Sacred Cows: an occasional series in which NME writers re-appraise classic albums
Have a look at our leader David Cameron’s Facebook page (where we spend every minute of the live-long day, obviously) and you’ll see him claim his favourite album of all time is Pink Floyd’s prismic prog rock sales Godzilla ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s, “Hang on, didn’t he say his favourite album was The Smiths’ ‘Queen Is Dead’?” – a manifesto U-turn! – and, “Will Roger Waters come out and say he’s not allowed to like it?” But we’re thinking, “Is this tuneless, cheerless, pseudo-intellectual plod overrated?” The clue’s in the question.
OK, “tuneless” may be over-egging it a bit, but ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ occupies a hallowed place in the rock firmament way beyond its natural qualities. Yes, it’s sold – at best guess – 50 million copies and stayed in the charts for most of the 70s and the 80s, but for a huge band’s magnum opus it’s about as thin as a Murdoch defence, examining the travails of human existence with all the lyrical rigour of Des’ree and plundering late-period Beatles for every chord change they can fit in. Which admittedly isn’t many, at this glacial pace.
It starts with state-of-the-art sound effects – a heartbeat, machinery, unsettling bursts of laughter, finally some screaming – before flowering into ‘Breathe’’s laidback groove. But these aren’t summery good times; this is a meditation on mental stress and the importance of taking your time. What’s the advice? “Breathe, breathe in the air/ Don’t be afraid to care… Look around/ Choose your own ground” – it’s straight out of Chris Martin’s Big Book of Doggerel. You half expect Roger Waters to go on to recommend, “A walk in the park/ Perhaps not in the dark/ Just take it slow/ If you’re a tad low”.
The platitudes persist. “Money! It’s a gas” (which doesn’t even rhyme with “stash”, Rog) is one of many searing insights on clunky album centerpiece ‘Money’ where cash tills ring ‘ironically’ and the dragging pub rock is as tight as the Wolves back four. The Blockheads could play this better in oven gloves. Pink Floyd might’ve ditched the hour-long ‘Interstellar Overdrive’s to make a concise album for once, but a snappier format has made them bland.
‘Time’ even sounds like that UN-defined war crime: a white rock band playing reggae. You can actually hear Dave Gilmour flexing his knees out of time. We’ll allow them the odd decent melody like ‘Brain Damage’, which – although it’s about the fourth version of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ on the album – remained the best Beatles pastiche until ‘Free As A Bird’ 20 years later. And also ‘Us And Them’, the finest imitation of John Lennon meets ELO until, um, ‘Free As A Bird’ 20 years later.
But the wiggly keyboard presets of ‘On The Run’ and ‘Any Colour You Like’ are the psychedelic warp-outs that would later inspire MGMT to ruin their career. Granted, they might’ve sounded dauntingly futuristic while Donny Osmond was No.1 but obsolescence isn’t the key to all-time great status.
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Nor’s a dreary concept, and nor – God forbid – is the (admittedly fun) myth that ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ is designed to play alongside the Wizard Of Oz. I reckon I could match Dodgy’s ‘Free Peace Sweet’ with The Wizard Of Oz given a P45 and an A3 sheet of blotting paper.
So you can keep your favourite album, Mr Cameron, if indeed that is your real name. We’re all running back to The Smiths now it’s OK to like them again.