This is the first in Stephen Deusner’s series of Why Pink Floyd? reviews. Stay tuned for a look at the rest of the band’s discography throughout the next week.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this new series of Pink Floyd reissues, which covers every major album over a nearly 40-year period, is the emphasis on the very odd trajectory of the group, which started out and ended up in very different places. Long before they became the bloated juggernaut that restaged The Wall every other year, they were an ambitious London quartet trying to free themselves from rock’s blues-based strictures. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, their 1967 debut, aspires somewhat self-consciously to art, which is just another way to say the band sought something more than just hormonal release in rock ‘n’ roll.
Of course, that could be said of every band from that decade, but by exploring musique concrete and psychedelia, Pink Floyd juxtaposed headlong jams like “Lucifer Sam” with Barrett’s odd pastorals about gnomes and scarecrows. The nursery rhyme images and sing-song melodies jamb up against the noisy discursions of “Interstellar Overdrive,” yet the band—in particular, founding frontman Syd Barrett, who wrote all but one of the tunes here—treat them all as those they emanate from the same troubled brain. That makes Piper less a rock album than a happening, and as such it’s good when it’s on the verge of freaking out and even better when they indulge that urge. As the line-up shifted and Barrett succumbed to an actual mental breakdown, Pink Floyd would rarely flirt so promiscuously with real chaos as they did on this auspicious debut.