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Ranked: Every Pink Floyd Album from Worst to Best
With a new special edition of The Wall out today, we reassess the only band that could get a twenty-minute instrumental on the radio.
by Aaron Sokolof
Today sees the completion of a massive set of Pink Floyd rereleases, including giant box-set versions of the band's major albums. (Unsurprisingly, the Wikipedia entry about these rereleases alone sprawls for pages.) If you're trying to figure out where to go from Dark Side of the Moon, we've conveniently ranked the band's entire discography for you from worst to best.
14. A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
The songwriting is lackluster, but it's the glossy, synthetic 1980s production that places Momentary Lapse firmly at the bottom of the list. Recorded ten years earlier or later, "On the Turning Away" might have been a nice acoustic social-conscience song, but here it sounds like the theme from Chariots of Fire. Dave Gilmour co-wrote the best track, "One Slip," with Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera, which suggests he didn't have much in the tank at the time.
Listen: "One Slip"
13. Obscured by Clouds (1972)
Imagine a band that sounds just like Pink Floyd, but not as good. That band would have probably produced a bunch of albums that sounded like Obscured by Clouds; it contains the main sonic elements of other Floyd records (ethereal organs, dark synths, pastoral acoustic guitars, and melodic guitar solos), but the songwriting and performance aren't at the same level. The exception is "Free Four," in which Roger Waters' over-the-top morbid lyrics are lightened by an upbeat rhythm, some romping guitar work, and more humor than usual.
Listen: "Free Four"
12. The Final Cut (1983)
If you find The Wall to be a bit too cheerful and life-affirming, then The Final Cut is for you. This suite of Roger Waters songs, lamenting war and the scarred societies that result, has impressive lyrics and a nice unity of theme. But the music falls short of Pink Floyd's other efforts, both on account of the band's anemic performance and Waters' own fragmentary songwriting. The album is subtitled "A Requiem for the Postwar Dream," and indeed, it has the atmosphere of a funeral — maybe mostly for the band itself, which was all but broken up at this point. Fans of The Wall looking to branch out will probably get more enjoyment from Waters' 1992 solo effort Amused to Death.
Listen: "The Final Cut"
11. Soundtrack from the Film More (1969)
This album's been ignored by classic rock radio and "best of" collections, so it feels surprisingly fresh. "Cirrus Minor," with a minimal arrangement of guitar and organ, sets a brooding, introspective mood at the album's opening. "Green is the Colour" is one of the prettiest songs Pink Floyd ever wrote. And "The Nile Song" is an aggressive rocker, closer in spirit to Led Zeppelin than to most other Pink Floyd songs. Unfortunately, the second half of More, consisting mostly of forgettable instrumentals, fails to sustain the energy.
Listen: "Cirrus Minor"
10. A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
This strange and disjointed album finds Pink Floyd in transition. The lone composition from Syd Barrett, "Jugband Blues," is a disconcerting portrait of schizophrenia; "Corporal Clegg" sounds like the evil twin of "Yellow Submarine." The rest of the album is dominated by spacey, largely instrumental tracks, which aren't as immediate as those on later albums like Meddle. (Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii features more interesting versions of these songs.)
Listen: "Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun"
9. The Division Bell (1994)
Often lumped together with A Momentary Lapse of Reason as an inconsequential post-Roger Waters effort, The Division Bell has much more to recommend it, and it stands on its own nicely as Pink Floyd's final statement. The sound is the band's warmest since Wish You Were Here, and the guitar solo at the end of "High Hopes" is one of Gilmour's best.
Listen: "High Hopes"
8. Ummagumma (1969)
The first half of this double album features live takes of Floyd's earliest work, played with more energy and power than was evident in their studio recordings; you can hear echoes of this material in the work of more recent psychedelic bands like Flaming Lips and MGMT. A particular highlight is the hypnotic "Careful With That Axe, Eugene." The new songs on the second half of the album are "experimental," to say the least, and range from interesting to unlistenable. But buried under the directionless instrumentals is the evocative acoustic piece "Grantchester Meadows."
Listen: "Careful with that Axe, Eugene"