Tuesday, 22 June 2021

The Tuesday Taste: Freshii's Chipotle Chicken Tacos

 


 

The finger to the land of the chains

What? The "land of the free?"

Whoever told you that is your enemy

Now something must be done

About vengeance, a badge, and a gun

 

Another Tuesday, another Taste. After subjecting myself to torture via blandness last week, it was time for something different and definitely not a something cheeseburger and fries. 

Freshii is a food chain I know absolutely nothing about, beyond the sudden appearance of locations everywhere throughout Toronto. So, have some history! The founder/CEO Matthew Corrin was supposedly, while interning in the fashion industry, inspired by small New York delis to create a healthy food option with likewise fresh ingredients but better branding. The dude has since been featured in magazines, on Dragon's Den and other business-like shows etc, and he's only five years older than me. Great, now I feel just awesome... this better be damn good.

There are now over 300 locations of Freshii worldwide (according to their website) but their established headquarters are in Toronto, so this is kinda a local success story, kinda. Enough of that though, I was hungry damnit! Just recently has Freshii begun offering tacos, which caught my particular attention (otherwise their deal seems mostly salads, salad-like bowls, various wraps and other options far too healthy sounding for me to even process). Three tacos for 14 bucks (with tax) will not ever seem overpriced to me (it's a freaking taco... I could eat six as a snack) but this also seems to be the consistent rate among most well regarded Mexican restaurants throughout town.

Can these Freshii tacos consider themselves amongst that elite company? Nope. Okay... they're bad then? Also nope. They're in that pesky B- middle ground of "good... maybe quite good... but not outstanding". 

There are significant positives: the (flour) tortillas are soft, firm and flexible (dry, flaky tortillas are a crime against the public) while the quantity of taco fillings definitely lean into the "overstuffed" category, also a good thing. There's a sturdy balance between chicken, black beans, avocado, diced tomatoes (truly the messiest part of this equation) where one doesn't overpower the other for more than a bite or two... meanwhile the light touch of shredded old cheddar and cilantro provide a steady compliment. The salsa verde, thankfully on the side since there's no space for it in the taco itself... brings a different version of sweet acidity than the diced tomatoes. Frankly this salsa seems more ideal as a dip for chips than drizzled on this particular taco (it's the same side salsa regardless of which taco you order...)

The biggest weakness... well that it's merely good. I found each bite tasty and with enough different flavours to make each chomp diversely enjoyable, but there is something notably lacking and it's probably the chicken. Pulled chicken can be unbelievably good when slow cooked with all its skin, dark meat juices, additional spices and peppers or whatever you fancy. Freshii is "healthy" food though, and so this chicken is all light breast meat... which is a bit more challenging to find juiciness and flavour in. This is completely ok, and the chipotle sauce exists just enough to keep the meat from being irritatingly dry... I just would've liked more seasoning, or something suggesting it'd been slow cooked with other elements just to give a hint of secondary flavour. The "chipotle" part of this is barely noticeable at all: there is a hint of spice in these tacos which I suspect are from the black beans. 

Overall... I enjoyed it... though not enough to consciously seek Freshii out as a taco craving option. I joke about this being "healthy" food, but the biggest positive might just be that sensation of feeling sorta satisfied (helped by the portion size) and yet not gross or sluggish afterwards (you can tell I've been reviewing cheeseburgers a lot lately). By my observation the least healthiest thing here was the shredded cheese and that was essentially little more than a garnish. 

I suspect this is more so a result of ingredient combination rather than actual quality, but aside from the black beans (which were really good) most of this didn't wow me with any exceptional level of flavour or freshness. Perhaps I went in thinking it'd either be bland and expensive, or truly invigorating and delicious (thus pricey)... damn you Freshii! It's way harder to write these things when something falls inbetween those two extremes. 

 

Burnt Ends -- I meant to share my random review of Popeye's Flounder sandwich in the link dumpster last week, but oh well here it is! Aside from that... I keep going off with the intention of trying a new restaurant in my neighbourhood but the hours never work out. They're either way too busy (Saturday nights at 6:30pm are busy hours??? Man I've been outta the game for a while...), or they're a food truck I can't remember the name of and I'm not even certain they even exist outside of my imagination. Hopefully I have something new soon. Otherwise... well I'm thinking about writing something non-music or food related, might share a chapter I wrote back in February of a potential larger fiction project. I dunno, stay tuned! Same West Collier time, same West Collier channel. 

Also... this is the 18th ever Tuesday Taste! Mentioning that only because... lets just say I have something special and fun planned for numero 20...


Hey Doug -- You're the Whopper of political leaders. All sauce without anything resembling substance. Apologizes... I'm sorry... that's an insult to the Whopper.

 

Tuesday Tune -- I was all set to queue up an Iggy Pop track. I love the Stooges (Fun House is a Top 10 album of all time for me) and Iggy's solo career is pretty damn interesting. But instead... here's a band I wish I'd listened to more 15 years ago instead of... 15 days ago? Ah whatever... this guitar hook is so good, blending metal and funk seamlessly, while the lyrics still are relevant almost three decades later, which is both impressive and sad.

