As every fan of the band knows, there have been three eras in the history of Pink Floyd: the first, Syd Barrett-fronted stoner-pop period, the second (epic) Roger Waters-fronted period (which gave us albums like Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, Wish You Were Here and Animals) and the final David Gilmour-fronted incarnation which has produced albums like The Division Bell and The Endless River.
Each of those incarnations have been celebrated many times over with compilation albums, reissues and reissues of compilation albums over the years but, quizzically, the period which has always received the most fascination has been the earliest, Barrett-fronted, hallucinogen-saturated years. Why? Because they are the least certain; the way the story of the band’s signing to EMI goes, the record deal was not particularly lucrative but did feature nearly limitless creative freedom (due in part to the fact that the label wasn’t exactly sure what they’d signed). Simply put, Pink Floyd was given free rein to do whatever they wanted and, in the early days, that meant stretching the bounds of reality.
On Cre/Ation, the stretching of reality is apparent from the moment “Arnold Layne”opens the set but, even more interestingly, there’s a darkness about the band’s sound that most fans likely didn’t notice before (this critic certainly didn’t). There’s a clip of menace behind how poppy the melody is, and it all rests completely on Barrett’s vocals and Wright’s keyboards; Barrett’s nasal snideness and Wright’s keyboards just shimmer like a dystopian hallucination. For the right mind, it’s a savory and poisonous excursion all at once.
That haunting, spacey vibe first expressed by “Arnold Layne” doesn’t just continue, it gets more vivid as Cre/Ation develops. The keyboards which provide an undercurrent for “See Emily Play” give the song an unsettling, dreamlike quality just like Ray Manzarek’s keyboards did for The Doors’ music, but taken a step further when the song breaks down suddenly in the middle and simply becomes a sound collage for a few seconds. The haunting quality in “Matilda Mother” is the lyric “Why’d you have to leave me there” – it’s much more effective than the minor key chord progression – while the snotty/snide nasal vocal in “Jugband Blues” is dark, it’s rendered even darker by the acid-touched sonic weirdness put forth by the echo-y production.
All of those tracks listed above are strange, but the second half of Disc One illustrates that the weirdness was not just a studio-generated gimmick – the live cuts included on Disc Two feature generous helpings of it too. In the cases of those cuts, the only way to accurately qualify what one hears is a perfect melange of melody and mania – but the really cool thing about each of the songs collected here is that English reservation and propriety always endures. Sure – the music might get nuts and shockingly loud or incoherent, but no one who contributes a vocal on this set breaks down on the mic into a bellowing or quivering mass. It’s actually kind of incredible – particularly given the breadth of extremes that Pink Floyd was given to going to, especially after Barrett left (as exemplified by several moments on Disc Two).
“So does Cre/Ation really add that much clarity to the first five years of Pink Floyd’s existence,” you plead? Well, yes it does – although perhaps not quite in the manner that readers might expect. Yes – Cre/Ation gives listeners a better impression of where Pink Floyd started with Syd Barrett and what they did while in that place, as well as how greatly that singer’s departure affected the sound of the band thereafter. In addition to that, this two-disc comp also serves as great bait; those won over by Cre/Ation may be spurred to discover more of what the early Floyd had to offer on the new 17-disc box set, The Early Years, which is also now available at finer record stores everywhere. Is there a chance that people who check out Cre/Ation will be inspired to go further down the rabbit hole and lay their money down on the box set? Without a doubt; this two-disc package offers a scintillating taste and there’s no question that some listeners of the right mind will walk away hooked and looking for a larger hit.
(Pink Floyd Records/Columbia/Sony Music)
The Early Years, 1967-1972, Cre/ation 2-CD set is out now. Buy it here on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Early-Years-1967-1972-Cre-ation/dp/B01J4VVQL2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1479439913&sr=8-2&keywords=pink+floyd+the+early+years+1967-1972