Some things to consider if you’re coming to this new:
It is, of course, another film soundtrack. That explains a couple of things, like why it’s full of short songs which for the most part don’t really sound like they fit between the end of ‘Meddle’ and the beginning of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. It also appears to explain some of the song titles, which were apparently glued on at the end of the process.
The album doesn’t bear the name of the film ‘La Valée’, mainly because Pink Floyd (for some reason, I assume that means Roger Waters) fell out with the film company and took the name of the film off the album. Subsequently, the name of the film was changed to ‘La Valée (Obscured by Clouds)’ – I have no idea if money changed hands, or, indeed, in which direction.
It was Clive James, I think, in his review of Bob Geldof’s autobiography, who explained that there are only two kinds of money to be made in the rock business – not as much as you might think, and more than you can possibly imagine. Pink Floyd in 1972 are still firmly in the first camp. Sure, there was money coming in – a couple of very successful albums had seen to that – but the outgoings were still pretty steep: world tours, often incorporating entire orchestras, expensive holidays, flash cars, more and better instruments and equipment; and paying off disgruntled hotel and restaurant owners. The lads were, it seems, prone to some ‘bored rock star’ behaviour at times, (Glimour riding his motorcycle through a restaurant; that kind of thing) and all of this debauchery including recreational substances for the band and crew had to be paid for somehow. In addition, one of the things which often gets overlooked is that once you have a contract with a record company, you become a profit centre for them; you need to keep the turnover up year on year if you want continued support.
Therefore, films. This one was another Barbet Schroeder one, as full of hippy nonsense and nudity as ‘More’, but with more wandering about in Papua New Guinea, and ritual slaughtering of pigs. I’ve had a look, but I don’t think the whole thing is available online – the trailer is here, and gives you the general idea:
(note the annotation on the map at 49 seconds)
There’s another cinematic outing for Pink Floyd in 1972 – the original version of the film ‘Live at Pompeii’ came out shortly after ‘La Valée’, but struggled in its original format as it was about an hour long and didn’t really fit with the normal cinema-going experience. Subsequently, it was padded out with ‘work in progress’ videos from the making of ‘Dark Side’, and had been further poked and prodded at over the years to try to make some kind of definitive documentary on the band as they were just as they became globally famous.
The original film, however, is a thing of rare beauty – the set as it was in late 1971, played in an empty amphitheatre in the shadow of Vesuvius. There were a few logistical problems getting it all done – chief among them the apparently surprising fact that the Romans didn’t have much of a ready supply of electricity to make things work. The final result, however (allowing for such things as most of the takes of ‘One of These Days’ having been lost or destroyed, making it a particularly Nick Mason-heavy section) is well worth an hour of your time. It’s all on YouTube, albeit chopped up a bit:
It’s really the only good quality film of the four of them in action (not counting 2005), and should be treasured.
So, is it any good?
Well, yes, I suppose so.
I mean, if you set up a playlist of all the albums from, say, ‘Atom Heart Mother’, you’ll probably be scratching your head a little at how this sounds wedged in between the more polished albums either side of it, but it does have its moments, and it does have an atmosphere all its own. Don’t skip over it in your impatience to get to the next thing – it’s worth a little of your time.
There are elements of experimentation on there (the very early electronic percussion and drone at the start could be a lost Joy Division track, for example), there are moments when the inner rock band comes out to play, and there are some signs of the more thoughtful lyrics about to come. There’s the next instalment in Roger’s endless search for meaning in his father’s untimely death in ‘Free Four’, and a couple of songs which call back to the simpler songs of the early days (I’m particularly fond of ‘Wot’s… Uh The Deal’, and ‘Stay’ is just gorgeous). ‘Childhood’s End’ is the last time Gilmour has a go at writing lyrics (and they’re not bad, but Waters has now established himself as the writer in the band), and ‘Absolutely Curtains’ rises above its idiotic title to give a glimpse of what’s about to come (not including the native chorus, of course). There’s a half-hearted Hipgnosis cover, and – I know this is me putting it into a context which didn’t apply at the time – almost a sense of a band taking stock before plunging on.
It was done quickly, as ‘More’ was, but it’s a band more in control of their material, and able to work the bits and pieces into actual finished songs. I have a theory that as this was being developed alongside what would soon become ‘Dark Side’, the songs which ended up on here were the ones which didn’t fit the feel or mood of the next album, which very definitely had a concept and a theme even at this early stage. I can imagine, for example, the words of ‘Free Four’ on ‘Dark Side’, but not the melody or arrangement.
Take this out of sequence, and it’s a perfectly good album of well-constructed songs; in its place (and in the context of what else was going on in 1972), it just sounds a bit odd.
Having said that, of the two soundtrack albums, this is the one I occasionally come back to.
Relax and listen to it again, because after this it all goes a bit nuts…