Album Review: Wish You Were Here

Sebastian Suarez ’18

After breaking through into world stardom with their 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd cemented themselves as one of British rock’s most promising prospects. All seemed bright the boys from Cambridge, and they were moving forward with their progressive sound. However, only 5 years before the release of Dark Side, Pink Floyd was faced with a difficult decision.

Syd Barrett, founder and lead guitarist of Pink Floyd had been undergoing some psychotic breakdowns, and as much as the group tried and tried, eventually it could not work. Barrett’s condition worsened so much that he eventually wouldn’t be able to play some shows or just wouldn’t be present to play, so in 1968 he was let go from the band.

Some seven years after Barrett’s parting from the outfit, Pink Floyd released Wish You Were Here, an album that was not only a momentous musical achievement but serves as the band’s commemoration and tribute to their past bandmate Syd.

The record itself leaves nothing to the imagination. Beginning with the first five parts of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, it commences in its acknowledgment of Barrett. The beginning of the song begins with a subtle ambiance that eventually crowns into four evocative guitar notes that are played a handful of times as the background remains silent, and then the drums and second guitar enter the panorama. The song truly begins to embody the spirit that it is invoking by telling Syd that he must, “shine on.” The song is a recollection of all of the great times that the band had before Barrett’s breakdown. They tell Barrett that he, “reached for the secret too soon,” and that he, a piper, painter, and prisoner must shine. This is the heartwarming but simultaneously heartrending message that Pink Floyd evokes with their outcry to Syd in the initial thirteen minutes of their record. The second part, at the end of the record, contains more pragmatic instrumental work. The true climax of the composition is achieved through a poignant guitar solo that places the listener right on that spinning jewel that is Syd Barrett and sends them soaring and shining into exultance.

The album continues by relentlessly crafting two critiques of the music industry as it was (and perhaps continues to be) in their early 70s England. “Welcome to the Machine” initiates this by containing sounds of a dystopian manufacturing complex. It welcomes the listener to the machine, the industry that is the music scene that Pink Floyd feel enslaved to in a sense. The dark undertones of the track, complete with synthesizer riffs and a haunting acoustic guitar instrumentation, offer the listener the experience of what is it on the other side of the album cover. “What did you dream? It’s alright we told you what to dream,” are some of the parting lyrics on this song. It expresses the perhaps Orwellian nature of the record labels during the time of Pink Floyd’s album production and gives the group a voice beyond the commercialism they are being forced to partake in. The following suit, “Have a Cigar,” paints the more pastel-colored world of music with a more upbeat bass line, while also offering the listeners a symbol of welcome, a cigar, and telling them that they’re “gonna go far.” More synthesizer is included in this track, and it closes out the introspective (and satirical) look into the music industry that Pink Floyd provides us with through their cleverly composed lyrics.

“Wish You Were Here,” the titular song on the album, is perhaps the most straightforward, warm track in respect to the band’s outstretched hand to Syd Barrett, perhaps like the one on the front cover of the record. “Wish You Were Here” is a sweet song, directed at Barrett and an explanation to him of how much they miss his companionship. They may not understand what exactly it is that possessed their former bandmate into behaving the way that he did, but they unconditionally wish he were here. This emotional outpouring is one of the most intimate that the group produced in their entire musical career.

Classics such as The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon contain incredible allegories for social and political issues, but Wish You Were is not as abstract. Pink Floyd is appreciating their listeners and telling them exactly how the band feels, in the only unfiltered way that they know how. Wish You Were Here is a masterpiece not only musical self-expression.