Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Review of Pink Floyd's "Works"

I posted this review a short while ago on the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: I'd rate this compilation LP at 3.5 stars for the material, but only 1.5 stars for its cohesion as an album. In this age of digital downloads, there's no real reason to own it today.

Let's start with the obvious: Pink Floyd is one of the greatest, and most important, rock bands of all time. On this site alone, if you click on the all-time charts section, the band has three albums rated among the site's Top 100. 

As a recording entity, Floyd released fifteen studio albums over the course of their existence, and went through four more-or-less discreet periods as a band. These included the Syd Barrett years, the early post-Barrett period, the classic period (when they released all of their most highly acclaimed albums), and the post-Waters period. (The lines are a little blurry in some places. For example, in many ways, Meddle was really the start of the classic period, although Obscured By Clouds was a throwback to the post-Barrett era; and while The Final Cut has some sonic similarity to The Wall, few would argue that it belongs with the other classics. But you get what I mean.)

Works is a compilation album that presents material from the band's first two periods and the beginning of their classic period. This is a problem, as the band had a very different sound in each of those first three eras. Consequently, in trying to rate the album, I'd give it 3.5 stars for the material on it. After all, it's frickin' Floyd! However, as a musically coherent album, it doesn't deserve more than a star and a half.

Works was released by Pink Floyd's former American label, Capitol Records, in June of 1983. After the release of the band's mega-hit The Dark Side of the Moon in 1973, the band had ditched Capitol and signed on with Columbia Records, who offered them a huge advance for their next album. (They continued on with Harvest Records as their European label). Capitol, however, retained the rights to Dark Side and all of the band's earlier material. So in '83, when Floyd released their twelfth studio album The Final Cut, Capitol saw the chance to make a buck, and released Works pretty much everywhere but Europe.

Musically, the album is all over the place. The two singles from the Barrett era, "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play", while enjoyable songs in their own right, sound like the band is playing a game with their fans of Which Doesn't Belong and Why" Then there's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," a psychedelic classic originally from the band's A Saucerful of Secrets album, which is purportedly the only track that Syd Barrett and David Gilmour ever both played guitar on. This one loosely fits with a pair of post-Barrett numbers, "Free Four" from Obscured By Clouds and the bizarre and aptly named "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict" from Ummagumma. Finally, you have a pair of songs from Meddle, "Fearless" and a remix of "One of These Days", plus a pair of remixed Dark Side songs, "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse". The album is capped off by the one song that was a rarity at the time of Works' release, "Embryo", which had previously only ever been available on a multi-artist compilation called Picnic - A Breath of Fresh Air

As you might guess, it's not really a great album for playing beginning to end. From one track to the next, it barely sounds like the same band. And while in 1983, it might have made sense for truly rabid Floyd fans to buy it just for "Embryo" (which is a slow, eerie Gilmour song that features flute, cymbals, strange piano and even stranger animal noises), in this age of digital downloads, the completist can simply buy the one track and ignore the rest of the album.

Overall, Works is a strange duck. The songs are good, but unless you're a remix fanatic (and the remixes aren't really all that different from the originals), they're all better owned on their original LPs. I gave Works a 3-star rating on the strength of its material. However, there's really not much reason to own this album today.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars