The Pink Floyd were in the forefront of the self-consiously psychedelic rock movement in Britain as it developed over a year ago; they had to their credit a couple of promising singles (“Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”) and a fairly impressive first album. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Syd Barrett (vocals and lead guitar) displayed a minor talent for writing as well as a not insubstantial ability to prepare special effects and production work. If much the Floyd did was based on gimmicks, Barrett at least had a keen ear that rather successfully structured gimmicks into a sort of pleasant “psychedelic chamber music.”
Unfortunately the Pink Floyd’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, is not as interesting as their first, as a matter of fact, it is rather mediocre. For one thing Barrett seems either to have left the group or to have given up actively participating in it: only one Barrett composition is on the new album (“Jugband Blues”), and it hardly does credit to Barrett’s credentials as a composer.
With Barrett gone we are left with the work of bassist Roger Waters and organist Rick Wright. Waters (who wrote a couple of dull tracks on the first album) is an uninteresting writer, vocalist, and bass player. “Let There Be More Light” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of The Sun” are boring melodically, harmonically, and lyrically. The production work is not as glittery as the first album’s, and the instrumental work is shoddy and routine; yet both tracks run some five minutes, two examples of unnecessary length in rock.
Waters’ “Corporal Clegg” at least has the virtue of brevity, as well as not sounding like it was written in a drugged stupor, but its unoriginal melody is much too Beatley for these post Sgt. Pepper days.
Rick Wright, whose organ playing is generally capable if not inventive, has also contributed a couple of songs to Saucerful. “Remember a Day” itself is inoffensive, but features some rather miserable bottleneck guitar, second rate piano, and empty-sounding acoustic guitar work. Here, as throughout, Nickie Mason’s drumming is busy and ineffective. Wright’s “See-Saw” is a ballad scored vocally in a style incongruously reminiscent of Ronnie and The Daytonas.
The album’s title track is eleven minutes of psychedelic muzak, hardly electronic music, but hardly creative rock either. There’s a lot of interesting noise, and at times one almost is tempted to take the whole conglomeration as a significant experimental probe.
But as the chaos settles reassuringly into a banal organ-cum-religious chorus final, one realizes that the Pink Floyd are firmly anchored in the diatonic world with any deviations from that norm a matter of effect rather than musical conviction. Unfortunately a music of effects is a weak base for a rock group to rest its reputation on — but this is what the Pink Floyd have done.