For at least one night in my life, Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma was the greatest album in recorded history.
Before you get excited, you have to understand that my own enthusiasm was obtained through extracurricular activities. As soon as those “activities” ended, so did my unconditional love towards Ummagumma.
After all, how are you going to really love a song with a title like “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict?”
To be quite honest, even under the influence, the studio portion of Ummagumma was quickly determined to be irritating, which meant that we kept having to rewind the cassette to get back to the good stuff that evening: the live portion of the double album.
And believe me, rewinding a cassette while battling hallucinogens is a task that seemingly takes forever, particularly when your mind is contemplating the origin and root compounds of the word “rewind.”
Those live tracks are the only reason why Floydians should even seek out Ummagumma. I say this knowing that my words will ultimately reach a digital vacuum, as no amount of critical warning will make a Pink Floyd fan turn away from any portion of their catalog.
I’ve been there, and I get it.
For the rest of you sane readers, let me say that the magnetic tape from the Spring on 1969 captured Pink Floyd on fire. The live material was taken from a relatively small venue (Mothers) which closed up a few years after the fact, but not before the Floyd put the upstairs venue on the map for all time.
The small space doesn’t prevent Floyd from seeking otherworldly sounds, and there’s a great deal of nice experimentation going on, particularly for a band still trying to find their place without former leader, Syd Barrett.
If Ummagumma were released as a single, live offering, then the record would be a firm 4-star release. Instead, it’s saddled with the concept of having each member contribute a piece to the record’s studio sides. And for anyone who’s listened to any one of the Floyd’s solo records, you already know that Pink Floyd are an awesome sum that is greater than their individual parts.
You get Rick Wright fiddling with a bit of treated piano, which I remember thinking at the time, “I could do that, but I won’t, because it’s annoying.”
Roger Waters enlists his (then) wife to fart around on her flute while he begins making the same kind of “organic” sounds he explored around the same time with Ron Geesin. It just made me nervous, particularly the part where it sounds like Waters is saying “Come!”
There’s Nick Mason laying down a seven minute long drum solo. This is the same dude that had trouble just keeping time at various points in the band’s career, so I’m not sure a drum solo is warranted.
Finally, there’s David Gilmour, who could have provided some intriguing moments, but instead later admitted that he just threw a bunch of shit together on tape and called it good.
There will be no points in your life that you will ever say “I think I’d like to hear the studio side of Ummagumma today.” Conversely, there will be moments when nothing but the live disc will do-sober or otherwise. This, along with the fantastic packaging that holds this bi-polar oddity, will be the only reasons worth owning Ummagumma, while for me it provides a bit of personal cautionary tale that sometimes, the best way to truly appreciate a record is when you’re as clean as a whistle.