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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Richard Wright: Wet Dream

RICHARD WRIGHT: WET DREAM (1978)

1) Mediterranean C; 2) Against The Odds; 3) Cat Cruise; 4) Summer Elegy; 5) Waves; 6) Holiday; 7) Mad Yannis Dance; 8) Drop In From The Top; 9) Pink's Song; 10) Funky Deux.

General verdict: Nice MOR soundscapes, but not really worthy of a Pink Floyd graduate.


Rick Wright's first solo album was, in some ways, even more of a rebellious reaction against Roger's full artistic control of Pink Floyd than Gilmour's self-titled debut. After all, there was plenty of David on Animals: his knack for angry blueswailing fit in well with Waters' penchant for mean aggression, even if altogether, as a person, Dave was far more friendly and less cynical. But there was very little Rick Wright there — that particular Rick Wright with his love for idyllic, soothing, meditative, subtly transcendental keyboard passages and vocal harmonies, the kind of Rick Wright without whom there would be no ʽEchoesʼ or ʽUs And Themʼ. In a world according to Roger Waters, there was no space for this attitude on Animals. And thus, it is even less sur­prising that once the Animals tour came to an end, Rick finally decided to break it out on his own. In fact, recording sessions for Wet Dream began even before the sessions for David Gilmour — it simply took Wright far more time to get Harvest to release it.

Very honestly, this is not a Pink Floyd album; this is a Richard Wright album. The two principal side players enlisted for the session were guitarist Snowy White (who would also perform as «backup» guitarist on The Wall tour, and briefly served in Thin Lizzy during its final years) and sax and woodwind veteran Mel Collins, of King Crimson fame. Although both get plenty of studio time, with Wright nicely allowing both to stretch out on guitars and saxes whenever they like, they do not steal the spotlight away from him — provided, of course, that you can actually call this a spotlight. As a whole, the album gives much the same impression as David Gilmour: nice, tasteful, perfect for background usage, but not in the least memorable.

Four out of ten songs here have vocals, but the record still feels largely «instrumental», because Rick's vocals have a way of blending into the general woodwork. And technically, the instrumen­tals do not depart too far away from Floyd-style: slow, stately, melodic, minor-key-favoring rivers of sound, typically with guitars and saxes soloing over bluesy or jazzy piano or organ rhythm tracks (more rarely, the rhythm tracks are based on acoustic guitar, with Rick adding keyboard embellishments throughout — that's how it goes with ʽWavesʼ). Towards the end of the album, the band gets a little funkier, first on ʽDrop In From The Topʼ with its jumpy bassline, and then on the give-it-away-titled ʽFunky Deuxʼ; even so, the rise in «danceability» does not really disrupt the calm, soothing flow of the album.

And that, of course, is also its major problem. Calmly and soothingly flowing keyboard-based music can be magnificent in the hands of a genius such as Brian Eno, who knows exactly how to get to the core of things and make the listener get there together with the artist. But Wright, on his own, does not have that kind of depth, and his solo instrumentals never pierce the barrier that separates pleasant from breathtaking. The opening track, ʽMediterranean Cʼ, is a prime example of that style, with both Mel and Snowy taking turns to solo over Wright's piano melody. Every­thing is professional, but the atmosphere is... well, maybe fit enough to be used for a cheesy romantic dinner (champagne, candlelight, evening gown, and whatever follows — hey, the record isn't called Wet Dream for nothing!). There is nothing even remotely reminiscent of the turbulent ups-and-downs of ʽUs And Themʼ here — the point is to stay cool and calm, with a humble pinch of happy-sad, all the time.

The vocal numbers preserve and cherish that atmosphere, with the theme of parting being central to most of them: "Something's gotta give / We can't carry on like this / One year on and more unsure / Where do we go from here?", starting off ʽSummer Elegyʼ, was probably regarded as Rick's farewell menace to his Floyd buddies, but it does not even sound like a menace, because the melody and the vocals are so relaxed — a bit sorrowful, but still friendly in the long run. If there is deep, soul-tearing torment here, one must assume that Richard Wright, the polite and well-bred gentleman as he is, thought it way beneath him to let it show; and while that decision, if there really was such a decision, might command admiration on its own, it just does not make for a particularly harrowing listening experience.

It is interesting to note that one of the vocal numbers is named ʽPink's Songʼ — and no, it does not have anything to do with The Wall, since that project was not even on the horizon at the time of recording. Rather, it is a fairly obvious musical tribute to Syd ("quiet, smiling friend of mine / thrown into our lives"), as if, for some reason, ʽCrazy Diamondʼ was not enough and Rick just couldn't live without paying his own individual respect to the man. Alas, like everything else on here, the slow, sorrowful ballad, adorned by Mel's flute solo, is tepid at best, and when Rick draws a subtle parallel between Syd and himself, implying that he, too, may have to follow his own path eventually ("and I must go, be on my way... let me go, I cannot stay"), this is delivered so quietly and with so little expression that even the fabled «less is more» principle remains unapplicable. At the very least, my heart does not cry out for him the way it should.

In a way, all of this is predictable, yet it is still vaguely amusing how two out of three key ingre­dients in the Pink Floyd sound, within the exact same year, went all the way to demonstrate just how insignificant each of these ingredients is on their own. In comparison, one might get seriously irritated by the individual styles of early solo John Lennon or Paul McCartney, but at least what those guys did in 1970-71 was take those individual characteristics and amplify them all the way to eleven. Gilmour and Wright, on the other hand, made the surprising choice to take them and turn them all the way down — as if they were so nervous about coming into the studio on their own that they each had to swallow a bunch of sedatives in preparation. It must take a really, really dedicated Floyd fan to want to immerse and lose oneself in these lukewarm sonic pools — though, I am sure of that, after a while even lukewarm might seem to become the new searing hot or ice cold, if you work hard enough on your reaction.

2 comments:

  1. I'm glad to see you review this album as I've always wondered what your opinion on it would be. I personally I enjoy it a lot, maybe because I tend to relate to the styles of Richard Wright and David Gilmour more than Roger Waters. The record sounds very 'Floyd' to me, like a mellower 'Wish You Were Here' or 'Dark Side Of The Moon' in places. With repeated listens, I found the subtle moods and textures to be quite beautiful and memorable. I also love Snowy White's guitar work and in parts hear similarities between him and Gilmour. A little known fact is that Snowy actually played lead guitar on the 8 Track release of 'Animals' in 1977. The album combines 'Pigs On The Wing 1 and 2' with White playing an abridged solo between the two songs.


    I read in an interview with Rick somewhere that 'Pink Song' was actually about a family friend and not Syd, though it does seem to fit Barrett's situation uncannily. I believe'Summer Elegy'is about struggles Rick was going through with his first wife Juliette Gale; the two divorced in 1982 and Rick has stated in interviews that this was a particularly unhappy time in his life.

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  2. I also like this album very much, along with David Gilmour's solo debut. In some ways, they are a balancing factor for the overall Pink Floyd sound against Waters' vitriol.

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