Pink Floyd - Ummagumma
Progressive Rock
Disc 1: 4 songs (39:39) Disc 2: 12 songs (47:06)
Release year: 1969
Pink Floyd, EMI
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

Pink Floyd saw out the 60s with this double-album, half live, half studio, and whilst like most of their pre-Dark Side Of The Moon output it does tend to get buried in the sands of time, it is more than worth a listen for fans of the band. As a live band, the Syd Barrett-less line-up of Floyd then was quite an extraordinary set of musicians, something clearly audible from the first CD featuring just four live songs. But what songs they are! Each is performed better than the studio version, each being longer, harder, and sharper, the band audibly being able to afford better equipment than they originally had. Opening with the classic Astronomy Domine, the opening track from the debut full-length, here doubled to eight minutes in length, inserting a carefully guided instrumental section that’s almost ambient, but never allowed to collapse into silence completely. It’s a beautiful song, strangely ominous and with a sci-fi atmosphere that’s dated but never sounds less than awesome. From the ahead-of-its-time guitarwork, Gilmour flawlessly outperforming Barrett with the varied and technical playing shown here, to the additional material, this is a perfect example of a band outdoing themselves, and is reason enough to buy this alone if you’re a fan of the band’s pre-70s material.

Of course, the rest of the live material is pretty darn good, too. Instrumental Careful With That Axe Eugene follows with an almost jazzy laid-back nature at first, building up quickly and ominously with uncanny screams and discordant prog rocking that’s frightening and gripping at once. You can’t beat the lovely weirdness of Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, here taken in a subtly different direction to the original by sounding like a Nile interlude with eastern melodies wrapped around percussion, getting louder and then quieter, leaving you guessing but never less than captivated. Again, Pink Floyd extend its length by a lot, taking the song from the original five to nine minutes and, again, making it better in the process. Rounding off the live disc is an even longer version of the fantastically mad title track from A Saucerful Of Secrets, sounding more musical in its form here without reigning in the zaniness one bit.

The second disc is a bit of a mixed bag, and depends primarily on the listener’s tastes as to whether it’ll be enjoyed or not. Personally, my feeling is that giving each member of a band the chance to write their own, separate material may produce an interesting collection of experimental sounds, but it’s hardly going to match up to the band’s work as a whole, and so it proves here. Opening with the four-part Sisyphus, keyboardist Richard Wright’s piece opening with brash pomp for the first part, a piano solo for the second that goes from gentle melody to crashing noise, a percussive bit of avant-garde complete with strangled-cat noises for the third, and ambience for the finale, moving from calmness to hair-raising horror-film score towards the end. Roger Water’s contribution follows, probably the best of the bunch in my view as the lovely pastoral folk of Grantchester Meadows, complete with sounds of nature in the background, is utterly charming, and the following Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict has to be heard to be believed – avant-garde cartoonish beatboxing worthy of Mr Bungle at their least sane. In comparison, Dave Gilmour’s three-part The Narrow Way is a disappointment, uninspiring acoustic and electrical guitar playing leading into a third part with vocals. I’d call it boring if I had less regard for Gilmour – as it is, the piece just seems lacklustre, especially next to the wackier fare surrounding it. Nick Mason’s three-part The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party closes the album, a drum solo with all sorts of tape-effects and loops imposed, cut up and rearranged in parts to sound like the track’s skipping. It’s interesting and annoying simultaneously, never really doing anything, and is both worth hearing and skipping.

So, a fan-only purchase? Hard to say – if you are being selective in the 60s Floyd that you listen to, then this is a must-avoid, but if you’re following the band chronologically and loved their first two albums, this is a must-buy. It’s the transition release between the Barrett and Gilmour versions of the band, the moment when the band bid farewell to their 60s psychedelic selves and began to embrace the prog giants that they soon would become. For fans of the genre, it’s a vital part of a great band’s history, a step along Pink Floyd’s path to greatness – which must make it at least worth a listen!

Killing Songs :
Astronomy Domine, Careful With That Axe Eugene, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, A Saucerful Of Secrets, Grantchester Meadows
Goat quoted 75 / 100
Other albums by Pink Floyd that we have reviewed:
Pink Floyd - Soundtrack From The Film More reviewed by Goat and quoted 60 / 100
Pink Floyd - A Saucerful Of Secrets reviewed by Goat and quoted 95 / 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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