Author: Bruce Jenkins
At first glance, it looks fairly straightforward. After conquering the earth with Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd were shadowed by understandable anxiety regarding their follow-up album. Eventually, they found inspiration in the things they knew: their own history, and an industry slavering at the door, demanding to be fed.
The result was an album of one extended piece (split roughly in half) and three shorter songs, two of which focused on the music biz.
“Welcome to the machine” and “Have a cigar” are both Roger Waters tunes, snarling and snapping at the hand that fed the band. This fury would increasingly overwhelm Pink
Floyd and define Waters subsequent career, yet here it is less savage than it would become; more mocking than lacerating. Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?
The rest of the album has a quite different feel, as it wanders through reflections on Floyd founder Syd Barrett’s mental dissolution. “Shine on you crazy diamond” (Parts 1—5 open the album, Parts 6—9 complete it on side two) is a gently unfolding musical canvas of great charm and romantic sadness.
On this occasion “romantic” does not mean music to soundtrack a candlelit dinner; here the washes of melody and soaring guitar lines pulsate with regret and quiver with loss. Yet—almost surprisingly—the whole is uplifting, glorious even. “Shine on” is a beautiful and haunting elegy for a lost friend.
That sense of grief and loss is also present in the title track, the yearning, questioning, “Wish you were here”. The writer once stood in light drizzle on a football pitch in Hannover with fifty thousand people singing along with the band. “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl, year after year” echoed around the stadium. Giving voice to loss and confusion, we somehow come closer together and perhaps even find solace.
Ultimately this is the legacy of Pink Floyd’s most integrated and satisfying album. Here the talents of Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason genuinely pooled together for probably the last time, connected by the ghost of their former bandmate. And year after year new listeners discover a connection to Wish You Were Here, immersing themselves in its wistful beauty.
As a footnote, and at the risk of disturbing the mood, it must be said that the 2016 re-issue of Wish You Were Here is a delight. The sound is just fantastic (that is really what I think) and the package—especially for those who only had access to the gatefold edition first time around—will make record collectors smile. It’s a classic at every level.
© Bruce Jenkins 2018