Set the controls for the heart of the drum.
With Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters traditionally hogging the bulk of the Floyd-related spotlight, it’s especially good to see Nick Mason getting some attention with his Saucerful Of Secrets Band and the reissue of his three albums originally released in the 1980s. Having languished in out-of-print limbo for far too long, that they come in a modestly priced package is the icing on the cake.
Thanks to Mason’s affable nature and egoless spirit, we have the brilliant composer and pianist Carla Bley to thank
HOT RIVER IS POSSIBLY THE BEST SONG PINK FLOYD NEVER RECORDED.
for his 1981 debut solo album, Fictitious Sports. Though released under his name, it was Bley who gifted the entire collection of songs that comprise the record, as Mason looked to channel his creative energies into something more collaborative and positive after the making of The Wall.
With Robert Wyatt providing most of the vocals, it’s become something of a cult classic in disparate parts of the progressive music continuum. Largely recorded in 1979 in the bucolic surroundings of upstate New York, it resonates with a remarkably liberated atmosphere thanks to real-time performances and agile support.
Both songs and lyrics are often witty, a quality that Wyatt’s lugubrious and deadpan delivery frequently amplifies. The brilliant Hot River remains a contender for the best song
Pink Floyd never recorded. Punchy brass, with some highly charged sax from Gary Windo (best-known for his work on Wyatt’s Mason-produced Rock Bottom and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard albums), add a fiery urgency.
This is a commodity that’s almost entirely missing from Mason’s next venture. Teaming up with 10cc guitarist Rick Fenn, 1985’s Profiles veers between a kind of library music version of breezy pop to momentary outbreaks of dramatic themes with crashing electronic drums and cascades of
DX-7 synth. There’s a Dave Gilmour cameo vocal and several solos from King Crimson veteran Mel Collins, but the album struggles to come to life due to the glossy 80s production.
1987’s White Of The Eye, on CD for the first time, is similarly burdened. The soundtrack to director Donald Cammell’s movie of the same name, the pieces feel more like provisional sketches. Moody, neon rain-soaked impressions, the occasional bluesy outing, exotic synth flowerings and Fenn’s fine guitar playing hover in the thrall of Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms zeitgeist. Nevertheless, despite its torpor, there’s much that’s agreeable, if not very exciting.
Though these latter two records possess a kind of innocuous charm, an overly fussy sound means they’ve dated in a way that Fictitious Sports most definitely has not.