 


 

That's it for me! Goodbye forever... wait I mean until next week! Sometimes these weeks tend to blend together with forever... must've got them mixed up. Seriously though until next time, be safe, stay healthy, treat each other with kindness, stop at f*ing STOP signs (don't get me started) but most of all... don't spill that damn mustard. 

 


  

Monday, 14 June 2021

The Tuesday Taste: Burger King's Whopper w. Cheese (and fries)



...

 

I've been dreading this one. Ever since I conceived of the Tuesday Taste, knowing I'd be trying all sorts of fast food chains... this one was inevitable. *Deep breath*

Burger King genuinely brings back a lot of nostalgia for me. The long lost location at Yonge and Breadalbane (totally had to look up that street name, thought it was Maitland) was a usual high school lunchtime trip. Another lost location, this one also on Yonge but just north of Charles, was an occasional junior high lunchtime adventure. Additionally, a location that actually still exists(!) at King and Dufferin was one of my food spots I'd sneak off to while working shifts at the Drake Hotel. If you're one of my former Drake managers reading this... I'm sorry.

Last time I even had BK at all must've been a few years ago. I was probably desperately hungry after a shift at Roy Thomson Hall and annoyed at waiting the usual century for the Queen streetcar. I recall that snack experience not being pleasant, so I've steered well away from Burger King since then.

So... how was it this time? Well... the experience was more flavourful than the product. There was a chatty dude ahead of me in line, friendly fella, who apparently noticed in that very moment how you can upgrade your fries into a poutine for just 1.99, and so cheerfully proposed that possibility to me. It was something out of a commercial, honestly. What was especially charming, to me anyway, was the pure excitement in his realization... while I (your friendly neighbourhood food critic) can't think of anything I'd rather have done less in that moment than get a poutine from Burger King. 

Enough of my dawdling though, did this actually taste good? 

Short answer. No.

Long answer: what interests me is how Burger King and McDonald's are both bad, but bad in very different ways. Also remember this is just my opinion! If you disagree... well hopefully my criticisms don't deter any particular enjoyment you get. Here's the way I sees it though, see: I mentioned in my Big Mac review how everything from McDonald's has a specific taste to it, some unique chemical brand of addictive oiliness. I don't remotely like it at all, but I comprehend the appeal. Burger King instead sorta tastes like real food... just the most bland food you can imagine.

The fries taste like potatoes, somewhat, but the way they're fried and the lack of any care or seasoning whatsoever makes them tedious to consume beyond their simple crispiness. These are begging for and dependent on ketchup, which makes me surprised Burger King isn't really known for any kind of specialty sauces. Call me, BK.

As for the main attraction, the famous Whopper... it sure looks way better than it tastes (compliments to the cameraman). It's a "charred" thin beef patty cooked to hell and drowning in secondary toppings. There's a tiny hint of a grilled flavour, sure, but the beef is so damn bland that the freaking bun has as much flavour as the meat. It's like if you cooked ground beef by boiling it... there's no juiciness (or seasoning) whatsoever. Even the texture is overly chewy, a fleeting instant of flavour and then a minute of hoping it comes back. Just no fun at all.

Meanwhile the excessive condiments dominate the entire enterprise:  one thing impressively consistent with all the Whoppers I've ever eaten is how soaked in ketchup and mayo* they are, and that there is the flavour owning this burger. A dipping sauce sandwich with some pickles, lettuce, cheese and beef texture. 

(*I mean, ketchup and mayo mixed together is a wicked dipping sauce, especially with a bit of chili hot sauce and... oops I've said too much...)

Now potentially angry reader, you might be asking me "why doesn't this party-pooping hack say something positive?" Hey! I'm only that first thing. Positives... well the Whopper does live up to its name: it's still big and still stomach filling. The fella who took my order asked me if I wanted the 2 for 8 bucks Whopper option... geez lemme see if I wanna even finish this first monstrosity. I like the sesame bun okay, it's nice and soft (unlike that stiff McDonald's one I had) and the other ingredients (lettuce, tomato, pickle) taste serviceably fresh enough. 

Really the issue I have is that none of this tastes like anything beyond ketchup-mayo (Ketchyo?) and the mere sensation of eating something. It's not good. But! I did enjoy this more than my Big Mac experience... which made me question the mere concept of fast food consumption. To give a direct grade comparison: Burger King is a D+ for me, while McDonald's goes D-. At least the damn phony cheese was melted on my Whopper...     

Also before I go: as someone who frequents fast food joints maybe once a week at most (usually for these reviews, gahh!) what is up with these fancy menu flatscreens constantly changing and cycling all over the place? It's seriously annoying for me, trying to figure out certain prices and barely knowing the menu, to have what I'm reading suddenly change into a large picture of an item I'll never have any interest in purchasing. All these places do it: A&W, BK. McDonalds, Pizzaiolo etc. Why? Just let me read the goddamn menu at my own pace fercryin'outloud, and get off my lawn! 

 

Burnt Ends -- If you haven't seen it yet, my look at the Pink Floyd discography is up for your curious eyes. It's a longer read, but I think it (to play my own riff) does a good job getting into the particulars of each album thematically and conceptually. Plus they were such a damn, damn good band when they were on. Otherwise... not sure what else is upcoming yet. Maybe some additional food reviews, maybe something else? Shrug? Marmite.

