Review: Pink Floyd ‘The Later Years 1987-2019’
Words by Riley Fitzgerald
The continuation of Pink Floyd after Roger Waters is something Dave Gilmour and Nick Mason are often at pains to justify. What motivated them along with Rick Wright, who has since passed away, to go on? Wealth? Ego? Hubris? In all likeliness, it was the fact that after so many years together as a band it was simply all that they knew.
The Later Years, as a boxed set, collects Floyd’s work from 1987 to 2019. Much of the material is divisive. The band’s foray into modern production and inability to match the strides of their greatest conceptual masterstrokes are common points of contention. The work Floyd turned out after Waters’ exit in 1985 doesn’t shine with that timeless quality of Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, Wish You Were Here, or Piper at The Gates of Dawn. During this period of the band’s history, critics maligned them, the most vocal amongst their fans decried their work and yet many loved it. Hundreds of thousands more bought records and purchased concert tickets. And, for all the complaints, few would argue that what was provided was worse than nothing at all.
Reappraising the songs, and we’ll say songs because examining A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell material from a songwriting perspective puts it in its best light, there’s still many a moment of Floydian brilliance. Stepping out from behind the whimsy of Syd Barrett or the post war pathos of Roger Waters the band’s core members were free to pursue new possibilities. Like the Beatles after their breakup the group had leeway to fall back into their own musical personalities and interests as well as bring in external elements – such as David Gilmour’s wife Polly Samson, a figure criticized less for her contributions as lyricist than the for the threat posed to male chauvinism – into the creative mix.
Leading into A Momentary Lapse of Reason dormant musical interests rekindled. In the decade or so Roger Waters’ vision had dominated the band, David Gilmour had fallen more closely into the role of producer and sometimes guitarist rather than driving creative force. Nick Mason’s concerns had shifted to closer to motorcar racing than music and Rick Wright, having famously refused Waters demand to return from holiday to avoid missing an expensive deadline for the completion of The Wall, was no longer technically a full member of the band. Nonetheless, Gilmour, Mason and Wright were determined to reclaim Pink Floyd, whose continued existence they deeply cared about. Whereas Roger Waters wished to legally dissolve Pink Floyd to prevent its famous name from holding back the promotion he would receive from record labels as a solo artist, the remaining three wanted to continue to make Pink Floyd music for Pink Floyd fans. All three were committed to pushing the idea of what the band could be. Pink Floyd with ‘80s production? Pink Floyd with a woman as a lyricist and creative director? An ambient album?
This material takes bold risks. The real gripe is that it falls short of the grand conceptual executions of the past. Once the post-Waters rush of creative inspiration cames to an end post-Division Bell the band circled into an ever more protracted approach to making music until Pink Floyd became little more than Gilmour and a recording engineer splicing together old tape recordings and calling The Endless River an album. (Floyd’s ‘final’ recording is notable when talking about this collection only for its absence.)
What The Later Years presents is the work of a band who embraced change rather than be nailed to the cross of past achievement. All the while the group remained touring juggernaut, which makes it little surprise the best tracks are live reinterpretations of Seventies classics. During this period the band also remained viciously at odds with Roger Waters and the nightmarish administrative trappings of their own success. By the time Floyd’s music finally crawls to a halt the listener receives an understated farewell and an introduction to what feels like the total exhaustion of rock’s ideas.
The Later Years is defined by the paradox. It is both less memorable than when the band’s best yet at the same time greatly underappreciated. The work of twilight Floyd sits closer to Saucerful of Secrets and Meddle than Dark Side of the Moon but who wouldn’t give anything for another reunion?
Listen to it through a pair of headphones. Dig out a copy of The Early Years. Take a step back. Breath out and admire the architecture.