Get out the lava lamp, warm up that old Marantz, and let Pink Floyd take you into another world
In the late 1960’s and early ‘70s there was a movement among (mostly European) film makers who wanted to include popular music as some sort of modern statement concerning their latest cinema creation, and La Vallée, directed by Barbet Schroeder is no exception. Having only seen snippets of the movie precludes me from forming an opinion as to its merits, however I am familiar with Obscured By Clouds, the music score that was written and performed by Pink Floyd way back in 1972, just as the band were also working on what would turn out to be their seminal masterpiece Dark Side Of The Moon. Now it’s no secret that many of Floyd’s fans were lovers of the old green leaf, toking up while the record turned, especially on albums such as Meddle and Ummagumma. But unlike those albums, Clouds is somewhat less focused overall, which is exactly the sort of thing one would expect on a soundtrack.
The title song and “When You’re In”, both instrumentals, seem incomplete, as if the band decided to put a limit on how far they were prepared to develop their ideas, which isn’t surprising, since who would want to give their best work to some obscure French film producer, when they already had far better material in the can. But it’s the song names that give it away. “Wots… Uh The Deal”, “Mudmen” and “Stay” all betray a certain half-hearted approach to the entire project – which isn’t to say that any of these songs are terrible, because they’re not. More like a b-side to Dark Side, if anything, and a collection of interesting rejects that would never have made the final cut, no matter how polished.
The ballad “Burning Bridges” is a pleasant number, on which David Gilmour and Rick Wright share vocal duties, including atmospheric guitar and organ. The band rock out on “The Gold It’s In The…”, a song which is one of the most unlikely sounding Floyd tunes you’ve probably ever heard. “Wots… Uh The Deal” is nice, although a bit none descript as a whole, as if the band were simply going through the motions, despite the pretty playing. “Mudmen” is another one of those relaxing, calming instrumentals Pink Floyd excelled at, where electric piano and guitar float around together in heaven, to kiss the stars before falling back to earth.
“Childhood’s End” isn’t brilliant; however it does provide an indication as to where the band was heading, especially in the way the tune is constructed and Gilmour’s ever cynical and so English vocals. “Free Four” is a bit of a toss off, but at least it has a decent guitar solo, so good in fact that the listener forgets just what an ordinary song it really is. Likewise “Stay”, which has all the right ingredients, but is ultimately more Jacob’s Creek than Carpineto.
“Absolutely Curtains” is little more than an abstract instrumental, apart from the brief vocal chant toward the end by a tribe known as the Mapuga, from New Guinea, who also appear in the film, hence their appearance here.
And while there are many fine moments throughout, one cannot help but get the feeling that the band were more concerned with their latest project, i.e. Dark Side (then known as Eclipse), than some obscure French cinematic art-house story only seen by people who were probably too stoned to know what they were watching anyway.
Still, there is enough going on, musically speaking, to excuse its existence, and inclusion in your record (or CD) collection. For fans of this era of Floyd, Obscured By Clouds is an intriguing as well as thoughtful document, one which may surprise the listener as much as it has the potential to entertain.