 

Hey Doug -- Can't you go five seconds without embarrassing yourself, you desperate worm pandering to the sensibility equivalent of dirt? It's becoming seriously exhausting every week trying to think of clever ways to insult you, when nothing you do resembles any trace of cleverness, foresight or goddamn public concern. This Bill 307 clearly screams of a loser mostly preoccupied with maintaining power, while so terrified/uncomfortable with being criticized that he'll overrule a fucking high court decision to avoid it. Does this mean I can't call you a Dollar Store Trump who'd trip over his untied shoelaces and blame the sidewalk every week? Well I ain't getting "sponsored?" to do this, so... Get lost, grab your ball and go home already, you thesis on anti-charm. See you next week! Though hopefully not. 

 

Apricots In The Shot -- If you have a keen eye, you may have noticed that label in the background of the header photograph. That is indeed the St. Ambroise Apricot Ale, one of my very favourite beers since I was old enough to (legally) drink the stuff. I figured there was no harm leaving it in the shot, and frankly it's by far the tastiest thing in that lead photo. To be honest I'm not a consistent beer drinker anymore (certain vodka seltzers are just so damn good) but this Apricot Ale has always been a Top 5 beer for me. Hey, top of my head (honestly)... here are the other four!

Muskoka Cream Ale

Henderson's Best

Blanche de Chambly (with some orange)

Erdinger Weissbier (just for some international flavour)

 

Tuesday Tune -- You also may have noticed no lyrics in the usual opener... that's because this week the song is an instrumental! I confess I previously never much took these guys and their well regarded 80s albums as seriously as I should've (though I'm still not a fan of Hetfield's vocals) but damn they have some bloody awesome moments, this song among them. This is like heavy metal meets James Bond... just fabulous head banging goodness.

 

 



 

That's it for me! Hope you all had a good time, patiently endured more of my ranting than usual (sorry not sorry), and stay tuned for more fun stuff here in the future! Until then, please treat each other well, be kind and tip your servers well if you're heading out on a patio here in Toronto. Love one another and don't spill the mustard. 


        

Sunday, 13 June 2021

A Bonus Taste: Popeye's Flounder Sandwich

 


 

Another Sunday, another... Taste? Whaaaaa? 


Sure! Consider this a make-up/do over/bonus episode since I recently missed a week. This will be shorter than the usual Tuesday edition, free of those additional features. Here is just all review, all day! Bring on the Popeye's Flounder Fish sandwich! 

Um... well... it's a crispy fish sandwich... from a fast food joint... that's for sure... (geez, this review might be even shorter than I thought).

All right all right, I do have some morsels of content to share. First off... I've never had flounder before! Perhaps first trying it at a greasy fast food chicken joint wasn't an ideal introduction... but the quality of the fish was somewhat surprising. It was breaded and fried to all hell of course... but there's a special level of hell for overtly crunchy, internally dry fish sandwiches (it's the same circle as people who blast their music on public transit... just a notch above full speed sidewalk cyclists.

My "research" afterwards suggests that flounder, a flatfish (um... I'm guessing it's flat), is normally tender and sweet. Halibut is also a type of flatfish in the flounder species in fact... so I've actually had flounder before apparently.

*cough*

Oops. Well I didn't get any sweetness from this particular flounder offering (again, breaded, greasy and fried forever) but I did find an agreeable tender flakiness within the crispy exterior, even once cooled. Decent.

Complaints wise... well maybe it's the nature of the fish itself (again, I know so little about seafood preparation) but the fact that, as my photo shows, the sandwich is comprised of separate fillets instead of one whole fish patty... it made the action of eating this fairly awkward. A bit of surprise since this is what it looks like on the poster (false food advertising? Nooooooooooo). The separate fillets, beyond making it notably messier (like eating/juggling a homemade sandwich made of baked fish sticks)... it does make certain bites almost entirely the crunch of the breading, other bites a bizarre void of nothingness.

Overall... it's fairly okay. Tricky to eat while trying to keep the insides from tumbling out, but at least on this occasion the fish portions weren't cheapo in quantity. The other elements (mayo, pickles, bun) are standard Popeye's issue and if you've had any of their sandwiches before it's very much the same (I've reviewed this before, ya know... the very first TT!). An okay option for a fish sandwich, but if you're in the Beaches and willing to wait somewhat longer (and throw in an extra five-ish bucks) I'd highly suggest the excellent Mira Mira Diner 1/2 a block away instead.

Thanks for reading! I'll be back Tuesday with a full proper review along with all my other rambling self-indulg... I mean detailed features! Keep your eyes peeled though for potentially some more of these bonus episodes in the future. Until then... don't slip on that mustard spill.         

 

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Ranking The Pink Floyd Albums

 


Where to begin with a band like this... a career loaded with twists and turns, dramatic personnel departures, legendarily elaborate live shows, iconic album covers, multi changing musical directions and all of it ending as one of the best selling groups in music history. There's a lot that can be said about these guys.

Three of them (Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason) were architecture students in London who met at school and began playing music together. Guitarist Syd Barrett, a childhood friend of Waters, eventually joined their band and after other members departed, this remaining quartet is what gradually became Pink Floyd (the name imagined up by Barrett based on two blues musicians he had in his record collection). They slowly drifted away from R&B/blues covers and into psychedelic rock as Barrett began writing original songs, and the rest is history.

