“… clear that I’m not here.”
As much as I have loved Floyd over the years I have always divided their discography in two sections. The good part starts with “Meddle”, and the strange and unwelcoming part contains the five first albums. Today I’ll review one of the albums in that older group, the band’s second album “A saucerful of secrets”. It was released in 1968.
During the recording sessions, in January 1968, Syd Barrett was replaced by childhood friend David Gilmour. The band very briefly was a quintet and they did some shows in January 1968 as a five-piece band. But soon Barrett’s erratic behaviour made him impossible to work with.
On most of the songs on the album Gilmour is manning the guitars. Barrett participated at least on “Set the controls for the heart” of the sun and “Jugband blues” and maybe some more tracks, I don’t know.
My appreciation of the album has actually been reinforced just recently. I saw Nick Mason’s A Saucerful of Secrets show at Circus in Stockholm in the autumn of 2018. Nick is the only member that has been part of all versions of Pink Floyd. He is a great drummer, one of my all-time favourites really. Listening to the old songs live made them come to life. The newest song they played was “One of these days” from “Meddle” and thus most to the live show was covering the first part of Floyd’s history.
The album is kicked off with Roger Water’s song “Let there be more light”. It has a catchy intro with a massaging bass and some nice cymbals action. After a short while it transforms into a less interesting sounding sixties song. We get some singing from Roger, Rick and Dave which is nice. A reference to Beatles “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” is exciting.
A welcomed aspect of the replacement of Barrett is of course that there will be more songs from the other guys in the band. This statement is in my opinion, many fans love the Barrett tracks and the first album “Piper of the gates of dawn” of course. On “A saucerful of secrets” we get two Richard Wright songs. The first is “Remember a day” with vocals buy the man himself. It features some heavy drums in a dreamy song that makes me think of George’s work in The Beatles. It could even have had a citar, but I think not.
The second Wright song is “See-saw”. It has a simple piano, synthesizers and an acoustic guitar I think. Also, here the drums have a prominent place in the sound picture. One can also hear the xylophone, I think. The feeling is of the old English music hall tradition, or maybe taken from a circus environment? One could possibly compare it to Bowie’s strange first album (1967).
Syd’s “Jugband blues” is said to describe his insanity, and it’s really jarring. The music is again circus-like. It is always hard to understand what he is singing, but the line in the lyrics “And I’m most obliged to you for making it clear that I’m not here” seem to indicate that he knew he was on his way out. Floyd would later write songs about their old estranged friend.
Waters “Corporal clegg” is the first song Roger wrote about the horrors of war. This one is a satire about a guy who lost his leg in the war but “won” a wooden leg and a medal. The music seems to mock the military.
The remaining two songs on the album are the most interesting, and the songs were often played live by the band at the time. The title song “A saucerful of secrets” is a long instrumental song in four parts. It is like the musical score to an obscure super pretentious arty-farty movie. The song is a challenge for the easy listener but rewarding when you take a closer look. It is an early indication towards later work by Floyd, epic songs like “Atom heart mother” and “Echoes”. The song has a nightmarish first part, the crazy drums part, the bridge and ends with the majestic “Celestial voices”, with a large choir singing as it seems. This last part was performed live at the Nick Mason concert. Happy times.
My favourite is, maybe not surprisingly, Roger’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”. Classic bass line, imposing drums, snaking synthesizer and Roger’s soft vocals, almost under his breath. Is the song a celebration of the sun? If so, I applause. This is one great song and it is even better live.
My rating: 4/10
- Let there be more light
- Remember a day
- Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
- Corporal Clegg
- A saucerful of secrets
- Jugband blues
Best song: “Set the controls for the heart of the sun”
Produced by: Norman Smith