Ever since the premature departure of Pink Floyd’s leader and principle song writer, Syd Barrett, in 1968, the remaining members found themselves over the next few years pissing about in seeming musical limbo, unsure of which direction they should take. And while Floyd always had a solid, albeit non-commercial following, the group really had no idea in terms of where they fitted in, much less what they should be doing. At one point contemplating whether they should forsake the rock business altogether, and instead concentrate on soundtracks, having already contributed to two films, More being the first in 1969, followed by Obscured by Clouds in 1972. But in between there was one album that changed all that, 1971’s Meddle, which could almost be considered a soundtrack in its own right, only without a movie to play against. And it was here that this experimental space quartet began to forge what would soon become their signature sound just a year or so later, with the seminal Dark Side of the Moon.
The album begins with an absolute corker, “On the Run”, which at the time must have woken more than a few leaf hounds out of their lysergic stupor. Aside from the sound quality itself, it also represented for the group a marked leap in imagination, composition wise. Apart from the distorted (and disturbing) voice overdubs, it’s entirely instrumental, and it rocks to boot! Proving once and for all that all those years of indecision were finally paying off.
The soft, acoustic “A Pillow of Winds” follows, and is a peaceful love song, which drifts dreamily into your ears, lulls the brain, before drifting out again. While the next track, “Fearless”, is perhaps the best ‘song’ of the album. It’s certainly the one that sticks in my mind.
“San Tropez” is a laid back, jazz-inflected number, just the sort of thing one would listen to on a summer holiday. It is also perhaps the most un-Floydian tune you’re likely to come across in their entire oeuvre. But the award for the most unusual composition by the band (for them anyway) must be given to “Seamus”. Why? Because I have never heard a song whose lead vocals were sung by a dog, that’s why.
Closing the record is what has long been considered a brilliant exposition of compositional radiance, and a perfect synthesis of each member’s talents. Here, it all came together; the great launching pad to almost everything Floyd would become famous for, in the form of the 23 minute epic, “Echoes”. Essentially a metaphysical journey in three parts, with more sound effects than an entire series of Star Trek put together; with some even now going so far as to declare it their finest composition, surpassing every subsequent achievement.
Meddle might not be one of their greatest albums, but it’s certainly one of their most listenable, and easy going. Here you’ll find none of the existential preaching which would inform so many of their later records. It’s also where the Floyd begin to seriously explore the sorts of ideas and concepts they would so successfully employ with greater outcome in the future (the wind effects which segue “On the Run” and “A Pillow of Winds” were revisited on 1975’s Wish You Here. And let’s not forget the ‘dog vocals’ heard on Animals).
Quite successful in its day, both in England and America, it remains something of a mystery as to why the LP seemed to drop off the musical radar so completely and for so long. Even the band itself seemed to have forgotten its existence; that is until “Echoes” was resurrected on the 2000 compilation of the same name, although in truncated form. Two years following its release the band would issue The Dark Side of the Moon, and so became the behemoths that they were, and so the rest is history as they say. But for a while, before the stadiums, egos, and marching hammers got in the way, this quaint yet ambitious little album offers a window into a time when Pink Floyd were simply a group of four young men striving to determine a collective voice. And on Meddle you get just that, in all its humane and pastoral glory.