Some of that history is truly mindblowing. Other parts... whatever the opposite of "mindblowing" is. Lets jump in and take a look at the Pink Floyd catalogue. First some quick housekeeping: I won't be ranking any of the completely live albums (like Delicate Sound of Thunder or Pulse), their EP length soundtrack albums (like The Committee) or soundtracks that were unreleased and not entirely new material (La Carrera Panamerica). I'm also not including Relics either, which is terrific and includes a lot of great songs that never appeared on albums ("Julia Dream", "Arnold Layne" and the incomparable "See Emily Play") but is also a compilation. These are just the fifteen studio records, ranked and discussed for your enjoyment. So lets go and breathe, breathe in the air.

 

#15. The Final Cut (1983)

**

 


 

It never should've been called a Pink Floyd album at all, of course. If not for contractual obligations it probably wouldn't have been. 

That being said, it even says on the back "A Requiem For The Post War Dream by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd" which neatly sums up how this band was (dis)functioning by then. It's the only Floyd album to not feature Wright (he'd left or been fired by Waters while recording The Wall, depending who you ask) and drummer Nick Mason's contributions were mostly reduced to minimal sound effects mixing. This is the Roger Waters show, full stop.

It's pretty clear Waters at this time wanted to make albums that were like immersive auditory novels, and his first couple solo albums afterwards reflect that ambition. The problem here though, is that these songs simply aren't very good. Some were leftovers from The Wall, to which David Gilmour quipped: "If they weren't good enough for that record, why would they be good enough now?" Touche. 

Waters isn't a particularly dynamic vocalist and he simply isn't capable of carrying an emotional album like this by himself. Since the lyrics are what's supposed to carry this concept (the tepid music sure doesn't) his singing often becomes grating, and there isn't anything melodically captivating to mask it. 

This is just a bad album. "Not Now John" at least shocks you back to life near the end, but the rest is just such an irritating slog of bland political angst. Better as a concept than an actual record.   

 

#14. A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)

**1/2


 

See my notes about The Final Cut, but replace Waters with Gilmour. They're very different records stylistically but their problems are the same: the songs to me just aren't interesting. Gilmour's guitar playing is usually excellent but here it sounds like he's repeating the same generic solo for an entire album. There isn't much musical imagination to this, while the lyrics leave little lasting impression. "Learning to Fly" is a decent song I suppose, and they did bring Rick Wright back... but the rest of this is a painfully aged 1980s aged-rocker album. No wonder Waters wanted to sue them for continuing to use the name "Pink Floyd". 

 

#13. Ummagumma (1969)

****

**

 

A very difficult album to judge. The live disc is simply fantastic: these versions of "Astronomy Domine" and "Set Controls For The Heart of the Sun" arguably surpass their studio versions, while the stirring "Saucerful of Secrets" does so easily. And that moment when "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" kicks into madness is truly bone chilling. 

The studio half though is a difficult listen. It's an interesting experiment: each member gets half a side of an LP completely to themselves. The band was still figuring out what they were now with Barrett gone (this was their first non-soundtrack album completely without him) so the idea of giving everyone a shot seems logical. Undoubtedly the Gilmour and Waters halves are the strongest: Gilmour's "The Narrow Way" being a solid piece of late 60s space folk (though Gilmour himself reportedly hates it), while Waters' "Grantchester Meadows" showcases his acoustic singer songwriter side and "Several Creatures..." showcases his scare-the-shit-out-of-you-with-vocal-loop-effects side.

Unfortunately, Wright's chaotic "Sysyphus" suite is formless prog-piano noodling (and unlistenable for long stretches) while Mason's "Grand Vizier's Garden Party" is little more than forgettable ambient background noise. Floyd would get much better later on with their noise experiments but here they don't quite work beyond existing for their own sake. The rating is a 4/5 for the live record and a 2/5 for the studio side, which evens out into a 3. 

 

#12. The Endless River (2014)

***


A very bizarre album to listen to if you know nothing about it going in. Spoilers alert? 

The record came about when, after Richard Wright passed away in 2008, Gilmour and Mason revisited some unused material from The Division Bell sessions. They decided to use Wright's keyboard tracks and create a new album around them, the intention of it being the final Pink Floyd album. Roger Waters unsurprisingly had nothing to do with the project, but upon release it appears he simply didn't comment on it... rather than judging it as "useless rubbish" as he had the previous two Floyd albums without him. Oh, Roger.  

The album is almost entirely long instrumental pieces until the final song "Louder Than Words", which Gilmour sings with his wife Polly Samson (she also wrote the lyrics). Of any album post-The Wall this sounds the most like a Pink Floyd album, with keyboard touches reminiscent of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and occasional flashes of the heavier disco-rock moments of The Wall. It plays like a really, really good Floyd cover band jamming for almost an hour, which might not be for everybody but is a fascinating listen. It does meander for long points, with the substance not much more than just mood and texture... as music (while well played and produced) it doesn't really have anything new to say. 

It's a band delivering a modest homage to itself as a farewell, and it is good to hear Wright again one last time. A genuine 21st century Pink Floyd album, which in of itself is strange and decent enough.

