Pink Floyd's first album is a rightfully beloved cornerstone of 60s psychedelic music, but the band would spend a handful of albums wandering in search of a direction until delivering Dark Side Of The Moon. While I think Floyd's lesser known post-Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, pre-Dark Side era isn't quite as bad as it's often written off as, what is most striking about it is the lack of direction and a strong songwriting focus. Arguably Dark Side is the popular success and creative peak it is because the band were actually writing songs again instead of casting about in a hodgepodge of sonic experiments, extended instrumental stuff, or misguided collections of enforced 'solo' pieces released under the Floyd name. Where Dark Side does dip into experimental stuff—like the proto-techno showpiece 'On The Run', or the iconic wordless vocals from Clare Torry on 'The Great Gig In The Sky'—it serves as a interlude to stitch together the more traditionally anchored songs like 'Time' and 'Money.'
And make no mistake: for all the talk of Dark Side having a reputation as either a stoner album or the one that people use to test out their new stereo systems, this album is the one that established Pink Floyd as being on the level of Led Zeppelin and The Beatles because of its songs. It is hard to point to individual songs as highlights, since most of them flow into each other seamlessly, like how 'Brain Damage' is so chillingly good because of the way it's resolved in 'Eclipse', and how 'Time' calls back to 'Breathe.' But when you really sit down and listen to Dark Side, it's striking how many things you've taken for granted all these years, like the surprisingly funky and lively guitar solo half of 'Any Colour You Like', the atmospheric drum-led intro to 'Time', or the snippets of dialogue taken from interviews with some of the band's roadies and other people who were in Abbey Road at the time. Anyway, the separated-ness of future Floyd classic songs like 'Wish You Were Here' and 'Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2' may make it easier to talk about them as individual songs, but the main song sections of Dark Side tracks are every bit as good.
Despite all the times that classic albums have been built up, broken down, examined, and re-examined, I still find something instructive and enjoyable about them. Just as Paul McCartney's bass playing and the whimsical vibe of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is what stands out the most to me now, when I listen to Dark Side what I hear isn't the trippy keyboards on 'Any Colour You Like' or the spacey echo of the vocals on 'Us And Them.' No, what stands out is how this is a great batch of songs when you get right down to it, and that is always more important than all the historical context and behind-the-scenes tales of recording session trickery in the world.
5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5