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"Atom Heart Mother" is the 5th studio album from the UK's premier progressive rock band, Pink Floyd. It was released in 1970 and was produced by the band with Norman Smith. The line-up for the album was David Gilmour (vocals/guitar), Roger Waters (vocals/bass), Richard Wright (keyboards/vocals) and Nick Mason (drums).
All six parts of the title track, "Atom Heart Mother" blend amazingly to make an incredible 23 minutes and 42 seconds of musical genius. Each part can stand alone, however, and still be just as brilliant. Although the band denied Stanley Kubrick's request to use the song in his film "A Clockwork Orange", Kubrick still used the album cover, in a music shop during one scene of the film.
"Summer '68" is about returning to normal life after a one night stand, but it has also been said the song hints at the boredom of touring because of the lyric 'My friends are lying in the sun, I wish that I was there.' This one is written and sung by Richard Wright.
The three part instrumental, "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" features Pink Floyd roadie Alan Stiles speaking not only of the breakfast he is preparing and planning to eat, but of other breakfasts he has had in the past. There are also sound effects included, of things that are associated with making breakfast. I feel this is one of those tracks that truly make Pink Floyd stand out for their musical creativity. With any other band, it would be seen as an oddity and a collection of things that just don't go together, but Pink Floyd have the ability to put the impossible together and create magic.
Although this album may seem a bit 'out there' at first listen, it is a work of musical art, and with each time I listen, I hear something I might have missed before, and it never ceases to entertain me. I recommend it to anyone, whether or not the person is a huge fan of the group.
1. Atom Heart Mother (I. Father's Shout | II. Breast Milky | III. Mother Fore | IV. Funky Dung | V. Mind Your Throats, Please | VI. Remergence)
3. Summer '68
4. Fat Old Sun
5. Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast (I. Rise and Shine | II. Sunny Side Up | III. Morning Glory)
My rating: 8/10
Its a difficult album to review this one. If you're reading this deciding whether its a good first Pink Floyd album, put simply, it isnt. This isnt the Floyd to be found on Wish You Were Here, Dark Side..., or The Wall. Go and snap up one of them if you're a first-timer.
Which then leaves the rest of us. I got this album quite early on in my collection, mainly because of the artwork, and at first I was utterly bemused. I brought Pink Floyd albums to hear lyrics that make me think, and some of the most awesome guitar work, not to listen to horns and choirs chanting! I stuck with it though and found the next 3 tracks to be enjoyable, if pretty average rock songs. A nice bass line here, a good solo there, some nice lyrics on this one kind of sum all three tracks up. Then comes Alans Psycadelic Breakfast. To be honest I still dont get this track, and it just doesnt do it for me at all.
Listening to it more and more my opinion changes somewhat. The Atom Heart Mother Suite does sound better now, but theres still too much filler in that track. The middle three songs are nice songs, but nothing special. They all have their moments though. The bassline in If is one of my favourites, and Fat Old Sun's guitar solo is one of my favourite Gilmour solo's. I still cant listen to Alans Psycadelic Breakfast all the way through though.
Overall I think its fair to say the album will be remembered more for its cover than the content inside unfortunately. Irritatingly you cant give half stars, so I'm going to be harsh and give it 2 stars, but really its 2.5 stars. If you find a copy knocking around for a reasonable sum then by all means pick it up, or if you're a completist then go and get it, but for the average Pink Floyd fan I'd advise a more well known album.
Best Tracks - If and Fat Old Sun.
There was a time in the early 1970's when having some form of orchestral fusion with rock music was de riguer for those in the newly tagged 'progressive' movement. Unfortunately few if any of these bands pulled these experiments off with anything that didnt sound overblown and turgid.
Whilst "Atom Heart Mother" is one of the prime culprits of this I do hold a certain affection for it. The obiqiuous title track takes up the first half of the album and as a piece of occasional background music it is ok. The sinious slide leads of Gilmour are of particular note, but for anyone willing to seek out bootleg live material of the time where the band played this piece sans orchestra it becomes clear that the music never really gelled between the brass section and the floyd.
The second side is a collection of innoffensive songs, most likely recorded due to lack of other material. Waters plaintive love song 'If' stands out as a highlight along with Gilmours 'Fat Old Sun'. 'Alans Psychedelic Breakfast' however falls back onto ummagumma styled experimentation and hasnt aged well at all.
An interesting experiment, showing the floyd recovering from the experimental malaise of the previous album that hasn't aged well.
Produced during Pink Floyds most experimental period, the transition between their original psychedelic sound and the more restrained and concise sound of Dark Side of the Moon and beyond, Atom Heart Mother is certainly a very interesting item in the bands discography. And thats not just because of the huge cow on the cover.
The title suite of Atom Heart Mother is a 24 minute piece combining the instrumental skills of the band with orchestration. Now a common occurrence, even outside of prog with bands such as Metallica and even Kiss teaming up with local symphonies for a classical treatment of their hits, Pink Floyd were (arguably) the first to combine these elements and created what to some fans is a masterpiece; to others, a waste of time. Most commend its effort.
Modern 80-minute-capable CDs hide some of the nice touches of these early prog albums, especially in their separation of longer, epic pieces from more accessible, straightforward numbers on alternate sides of the original LP. With their following album, the excellent Meddle, Pink Floyd saved the 20-odd minute piece for the finale, after warming up with shorter songs of varying degrees of originality. With Atom Heart Mother, the listener is thrust into the odd but enjoyable bombast from the onset.