 

#11. The Division Bell (1994)

***

 

After A Momentary Lapse of Reason, David Gilmour seemed to acknowledge he wasn't a good enough individual songwriter to carry a Pink Floyd album. Many of the lyrics on Division Bell he co-wrote with his then-fiance Polly Samson, and Rick Wright (now back as an actual band member... he'd only been a well paid session player on Lapse of Reason) gets to sing lead on a Pink Floyd song for the first time in over twenty years. 

Division Bell and Endless River certainly feel like companion pieces (Gilmour has even said this) and it is true that both albums rely heavily on mood and texture. Division Bell is the more pleasant record atmospherically, as these are light songs of reminiscence and desire for communication. It's very inoffensive soft rock music. The album is overly long while the theme and music perhaps lacks the ambition of their truly best work. These are stronger songs than on Lapse of Reason but they also do blend together a fair bit (aside from the closing "High Hopes", a terrific finale).

 

#10. More (1969)

***

  

Charming in its rawness, with some standout tracks. They wrote and recorded it extremely quickly for the soundtrack of the film, which shows in how haphazard much of it sounds. It was the first album without Syd Barrett and the space rock freakouts of the first two albums are completely abandoned here for riff heavy blues guitars ("The Nile Song", "Ibiza Bar"), quiet keyboard ballads ("Crying Song") late 60s pop ("Cymbaline") or just film score music (the last 20 minutes of the record). To say it's all over the place would be underselling it, wherever "it" is.

It's also the first Floyd record to prominently feature Gilmour as a lead vocalist (he'd shared duties on Saucerful of Secrets) and he gives a good showing here, despite the unpredictable material. "Green Is The Colour" is simply a gorgeous little song. Waters likewise, who wrote all of the lyrics, begins to show how good he was at that type of thing, and the rest of the band is in fine form. The sporadic soundtrack stuff that actually plays like a film soundtrack though is pretty uninteresting to listen to by itself, and occupies sizeable chunks of this record.

You could see, even without Barrett, how talented these guys still were... but stylistically as an album this is pretty random and unfocused, a problem of theirs that would persist for some time. 

 

#9. Atom Heart Mother (1970)

***1/2


It's strangely similar to Ummagumma: one half devoted to showcasing the band as a whole, the second half giving each member a section for individual songs. This time though, with the exception of Nick Mason's "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast", each member's contribution has a traditional pop song structure. Plus, as a collage of sound, "Alan's Breakfast" is sonicly far superior and more interesting than "Grand Vizier" on Ummagumma. It's still weird and hard to define as "music" but as a novelty it is oddly enjoyable.

The highlight of the album is the opening self titled 23 minute suite, and it really is the first instance that this version of Floyd could pull off such an extended song in the studio. Their live jams are legendary of course, and so many of those eventually formed the basis of their very best songs... but at this point in their history the only time they'd pulled it off with any significant success in the studio was "Interstellar Overdrive" with Syd Barrett leading the way. "Atom Heart Mother Suite" does have some lulls though, and recording it was incredibly difficult (the record company didn't want them splicing their new fancy tapes together, so Mason and Waters had to play the drums and bass respectively for the entire 23 minutes each take). Ron Geesin was recruited to arrange and compose an orchestra and choir to fill out the song, which he described as: "difficult... nobody knew what they wanted, they couldn't read music".

The other songs have some charm. Waters continues his pastoral sound with the mostly acoustic "If", showcasing his improving songwriting talents. Wright sings "Summer '68", a lament for a groupie that has some nice melodic changes and keyboard work, while Gilmour's "Fat Old Sun" (supposedly written because they locked him in the studio and forced him to make something) progresses from something seemingly mundane into indescribably grand as his electric guitar kicks in, like listening to a setting sun. A tremendous song. 

What saves this second side is that, unlike Ummagumma, each member contributes to each other's songs for the most part (Gilmour did most of "Fat Old Sun" himself, even the drums, with Wright on organ). You can say this for pretty much any band ever, but especially with Pink Floyd in how much better they were when working cohesively together (with an exception or two). Atom Heart Mother isn't exactly their breakthrough but it really is when they started figuring out what they were. 

 

#8. A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)

***1/2

 

A transitional album if there ever was one for a classic rock band. Syd Barrett was barely functional during most of the recording, though he does contribute the albums closer and various other guitar parts throughout. It's the big in-between from what Pink Floyd was when led by Barrett and the direction they'd go on during the next few albums without him. Miraculously, with that as a shadow, it is a pretty good record.

Wright sings a lot on this one, getting two lead vocals of the seven songs and doing harmony with Gilmour (enlisted during the recording to fill in for Barrett when needed) on the opening track "Let There Be More Light". There's still a strong sense of that whimsical "wandering-through-a-children's-fairy-tale" stuff you sense from the first album. Barrett's legendary space rock guitar freakouts though are replaced with a quiet spooky uneasiness, like the title track or Waters' excellent "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun". 

As a quick aside: After Endless River, drummer Nick Mason formed a touring band named after this album (he regards Saucer as his personal favourite), dedicated to playing early Pink Floyd songs in small venues. Roger Waters even joined on stage in a show in New York to sing "Set Controls" in 2019 and seemed delighted to do so, praising Mason's band: "you guys are doing this better than we did way back then".

