I can’t recall exactly where or why I recently came upon Pink Floyd’s 1970 album Atom Heart Mother, but I did and after listening to it on Apple Music, I added the album to my library so I can listen to it in the scary world of not-being-connected-to-the-internet.
This is my quick review of 3/5ths of the album. I will explain.
Much like a number of Pink Floyd albums, Atom Heart Mother consists of a small number of songs (in this case, five), which means some of the songs tend to be very long. Atom is bookended by two such songs, with the title track opening the album and clocking in at 23+ minutes and “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” coming in at 12+ minutes to close the album. In-between are three average-length songs.
“Atom Heart Mother” is…interesting. It features a choir and orchestration, but it’s not used in the same way as on The Wall, and the song has an experimental feel to it. I haven’t listened to it enough but it seems like it would be good background music (this is not intended as a backhanded compliment). I may come back and offer more on this song later.
“Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” starts with a bunch of sound effects and reading up on the song has led me to never fully listening to it. I just haven’t been in the mood.
But I have listened to those three tracks in the middle.
The first is a song by Roger waters called “If.” It is melancholy and acoustic and feels a bit like some of the quieter moments from his solo albums, though his voice is in better form here. It’s a nice song. I like it. I don’t know that he could write something like this today.
The second song, and my favorite of the three, is the last PF song from the classic line-up to be written and feature lead vocals by Rick Wright. His voice actually sounds very reminiscent of David Gilmour’s, smooth and silky. “Summer ’68” is said to be about the groupies Wright may have fooled around with while on tour and the lyrics really don’t do much for me—I can easily imagine a better song being written over the music. But if you fuzz out the literal words, the song is catchy and wholly unlike what people consider the Pink Floyd sound. There is a jumpy, jangly piano, brass horns kicking in, some patter that recalls the harmonies of The Beach Boys. Describing it, the whole thing sounds like a mishmash, but somehow it all holds together. It’s catchy enough even as I write this it’s getting stuck in my head again. It kind of makes me want to seek out Wright’s solo work.
The last of the three is David Gilmour’s effort, “Fat Old Sun.” Let’s be clear—Gilmour is not a great lyricist and I think he would willingly admit that. The lyrics here aren’t bad, but they are very ordinary. He presents the song as a languid mood piece, strumming away and singing in that light, breathy voice he finally seemed to shed on The Dark Side of the Moon. It’s probably meant to be dreamy-sounding, but is more sleepy than dreamy. The song ends in a guitar solo that one critic correctly stated amounts to not much at all. This is not “Comfortably Numb: Early Preview.” But while it’s my last favorite of the three, it’s not a bad song. It’s more a formative one, that reveals Gilmour—as with the other members of the band—trying out things to see what clicks. It’s inoffensive.
Overall, the three songs form a relatively mellow and accessible mini-album that is sandwiched between the extremes of the tracks that precede and follow it. If you’ve never listened to early Pink Floyd, I can recommend these songs as some of the better examples of their pre-Dark Side efforts. On a scale of one to five cows on album covers, they rate a collective three cows.