In October, 1970, Pink Floyd released their fifth studio album Atom Heart Mother. With its iconic album sleeve that looks initially like a marketing nightmare the album is retrospectively identifiable.
I have not really listened to this album before and am aware that the band look at it largely as their worst album. This did not stop Atom Heart Mother being their first U.K. Number 1 album, maybe it was the timing.
With a small amount of research there are some interesting facts about the record. It is featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 cult movie A Clockwork Orange and can be seen in the record shop scene. Kubrick wanted to use some of the music for the film which the band rejected. This turned into a tit-for-tat when years later Roger Waters asked to use some music from 2001 : A Space Odyssey for a solo album, Kubrick said no. That’s quite a nice rock n’ roll story really and one which would have benefitted Pink Floyd more than Stanley Kubrick after a small amount of consideration. The old proverb “be careful who you step on, on your way up, you don’t know who may tread on you on your way down” springs to mind for some reason.
The band largely criticise the album and speak of it in very negative tones apart from Richard Wright simply stating “I like it”. Wright in interviews does come across as the quiet musical genius and its hard not to see him as the George Harrison of the band to an extent.
Having listened to the album twice today after probably never sitting down and listening to it in full before the album is much better than I anticipated. It moves forward a lot from the heavy experimentation on Ummagumma and marks the band moving further away from the Syd Barrett sound which had lingered on some of the preceding records.
Atom Heart Mother (Waters / Gilmour / Wright / Mason / Geesin) takes up all of Side One of the LP and runs at just under 24 minutes. After about a minute an oomph enters as the band sound lead by Gilmour. Effects and motorbike samples faze in before more oomph. The vibe lowers and it gets hush with twisting keys and Dave Gilmour adds that unique bendy guitar string. After a lengthy orchestrated and soft operatic lull the guitar brushes the soundscape aside. This gives way to a period of experimentation before the intro oomph returns following a spoken vocal of “silence in the studio”. The orchestration and operatic vocals then blend with the rock oomph as the song finishes.
If (Waters) is soft and acoustic. Production aside it could actually fit on The Wall (the album). It sounds nice even if it is not totally essential.
Summer ’68 (Wright) is initially delicate and reflects a tale about a one night stand. The song twists quite dramatically and this alters the mood of the piece moving to a triumphant sound before returning to a more sombre sound then twisting all over again.
Fat Old Sun (Gilmour) (not quite a Soundgarden nod) is more soft progressive rock. It is an endearing song that very gently builds peppered with the “sing to me” vocal by David Gilmour which works well. The track swells to a guitar solo that sprawls out and stretches wider than on any previous Pink Floyd album yet. The solo is faded out rather than naturally ending and this too fits the song, it leaves you wanting more. It is probably the best song on the album.
Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast (Waters / Gilmour / Wright / Mason) harks back to Ummagumma and is the most experimental track on Atom Heart Mother. Quotes about breakfast and sample of Rice Krispies, etc are noodled around instrumentally. In the final third of this near thirteen minute piece the band play finally in a more rock tradition. It is a difficult track and misses the levels the album has reached already.
In ways Atom Heart Mother sees Pink Floyd offer the most accesible album since A Saucerful Of Secrets. It is not as strong as their 2nd album but is much better than the mess the band suggest themselves and, last track aside, is an album I would recommend hearing at least once to judge for yourself…