Back to 1968, this was a band going through some serious problems, but you'd hardly know it by listening to this album. Gilmour's guitar (though not quite reaching his trademark style yet) fits in seamlessly, Mason's frantic drumming propels the record through the chaotic opener or the unsettling "Set Controls", and while Wright's songs are fairly fluffy psychedelia they still give this record some much needed respite from the chaos happening around it. 

I have to of course mention Syd Barrett's final song with Floyd, "Jugband Blues". It is a great song and he obviously was such a tremendously talented songwriter... but it is a hard song to enjoy so many decades later and knowing his story. "Jugband Blues" hardly disguises his feelings about his bandmates phasing him out, throws in a wacky interlude with a freaking kazoo leading the way, then the final section of the song sounds straight out of his later solo album Madcap Laughs, just desolate uncertainty and insecurity... like somebody having a conversation with themself you're not meant to hear.  

It's a good Floyd album. Even if the mood of it jumps all over the place, it's a necessary addition and frankly is somewhat underlooked in their canon. 

 

#7. Obscured By Clouds (1972)

***1/2



I had to rank a personal favourite at some point, and this one's mine. Many regard this as one of the worst Floyd albums, even rating it significantly lower than Final Cut. Are we listening to the same record?

It also isn't an album they apparently put a lot of thought into: they were commissioned to make another soundtrack while on a break from touring, and while having also started work on a different high concept album (guess which one). I'll admit, the biggest weakness of Obscured By Clouds is how it feels like just a collection of random songs they wrote, recorded, released, and never gave much consideration to ever again. Seeing as they rarely ever played any of these live, that's a fair assessment. 

However I think this is a fairly underrated album because the songcraft is really coming together. It isn't an album full of background music (like More), instead the instrumental pieces achieve the particular mood they aim for and don't overstay their welcome. Wright gets to shine on this one, either when his keyboard adds dark atmosphere or when singing lead on a little piano ballad ("Stay"). Some of these tunes have genuine kick to them, like Waters' catchy and lyrically bleak "Free Four" or my absolute favourite "The Gold... It's In The" with its carefree adventurous blues rock. "Childhood's End" meanwhile imprints with inevitable low organ and suggests the direction Floyd was about to go in (strangely enough, one of the very last Gilmour wrote entirely by himself).

The biggest weakness is how underdeveloped it sounds, production-wise. They were already thinking about something else when they made this, which does show in the lack of polish here. Thing is, even if as an album it has some puzzle pieces that just don't quite fit, it's an important album in regards to their development and has multiple great songs. 

 

#6. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967)

****


A landmark album in British psychedelic rock, and a stunning debut. Pink Floyd didn't sound like this for a particularly extended period of time, but they certainly did for long enough to have serious influence on future artists. One of my favourite Toronto live bands ever, Spiral Beach, clearly had some love for this type of sound 40 years later. 

My grade may seem low at "just" a 4/5, and that's because as a complete album it has some misses. I love "Interstellar Overdrive" (I even covered it with a band) but at nine minutes the freakout gets a bit long. Likewise I never cared for "Chapter 24" all that much... so much of the album is dreamy whimsy already and that one just never goes anywhere. Plus, Piper just really.... really is tethered to the period it was released in regards to production. It screams "1967".

Enough criticism though, because this album is still darn good. It is the evidence that Syd Barrett isn't just some fallen rock icon to romanticize about, he was a seriously talented fella. His guitar playing may seem tame nowadays within the context of 54 years of additional popular music and guys like Thurston Moore doing similar freakouts, but listen closely and you'll find Barrett truly is quite distinctive. Lots of precise bluesy echo, delay, and just anything he could invent to make you trip out more. In an alternate universe, we lose 70s Pink Floyd and instead get whatever a stable Syd Barrett could have imagined. I wouldn't trade for the uncertainty, but damn I'd sure like to know what that would've sounded like.    

Songs like "Lucifer Sam", "Bike", "The Gnome", "Candy and a Currant Bun" (a B-side I know), or "See Emily Play" (another B-side) demonstrate the depth of Barrett's imagination, alternating from fairy tale to space rock freakout to catchy 60s pop tune. His lyrics can be basic descriptions of simple things ("Lucifer Sam" just describes his cat, that's all), bizarre associations, personal truths hidden in riddles, or just charming nonsense. Barrett was probably the best singer Floyd ever had also (at least the best who wasn't hired for one day).

Piper isn't just Syd though, because even though he wrote most of these songs and was the dominant figure of this show... Waters, Wright and Mason all sound fantastic respectively on this record. Waters is the only one who gets his own song (the odd but solid "Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk") while Wright harmonizes with Barrett on a couple tunes... but seriously it shouldn't be any surprise how well and tight these three play together with a unified vision. This sounds little like what Floyd would become most well known for, and yet is essential for any serious fan regardless.

 

#5. The Wall (1979)

****1/2

 


It's an album I've gone back and forth on in my life: teenage me loved it, pretentious early 20s me thought it full of tedious filler, and now early 30s me again thinks it is a work of genius. With some flaws, of course.

