Pink Floyd: Obscured By Clouds (1972)

Heading back into classic rock land, here's one that sometimes seems to get overlooked. Pink Floyd are of course best known for their run of mega-selling concept albums from 1973's Dark Side of the Moon through 1979's The Wall (or maybe through 1983's The Final Cut if you're being generous); and their 1967 debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn and contemporaneous singles with acid casualty Syd Barrett at the helm are legendary in their own right. But in between these two very different bands was a band struggling for an identity. Across a number of good to great albums, including several film soundtracks, the band's sound ranged from trippy space explorations to modest acoustic folk, concise near-pop songs and album-side-length epic suites. 

One of  my favorites from this era is 1972's Obscured By Clouds, the soundtrack for French film La Vallée. Tucked in between 1971's Meddle, their finest post-Piper work, and the monster-making DSotM, Obscured was relatively low-key -- no extended suites a la Meddle's "Echoes," minimal trippy weirdness, just a collection of surprisingly sturdy tunes.

Bookended by the opening pair of instrumentals (both perfectly fine scene-setting) and the closing instrumental (the closest the band comes to its space-rock explorations, resolving in a weird choir thing reminiscent of the football chant coda in Meddle's "Fearless") are a set of nifty, pretense-free tunes ranging from lush ballads to upbeat rockers. "Wot's...Uh The Deal" is one of Floyd's finest songs, a mellow acoustic folk-tinged ballad that's as pretty as anything they've ever recorded; "Childhood's End," after a slow-building spacey opening, is a great little rock tune with a trademark David Gilmour jam; "The Gold It's In The..." is an uncharacteristically poppy 3-chord riff-rocker; and "Free Four" is a similarly uncharacteristic pop tune, bubbly hooks and hand-claps giving a shiny glow to Roger Waters's typically dark ruminations on life and death. "Burning Bridges" and "Stay" are both quieter (as is the downbeat "Mudmen" instrumental) but perfectly lovely.

The package, viewed alongside the non-"Echoes" side of Meddle, suggests a band that could have had a perfectly respectable career churning out solid, understated albums full of radio-friendly middle-of-the-road classic rock tunes had Dark Side not set them off in a very different direction. 

Here's a fun little animated video someone put together for "Free Four":
The proper Floyd never played any of this live (aside from the 2 opening instrumentals during some of the early Dark Side performances), but here's David Gilmour (with Richard Wright on piano) performing "Wot's... Uh The Deal" a few years back:
...and here's drummer Nick Mason's band performing "Childhood's End":