You might well have thought you’d clicked on some obscure eastern European Eurovision entry from 2007 by mistake. The band shot might be indistinguishable from the blues covers band that played last night in your thatched village pub. Yes, there is a gaping hole where famously domineering bassist Roger Waters should be. But can we please stop making the new Pink Floyd song all about Pink Floyd?
‘Hey Hey Rise Up’ was guitarist David Gilmour’s brainchild, born just a matter of weeks ago when he heard that Andriy Khlyvnyuk, singer with the Ukrainian band BoomBox (with whom Gilmour had played a benefit show in 2015) had taken up arms in the fight against the Russian invasion. Taking vocals from a video Khlyvnyuk had made in full battle-ready kit, singing WWI protest song ‘The Red Viburnum’ into camera, Gilmour put the track together with Floyd drummer Nick Mason, bassist Guy Pratt and keyboardist Nitin Sawhney at a pace that’s long felt unimaginable for this lumbering Goliath of a band: a Floyd song in a fortnight is like getting a Brexit benefit before 2082.
It might be their first freshly written material since 1994’s ‘The Division Bell’, but from the internet’s reaction you’d think it expected Gilmour to single-handedly pull a new billion-selling concept opus out of the back pocket of some old jeans overnight. “THIS IS NOT PINK FLOYD” chorused the purists, somehow dismayed by the non-appearance from Waters 37 years after he left the band. “A stain on Pink Floyd’s legacy!” others crowed about a song that only really relates to the band’s history via Gilmour’s sad-seagull guitar.
To be honest, it didn’t help that this notoriously anonymous band, so often hiding behind grand stage props and epic imagery, put out a band shot at all, featuring a couple of blokes – session bassist Guy Pratt and keyboardist Nitin Sawhney – who clearly never got nicked in the ear by any stray artillery in the Wall Wars of 1979. Or that the track itself plods along like ‘Comfortably Numb’ inching perilously close to amputation, and comes as a standalone piece rather than part of any grand scale conceptual project, making it unlike everything they’ve released since about 1967 debut single ‘Arnold Layne’.
But none of that matters. This is a humanitarian exercise, not (particularly) a creative one. ‘Hey Hey Rise Up’ is all about flexing an almighty muscle – the name ‘Pink Floyd’ itself – to see how strong it is, for a damn good cause. Had it been released as Gilmour, Mason And Friends, or even as part of some glittering all-star line-up of Eltons and Bonos, it wouldn’t have caused the cultural echoes it has, topping iTunes charts across the globe and threatening, as we speak, to follow in Sam Fender’s wake on the first rock invasion of the UK singles chart since the nation lost its shit to what we now call ‘indie sleaze’. With the legendary Floyd moniker attached, however, there are roughly 45 million record buyers who have to hear it.
If anything, ‘Hey Hey Rise Up’ is the perfect final (?) act for Pink Floyd. Records like ‘The Wall’, ‘The Final Cut’, ‘Us And Them’ and ‘The Dogs Of War’ contained strong anti-war sentiments; the pigs of 1977’s Orwellian ‘Animals’ satirised callous despots; ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ dealt with isolation and desperation of numerous shades. Theirs is a name loaded with socio-political righteousness and capable of devastating impact, so it’s deeply fitting that it should be dusted off and deployed at a time of war in Europe, cashed in to save Ukrainian lives.
In effect, ‘Hey Hey Rise Up’ isn’t about the music at all; it’s about one of the UK’s biggest bands finally fulfilling its purpose. It exists not as any continuation or addendum to the Floyd’s magnificent canon, but purely to make you need to listen to it. So why not hit ‘play’ once more time?