The recording of it was a nightmare. Rick Wright left the band halfway through completing it (he joined the tour as a "hired musician") while Bob Ezrin was brought in to help produce it and just added to the animosity between everyone (like Wright he was dealing with personal issues). His biggest contribution was co-writing "The Trial" with Waters.

Speaking of Roger... you can't deny this is his album. Inspired by an incident in Montreal where he spat at some unruly fans, Waters envisioned some way of building a physical wall between the band and the audience (the Animals tour was not at all good time for these guys) and ran with that idea. He sings most of the songs, wrote all of the lyrics (though that was typical in this era of the band) and the entire concept was his idea. Supposedly Waters had two ideas for an album and proposed both to the other members, who all overwhelmingly preferred this one (the discarded one would eventually become his solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking).

The Wall works so well because it is an interesting concept, an engaging narrative and the music well executed. It also works because, as much as this entire enterprise belongs to Waters... this album would never have worked without Gilmour's guitar and contrasting vocals. He is utilized in just the right moments to keep the story of Pink chugging along without falling completely into a musical ode to self indulgence. The Final Cut fails because the music isn't interesting or diverse enough to carry the story, but The Wall has different moods and different layers and that's because other members are more involved. 

It can be a depressing listen, and it's hard to find the abusive, violent and unstable Pink a particularly sympathetic character. There lies the albums greatest weakness: it can lose some steam in the middle as some of those songs wallow too long in self-pity. Still though, this record has some outstanding tracks. "Young Lust" is catchy in its animalistic sexual cravings. "Hey You" showcases the Waters/Gilmour alternating lead vocals which feature so much in this albums best moments, and is just such a great sad song regardless. "Goodbye Blue Sky" relates the loss of war with the loss of innocence, "Run Like Hell" proves Pink Floyd could make a disco groove sound better than anyone, and "Comfortably Numb"... well it's goddamn "Comfortably Numb".

The Wall is more of a rock album than most Floyd albums of this era (Wright's keyboards are seldom heard in the mix) and Gilmour's guitar is all over it, not exactly a bad thing since he's in great form and provides some of his most iconic solos. It's a grand, ambitious record and even if it is somewhat bloated, it flows from one part of the story to another quite naturally. 

 

#4. Meddle (1971)

****1/2



 

They were beginning to demonstrably improve as songwriters on Atom Heart Mother, but Meddle is really their big leap forward. It shares the sonic experimentation from that previous album and refines it, tightening up the song structure to sound more like complete concept pieces instead of vague mood music. 

Meddle does feel more like a collection of songs rather than having a cohesive theme or style: "San Tropez" might be the most un-Pink Floyd tune they ever recorded, though I quite like it a lot (when else has Waters written a song so charmingly aloof). Not every song quite hits the mark. "Seamus" is considered by many to be the worst thing they ever did (it's just silly filler in my mind) and "A Pillow of Winds" sounds cool with those acoustic guitar effects but never goes anywhere. 

The rest though is pretty damn impressive. "One of These Days" may simply be one of the best album openers in classic rock, period. Waters' delay echo bass guitar slowly throbbing, Wright's keyboard adding simple notes that resonate the unsettling mood, Gilmour's guitar sounding like a motor trying desperately to escape... then the only lyric of the song is spoken by Mason through distortion and all hell really breaks loose. 

"Fearless" might be the best song that truly exemplifies early post-Barrett Floyd: a bit of late 60s/early 70s country twang with a catchy progression, straightforward lyrics and of course sound effect manipulation (this time a recording of a soccer crowd chanting "You'll Never Walk Alone". True story, an old former housemate of mine is a huge Liverpool F.C fan and, knowing the chant, was very confounded one day when I played this song). 

It's impossible to talk about Meddle without the centerpiece that occupies the entire second side. "Echoes" (originally referred to as "Nothing, Parts 1-24" by the band) was a collection of various sound experiments that were consolidated into a complete 23 minute song. Waters' lyrics certainly hint at the everyday human interactions he later explored on... a later album ("strangers passing in the street/by chance to separate glances meet/and I am you and what I see is me"). Meanwhile Gilmour and Wright vocally harmonize brilliantly, the band transitions from proto-funk instrumental interlude into scary noise that resembles being stalked by giant birds, and then well frankly stop reading this and just go listen to the song. One of their very best, as is this album within their catalogue. A bit bumpy and uneven, but the peaks are phenomenal.

 

#3. Animals (1977)

*****

 

Really the album where Roger Waters takes over. He was already writing all of the lyrics anyway at this point, and in retrospect this album definitely has his bleak spitefulness all over it. That being said, at least this was before he got gratingly personal with that stuff (*cough* Final Cut) and here the emotional desolation fits the cynical mood and concept of the album: three different segments of human society. 

It's an interesting idea (and an Orwellian nod) but as an album and record it only works because the songs sound terrific. Considering there are only five of them, and two are the almost identical opener and closer to the record... it's a miracle this works at all, nevermind as a semi-underrated masterpiece. Animals is a testament to how brilliant these four could be together, and considering Wright's limited contributions to The Wall, this is really the last time all four of them truly created something together.

"Dogs" is simply a stunning song, a 17 minute epic that grows more haunting the deeper it gets. Gilmour's guitar here is simply excellent, both acoustic and electric, and melodically the piece takes you through so many twists and uncertain turns around corners. They actually had performed it as early as 1974 under a different title and tightened it up here for the record. What a shame that would've been had this only existed as an incomplete tune on a shabby bootleg. 

