Pink Floyd - A Saucerful Of Secrets
Psychedelic/Space Rock
7 songs (39:25)
Release year: 1968
Pink Floyd, EMI
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

Syd Barrett's deteriorating mental state meant that he took a back seat for Pink Floyd's second album and his last with the band, yet in many ways it's even stranger than their debut. Rather a transitional album in the way it stood between the band's 60s psychedelic rock and their 70s prog, A Saucerful Of Secrets is often overlooked in the Floydian discography, yet it's always a pleasure to rediscover for sheer quality alone. The band are rightly legendary, and the songwriting here proves that even in the early days this talent was present, although whether lovers of Dark Side Of The Moon will appreciate the considerably odder A Saucerful Of Secrets is debatable. It's a hard listen due to the sheer "out-there" atmosphere, lacking the deranged catchiness of its predecessor, but if you're in the mood it's perfect.

In terms of line-up, all the pieces were shuffling into place to make future masterpieces as good as they were. David Gilmour joined the band at this point, as a temporary and eventually permanent replacement for Barrett, and whilst Roger Waters and Richard Wright dominated the songwriting, Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason got writing credits for the title track. It's a strange album; opening with Let There Be More Light, which starts with an almost Tooly meandering guitar (Placebo stole it for one of their singles) and progressing with the addition of keyboards, the track takes flight with the lead vocals of Gilmour and Wright, hesitant and near-mystified, some wonderfully beautiful playing from all the band before it fades away, replaced with the considerably odder Remember A Day of Wright's. I love Psychedelic Rock from this era; although best taken in small doses since it can get rather twee, it's evocative of its time, and still sounds wonderful over thirty years later - beautiful music.

It's the truly out-there Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun which many remember this album for, however, and rightfully so; opening with ominous percussion, the track soon takes form as Waters' vocals intone a compelling mantra, subtly building in intensity as seagull cries echo in the background - it fades out almost jarringly, seemingly capable of continuing for hours, yet strangely I think this has more of an effect than if it had exploded into some Prog craziness, King Crimson-style, as the piece stays with you and makes the following anti-war song Corporal Clegg even more powerful. Sounding like an outtake from The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club sessions, Corporal Clegg even features some kazoo from David Gilmour, and yet it's not the strangest piece on a very strange album.

Which song that title ultimately goes to I'll leave unanswered, but my own pick would be the nearly twelve-minute title track, which builds up nervously to a near-hysterical crescendo, before travelling into an alternate dimension with tribal percussion and eerie, almost violently ominous piano. It fades to organ, choir-like vocals drawing the track to a close, and I'm never certain whether it's brilliant or merely a mish-mash of ideas thrown together, the band still finding their musical feet - without a doubt it's a strange, uncanny listen, enhanced by its placement next to the gentle See-Saw, keyboardist Wright undoubtedly one of the calmer musical elements at play in the band at the time. On the other hand I find Jugband Blues, the single Barrett-penned and -sung track that finishes the album, rather disturbing when viewed retrospectively; his mental state in this weird little number is clear from the opening lyrics alone: "it's awfully considerate of you to think of me here, and I'm most obliged to you for making it clear that I'm not here". In these modern times when drug-related madness is seized upon by the press, and the likes of Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty gain fame for doing very little, it's devastatingly sad to hear Syd captured on record like this, caught in time as he descended into madness and soon to languish forgotten in reclusion as the band became superstars in the seventies.

A Saucerful Of Secrets, then, is hard to sum up. Viewed as a moment in the band's history, it's clearly important, and for fans and those aware of said history it's a dense, emotional listen - from the opening, impending drama of that timeless riff, to the closing eeriness of Barrett's voice is one hell of a journey. Without a doubt, it's a vital album for Psychedelic Rock fans, very trippy and strange, but Prog Rockers may well have difficulties with the seeming directionless nature. There is a great deal of genius at work here, however, and I'd be surprised if I didn't get angry comments from some demanding a Classic label for it. Alas, if I were to classic each album of Pink Floyd's then you'd be waiting for them forever - it's a fantastic piece of musical history, yes, but even better is to come from the band...

Killing Songs :
Let There Be More Light, Remember The Day, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, Corporal Clegg, See-Saw
Goat quoted 95 / 100
Other albums by Pink Floyd that we have reviewed:
Pink Floyd - Ummagumma reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Pink Floyd - Soundtrack From The Film More reviewed by Goat and quoted 60 / 100
Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon reviewed by Jeff and quoted CLASSIC
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