Sound — 10
Definitely not your father's Pink Floyd. Though the Floyd would later evolve into a progressive rock legend remembered best for David Gilmour's bluesy solos and Roger Waters' emotional lyrics, here we see them led by guitarist and lead singer Syd Barrett, whose twisted nursery rhyme lyrics and jazzy, experimental guitar style are considered far out even for 1967, the year psychedelic music hit popular music full force.
Lyrics — 10
Perhaps the best microcosm of Syd's style is "Astronomy Domine," the lead track here. The song fades in with frenzied telegraph beeps before Syd enters with palm muting and some jarring jazz chords. Though Syd was hardly a great singer, his frenzied delivery in "Domine's" verse is effective. Syd's solos here are based on traditional scales but manage to sound completely unique and mind-blowing - kind of like a Jonny Greenwood without the guitar effects. "Astronomy Domine" was the only song from this album that remained in Pink Floyd's set up to their final days of touring, a tribute to the lasting impact of this song. Next up is "Lucifer Sam," Syd's ditty to his cat. The song is based on a simple yet memorable surf riff and backed by Rick Wright's organ blasts. Syd's solo here is played on a guitar with a violin bow (a technique later used by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame, though Barrett was the originator.) While Page used of the bow to create otherworldly sounds, Syd uses it to create an actual melody inimitable using traditional techniques. "Matilda Mother" uses gentle arpeggiated chords to convey the thoughts of a child wanting to hear the end of a story. While Syd's lyrics often use simple nursery rhyme techniques and subjects, his songs have a very natural poetic feel to them. In fact, the childlike nature of the lyrics are what make a lot of these songs unique and memorable. There has never been another album with lyrics quite like this (not even Syd's solo albums), although there have been many imitators. "Pow R Toc H" starts out with some a capella animal noises (by Waters? ) before transitioning into a jazzy piano solo, the first of the improvisational numbers of Piper. Next up is "Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk," which starts out as an silly garage rocker with lyrics likely made up on the spot (notable for being Waters' only songwriting and singing credit on this album, however) before morphing into yet another jam. "Interstellar Overdrive" is the most famous jam of this record. The song begins with a giant descending barre chord riff, almost fooling the listener into believing it's the introduction to an actual song. The riff soon drops off as the whole band begins improvising. For the next 9 minutes, the band jams. Each member sounds to be doing their own thing but the piece never stops sounding cohesive. Some people find this instrumental mind-blowing - others, unbelievably boring. Listen to it a few times and make up your own mind. The song ends with the same riff that started it, though it oscillates from speaker to speaker this time, creating a truly dizzing effect if you're listening with headphones. Side 2 begins with "The Gnome," a folk ditty that couldn't be farther removed from the monster that preceded it. The let-up on intensity is much appreciated after the roller coaster that ended side 1. "Chapter 24" quotes passages from the I Ching. Though the song's beautiful piano melodies and bass lines weave around each other and suggest the song could have been great, it somehow falls short. The string of gentle songs completely disarms the listener for the psychedelic chaos of "Bike" that ends the album. Syd's vocals are double-tracked here but separated by a few seconds, creating a frightening effect. "Bike's" lyrics are completely nonsensical in the usual Syd way, but his tales of mice who live in houses and clans of gingerbread men are funny. The album ends with a sound collage that puts Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to shame.
Overall Impression — 10
Even today, Piper manages to sound unique, a difficult feat for a 40 year old album. There is no other album, not even in the Floyd catalog, that sounds like this. Shortly after the recording of this album, Syd would be kicked out of the band for his increasing mental instability and drug problems. The Floyd would attempt to recapture his sound before venturing into experimental territory and eventually finding their own sound. This incarnation of Pink Floyd was radically different from the classic rock Floyd we all know and love, but in no way inferior. This is one of the greatest guitar albums of the psychedelic era. Give it a listen even if you dislike later Pink Floyd. It won't disappoint.