"Pigs" is where Waters gets political, taking specific aim at Mary Whitehouse. Charade you are. I think Roger gets a few points for that one. His vocals sneer through the entire song, which as a singer is not him at his best, but the venom fits the mood and again the band just sounds so good... that uncertain opening synth doodling from Wright, Mason's beat stopping and starting (and cowbell, done right, in a Pink Floyd song) and Gilmour's guitar actually oinking through layers of effects. Relations in the band weren't good at all by now, but like I said this is the last album they sounded all together and like everyone gave a shit. That stuff shows.

"Sheep" is cool and funky, maybe the least lyrically captivating song (kinda like Waters ran out of ideas how to analogize this certain animal) but Richard Wright seriously shines here with his jazzy intro solo that sounds straight out of a Steely Dan album. The main part has a frantic urgency yet open space atmosphere to it, combining the pastoral with intense instrumental freakout... except within the same verse instead of a four minute progression. 

Even Waters' mostly identical acoustic bookends to the album, barely three combined minutes, simultaneously add hopefulness and desperation to this record via their simplicity... it's just damn great. Floyd are unbelievably tight and focused here despite the extended song lengths. Maybe not every moment of the record captures the imagination, but overall it's a mighty impressive musical and creative statement.       


#2. The Dark Side of The Moon (1973)

*****


I won't go long into this one. One of the best selling albums ever made, a classic "must listen" record for young aspiring musicians, an urban legend that it lines up with Wizard of Oz (I've tried this... it doesn't except for a couple moments which are eerily on time) and is simply considered one of the greatest musical things ever recorded. Frankly... yeah, it is. 

All I can add to the extensive discourse regarding this album is: that the band clearly knew they had a good idea and worked extremely hard on making it sound exceptional; also that they're not very good at giving other people much credit for it. Clare Torry, who sings the stunning non-verbal vocals on "The Great Gig In The Sky" had to eventually sue the band for a co-songwriting credit (she improvised her take in the studio, astonishingly). Alan Parsons, who engineered it, has some thoughts on other people involved in the production who deserve more credit for their contributions. 

That aside, as a piece of music the album is simply flawless. Each song, each concept, each sound or theme mixes into the other seamlessly, without compromising the overall feel or flow. The actual making of it is endlessly fascinating and I suggest you check out some of those documentaries. Maybe the production quality finally seems antiquated in this modern digital age of recording, but it sure sounds light years cleaner than any other rock record of the time. 

Most simply though, the timelessness of it is about relative human experience, our places and purpose in society, wondering if there is any purpose at all... something that binds and connects all of us even as it separates. Floyd always had something like this in them, and here was where all those comets finally collided. Simply an incredible piece of music. Listen to "Us and Them" and try arguing.

 

#1. Wish You Were Here (1975)

*****

Seems a bit awkward to go off about what I think is one of the greatest albums ever made, and then immediately jump into why it isn't even the best one that band ever made. That's Pink Floyd, everyone. Not the most consistent band, but when they were on.... yikes. 

Wish You Were Here takes the top spot because, well it's obviously my favourite album of theirs... but also because I think it truly is the definitive Floyd album. Long instrumental moments? Yep. Disillusionment with the music industry? Yep yep. Allusions to lost leader Syd Barrett? Yep again (the story of him randomly visiting the studio while recording a song about him is one of the stranger and sadder stories in rock lore). 

The songs are simply sublime. They thankfully and wisely decided to split "Shine On" in two halves to bookend the album, containing the other themes within and giving them grander context and meaning, like a delicious pie. What makes Wish You Were Here such an experience is the gauntlet of feelings the mood and texture guide you through. It is tragic, angry, hopeful, bitter, longing, nostalgic, sarcastic, sad and accepting.

Needless to say the band is at their peak. Gilmour and Wright mention this as their favourite Floyd album and their harmonies with Waters in "Shine On" are powerful. None of those three have particularly stellar voices when alone (Gilmour can be okay) but all three together in that precise moment.... it hits you. The lyrics lamenting the lost friend and genius of Barrett still sting and still feel so heartfelt even after decades. 

Half this ranking could be reasons why I love this album so much (I mean.... explaining why it's so damn good) so instead I'll be concise. "Welcome to the Machine" is almost seductive in its inhuman industrial sound... its mechanisms luring you in with an impossible prize. "Have A Cigar" I just love so much, with it's funky rhythm (great bassline) and while Waters supposedly wanted guest singer Roy Harper to convey it with more brutal bitterness, Harper instead created a different kind of realism with a sarcastic, playful attitude to his voice. Hats off to Roy Harper for that one. 

The title track needs little introduction, or explanation. It's overplayed, but just so sweet and beautiful in its lonely simplicity. While again it probably was written about Syd, the song itself can be about deeply missing anyone, or even a part of yourself... anything making life seem incomplete. It just hits the soul everytime. Damn what a song.

You could argue that Dark Side is the more important record, or musically more enduring and essential. To me though, when you think of Floyd this is the one that best captures everything they were and sounded like. And the beauty of it will hit ya every time. Shine on, everyone.