From the Archives: this review first appeared on the old Skyscraper Magazine site. It is being republished here for your reading pleasure.
With the 40th anniversary of their inception, the death of their founding frontman Syd Barrett, and the brief but enthusiastically received reconciliation at Live 8 all still recent memories, the time’s ripe for another in-depth look at Pink Floyd: one of the world’s most heard, but least understood rock bands.
The first portion of Mark Blake’s Comfortably Numb deals with the swinging-London Pink Floyd, who, amidst the drugs and superficial madness of the era, successfully evolved from boundary-pushing psychedelic jammers into chilly mega-selling musos. The second half of the book details the painstaking recording and subsequent adoring reception of Dark Side of the Moon (40 million copies sold and counting), followed by the group’s pinnacle of success and stagnant semi-retirement. Sadly, their watershed album also marked the beginning of the creative end to Pink Floyd. Increasingly trapped by technology, the grandiose concepts of their ideas-man, Roger Waters, and the onset of chronic one-upsmanship and squabbling, the band’s mood turned from tense to tyrannical in quick succession.
Not surprisingly, Roger Waters comes out looking like the biggest villain in Comfortably Numb. While the domineering bully role is one he relishes, it’s hard not to side with him on some business and legacy issues. Along for the ride are drummer Dave Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright, who get brow-beaten by the imposing bassist, but shoot themselves in the collective foot by coasting along without contributing much to the mix. David Gilmour has been the man behind the “lumbering great behemoth” since Waters’ departure and has taken great pains to preserve Floyd’s heritage, mostly by rebuffing reunion proposals.
In regards to Syd, Blake does a good job of keeping Floyd’s one-time leader in the story by retelling bizarre accounts of real or fabricated events. While certainly not helped by his drug intake – described as everything from heavy to astounding – Barrett’s descent into mental illness simply came at a young age and an unfortunate time, professionally speaking.
As for those who carried on the Pink Floyd name without him, after four hundred (and 1!) pages, we still don’t really feel too much for them. It’s not Blake’s fault, he does an admirable job tracking down important figures in this musical saga even as the band’s reticence to embrace the press, their ability to remain out of the spotlight, continued turmoil and power struggles lead people to think on Pink Floyd as an entity rather than a band.
As Gilmour says, “The fact is, our individual names mean virtually nothing in terms of the great record and ticket-buying public.” However, Comfortably Numb is a hell of a read. Just remember the biggest acts in the world are business enterprises as much as they are gangs of music lovers. And after reading Blake’s thorough biography, you can’t forget it.Visit: Pink Floyd | Da Capo Press
Purchase: Powell’s Books | Amazon