A Band In Search Of Themselves

By Sergio Ariza

Atom Heart Mother is far from a perfect album but it is ‘a fascinating mistake’, one that sees a gigantic band searching for itself, and still trying to get out from the huge shadow of their original leader, Syd Barrett. It is a ‘trial and error album’ in which they try many things that don’t all work out well; but it is a very interesting search in which you can already see many of the things that will make them great, and that you will definitely find on the next album, Meddle. 


Neither Roger Waters nor
David Gilmour have much affection for the album, as it was clearly still part of a transition period, but Atom Heart Mother has really brilliant moments and even when it fails, as in the title piece, it does so in a very interesting way. The first side of the album, which lasts 23 minutes and 44 seconds, is occupied entirely by Atom Heart Mother, a very long instrumental song recorded by all four, but which they felt had something missing. That ‘something’ was added by the composer Ron Geesin who made an orchestral arrangement that was put right up front by the band, something contrary to what is usually done in pop and rock music. But, on the other hand, it has to be said that - unlike other epic later songs like Echoes or Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Atom Heart Mother – it is not a fully-rounded piece but a shipwreck in several of its sections, while in others it shone brilliantly.

On the B-side, as in Ummagumma, they again backed the idea of giving space to each member’s own compositions. This side opens with If, a melancholic acoustic song by Roger Waters in which Barrett's long shadow is still very much in evidence, both in the lyrics ("if i go insane will you still let me join in with the game?") and in the music, which is clearly inspired by the former member; as if Waters had taken advantage of the sessions he shared with Gilmour, in recording Syd's first solo album, to ask him for some songs for the band. Summer '68 is the most catchy of the lot, which was composed and sung by Rick Wright. The influence of the composer of See Emily Play is also noticeable in it, as well as that of the Beatles, with a Penny Lane trumpet solo.


The best song of the lot is Fat Old Sun, one of the most underrated songs in the history of the English band. It is a song with a pastoral sound that highlights the use of a 'steel pedal' and one of Gilmour’s most beautiful vocal performances. For the melody, and part of the lyrics, it may have been based on the Kinks' Lazy Old Sun; but the best part comes with the final solo, in one of the first appearances of Gilmour’s Black Strat, a melodic and highly hummable solo that proved Gilmour to be one of the best guitarists in the world. The album ends with Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast, which is a collage of largely uninteresting sounds.

But despite its shortcomings, Atom Heart Mother is still a very interesting album, especially knowing where the band is headed, as it is a fascinating search for sounds from a group that was about to definitively find itself.