1. Atom Heart Mother
a) Fathers Shout
b) Breast Milky
c) Mother Fore
d) Funky Dung
e) Mind Your Throats Please
The separation of movements in the title suite are largely irrelevant, especially as no corresponding subject matter is being conveyed (interpret the real meaning of the music as you wish). The powerful and effective opening theme sets things up nicely and is easily the highlight of the song, resurfacing about two-thirds of the way through as a kind of premature conclusion before the music veers wildly away from its original sound. Around about Breast Milky the song becomes subdued and led by Roger Waters bass until a choir eventually joins (Mother Fore?), chanting unintelligible lyrics that nonetheless suit the music.
Ominous synthesised sounds with varying degrees of effectiveness take over at around fifteen minutes, similar to what would later emerge from Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) twenty-five years later, before the final five or so minutes, after the announcement silence in the studio, mainly showcase David Gilmours excellent guitar work, backed by a cacophony of horns.
This song is interesting. Long, but not unbearable. In fact I really like it. The whole thing is pretty overblown, especially when heard in contrast to the other half of the album, and the orchestration does tend to flood the speakers when it would be nicer to hear the band play in accompaniment. Even leaving aside the originality, this is enjoyable to listen to for fans of progressive rock and classical music, but probably nobody else in the universe. Its interesting to see the increasing departure from long, meandering space rock of A Saucerful of Secrets and Careful With that Axe, Eugene towards the more meaningful and palatable epics Echoes and Dark Side of the Moon, even if this does sit a little uncomfortable in the middle ground.
3. Summer '68
4. Fat Old Sun
5. Alans Psychedelic Breakfast
a) Rise and Shine
b) Sunny Side Up
c) Morning Glory
As usual for the band at this stage of their career, the reverse side (or the other songs) is less of an ensemble effort, seeing each band member contribute a song they have written themselves. Unlike the non-live songs on the previous album Ummagumma, these songs involve all (or most) band members and dont serve as irritating solo pieces that are only of use to critics of the band and the genre. The songs contained here are a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from exceptionally inspired to rubbish.
If and Fat Old Sun are soft, slow acoustic pieces, the first of which, Waters piece, almost seems like a cynical precursor to the later days of The Wall and The Final Cut. Its nice and very quiet, perhaps what is needed after the title track (for those listeners paying attention at least), but nothing extraordinary. The same goes for Gimours Fat Old Sun, although clocking in at nearly six minutes it does drag on, especially as If has already been included. He does contribute some nice subdued guitar though.
Summer '68 is, for most fans, the highlight of this second side, and for me is the high point of the album. Not completely original, sounding similar to a quiet Beatles song in the verses, the chorus and instrumental sections mark this out as something special. Keyboard man Rick Wright recruits a less imposing horn section for a great refrain, personally reminding me of synthesised video game soundtracks from the early nineties, which is often a good thing. The acoustic guitar is put through its paces and sounds nicely strained as the music becomes a little louder, while the ending is a nice continuation that avoids the bands annoying habit of simply repeating whats already happened in a track. Perhaps diluted by its acoustic neighbours on this CD, Summer '68 is a reasonably obscure Pink Floyd classic.
In contrast to this, we have Alans Psychedelic Breakfast. Fourteen stupid minutes passed of as a jamming conclusion. The lack of any real coherence in the album is a little relaxing, and this song epitomises the attitude. Prog fans who have listened to later, more complex albums like The Wall or The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis are allowed to rest their brains with some half-arsed ditties and sound effects structured around the loose theme of having breakfast in Los Angeles.
Rise and Shine is a little piano ditty that could be seen to represent the breaking of morning, but wouldnt really do this without the background noises and repetition of marmalade, I like marmalade (good for you), Sunny Side Up brings in the guitar to play a forgettable soothing tune ending with the crackling of frying pans and yet more recorded breakfast dialogue, leaving Morning Glory (wa-hey!) to try and justify the songs inclusion a bit by introducing what sounds like a Hammond organ. Strange, but that sounds like a contradiction in terms to me. A silly song, but if youre occupied and dont realise that the albums still playing after the thirty minute mark it isnt the end of the world.
Maybe Ive been a little harsh on some of the content here, after all I do view Atom Heart Mother as primarily an album to soothe the savage beast. The first track is too long, but what the hell? At least it doesnt try to keep the listener hanging on every little instrument change like some modern progressive metal. It obviously isnt up the standard of classical music, its a prog rock song, so for rock fans, its a nicer alternative (unless were talking Mussorgsky). If is interesting, Summer '68 is great, Fat Old Sun is a little unnecessary and Alans Psychedelic Breakfast is sufficiently quiet.
The sound quality of this album isnt really comparable to the bands later work, and this does date it more than their technically accomplished work from 1973 onwards. Pink Floyd fans who have started later on in the catalogue would we advised to tread backwards slowly and carefully, savouring this albums follow-up Meddle and perhaps taking in the psychedelic 1973 debut before picking up the one with the cow on the front.
This long forgotten album is barely worthy of mention on the same page as the extraordinary body of work that followed it. It was experimental in nature, although I'm sure there was no cry of "Eureka" upon its completion. The irritatingly long title piece meanders here and there without ever stopping in one place long enough to attract, never mind maintain, the listeners interest. Indeed, it was later described by Roger Waters (in a 1984 radio 1 interview) as "rubbish". Of the remaining tracks, only the slight Waters ballad "If" has aged with any dignity thanks to some skilful lyrical imagery. "Summer '68", by Richard Wright, and "Fat Old Sun", by David Gilmour, offer perfect illustrations as to why Waters went on to dominate the songwriting in almost all subsequent Floyd albums up to his departure from the band. "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" is unlistenable and takes experimentation back to the classroom, such is the puerility of the piece, which features the band members actually discussing what they would like/are having for breakfast.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Atom Heart Mother
3 Summer '68
4 Fat Old Sun
5 Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast