphazardly. The soothing A Pillow of Winds, calms us down from the intensity: a more accessible track which slows the pace of the album down – followed by the beautiful Fearless, famously finishing with a rendition of the Liverpool anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. After that we have the bluesy San Tropez, a track I can only describe positively and using the words ‘little ditty’; and 5th comes the only weakness of the album, a simple song called Seamus (About a dog of the same name): a joke track Gilmour included, meant as a small respite, but which ultimately fell short and failed to provide any real substance to the creatively dense Meddle (Gilmour later said of the song: “I guess it wasn't really as funny to everyone else [as] it was to us"). Finally Echoes hits - powerful, grand and a little terrifying. All I’ll say is it’s really a must-listen track.
Yet, despite all of this perplexity, Floyd manages to tie each estranged and mystifying track into something more powerful than the sum of its parts – and in doing so, produces what can only be considered as a classic - an essential album which paved the way for a multitude of avant-garde genres and artists (admittedly Echoes does this almost all by itself), and showed the world the true potential of the group.
"Echoes itself could be considered a standalone achievement"
Meddle – sonically and contextually - falls between a classically Pink Floyd sound, and something entirely different. Echoes itself could be considered a standalone achievement, but the rest of the album brings together the remaining enigmatic tracks which act as a lead up to the grand finale, and should be enjoyed almost (but not quite) as much. This album will forever hold a special place for me as it was one of the cornerstone albums I listened to in school, which would pave the way for my own passion for experimental and strange music, a love which I hold to this day.
Written by: Tom Liversidge
Edited by: Gemma Cockrell
In-article image courtesy of Pink Floyd via Facebook.