Pink Floyd’s unfortunately named “Meddle” isn’t winning any major awards, especially not in the cover art department, but it’s a fair quality early-mid-career offering from Floyd. It easily beats “Animals” as a listening album, in my book.
The album opens with the mostly-instrumental “One of These Days“, built on a heavily delayed bassline and featuring distorted, ocean-sound organ. But the real stand-out moment on the track is not in the music. Rather, it’s drummer Nick Mason shouting through a ring-modulator and threatening to dismember the listener, “one of these days.” All in all, it’s a cute gimmick, but it’s a bit too lightweight to carry its own weight. 5:15 is definitely a bit long for this particular track.
Next up is “A Pillow of Winds.” This is definitely one of the highlights of Meddle for me, with excellent steel guitar and tripped-out vocals from Gilmour. Waters’ lyrics treat the simple theme of going to sleep with a heavy layer of psychedelia and more than a touch of existential angst. As a concept, it’s way out there, but it totally works. In tone, it’s almost closer to “If” or “Fat Old Sun” from Atom Heart Mother than to anything else on Meddle, but it works well enough here, especially as foreshadowing for “Echoes.”
“Fearless” is next, with more great Gilmour guitar work and vocals. I’d like this song a lot if Waters had not decided, apparently after the song was finished, to force a rough, out-of-key recording of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, the anthem of Liverpool’s football team, harshly into the mix at the beginning and end. The song would have worked well without it, but it ends up partly overshadowed by another annoying gimmick.
And then there’s “San Tropez“. Oh, “San Tropez…” Easily one of PF’s most annoying songs, it’s a jazzy, piano-driven number about lounging on a tropical beach. And that’s it! There’s no lyrical substance to it. It’s just a song about relaxing and thinking about calling a girl. The middle section has some nice steel guitar playing, but everything else about this song is either forgettably plain or just terrible. Perhaps worst of all, it’s completely out of left field, completely out-of-place on the album.
“Seamus” is also extraneous, but at only two minutes and some change, it’s a bit less of a sore thumb. It’s a one-verse blues song about a dog barking, helpfully illustrated by an actual dog, actually barking, drowning out the music for the most part. The lyrics are riffing off of a Big Joe Williams song, which earns some points with me, however. It’s cute, and I like it, but it’s hopelessly misplaced on Meddle.
Everything up to this point has been little more than filler, though. Like Atom Heart Mother in reverse, Meddle is entirely dominated by “Echoes“, a sprawling 23-minute epic that takes up the entirety of side 2. There’s a lot to love and a lot not to love about “Echoes.” Ultimately, it justifies not only its own existence, but the album as a whole.
The vocals begin after an intro that’s, amusingly, longer than the entirety of “Seamus“, at almost exactly three minutes. The iconic first line is still one of my favorite moments in PF’s repertoire: “Overhead the albatross hangs motionless above…”. I’d go so far as to say the vocals and lyrics are some of the strongest in PF’s history. My interpretation (just one of many, of course) is that Waters is comparing the chance formation of the first life in the primordial ocean to two strangers falling in love at first sight. It’s a far-fetched metaphor, to be sure, but like “Pillow of Winds“, it just works. There’s something to be said for bizarre metaphors, or what would we have poetry for?
Steel guitar really seems to be the order of the day on this album, and in fact, the first conventional, fingered lead guitar part on this album is a breakdown after each of the first two verses, a part which Andrew Lloyd Webber allegedly ripped off for “Phantom of the Opera.” Allegedly… (Don’t sue me, please!)
After the first two verses, though, the song gradually slows down to an absolute crawl. Several long repetitive sections eat up a significant portion of the song’s length. Some of this music was quite technically impressive at the time the album was released, including parts done with an early tape-chorus effect, but a lot of the middle section just doesn’t hold up.
Getting past the half-way mark in “Echoes“, we hear the signature early Floyd “soundscape” section, which features whalesong-like noises (made by inserting a wah-wah backwards into the guitar effects circuit) and samples of rook and crow calls (a favorite Waters technique.) The effect is less musical and more atmospheric, but it’s standard for this period of Pink Floyd, it fits the song, and I really can’t complain. It makes a very nice ambiance to fall asleep to, let me tell you.
After the whalesong has faded out, the song brings the album full circle, with a section that resembles “One of these Days“, leading right into the final verse. The return of the vocals after the slow movement is incredibly satisfying, akin to the recap in a classical sonata movement, and the lyrics seem to refer back to “Pillow of Winds“, as the narrator awakens to a sunny day, described with the same mysticism as he did for the night in “Winds.” It almost gives the impression that the bulk of the album has been a long, strange, perhaps even slightly wonderful dream.
In a nice bit of symmetry, the song (and with it, the album) ends with an outro that feels like a mirror image of the intro, with descending lines where the intro had ascending ones.
Well, much as I’d like to forget “San Tropez” was ever recorded, the quality of the music and especially the vocals on the rest of “Meddle” is on par with Pink Floyd’s best work. While they could done with less filler, and perhaps needed to take some pointers from the contemporary lineup of Yes on how to write long songs that don’t drag, for the most part, it’s a solid album. I give it a 6/10.
(All music reviewed here belongs to its respective owners. All images marked for non-commercial re-use.)