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Where We Start is the fifteenth studio album by Progressive rock band Pink Floyd. Released on 21 September 1999, it was the band's first record since The Division Bell (1994), marking it the second longest gap between studio albums of Pink Floyd's career at the time. The band originally intended to release the songs as a EP, but later combined the material in early 1999.
Pink Floyd began work on the album in 1997 with the recently returned Roger Waters, but shelved most of the material from those sessions. From January 1998 to July 1999, the band collaborated with former band member Syd Barret, who produced and co-wrote many of the new songs. Writing and recording took place at Abby Road Studios. Also in the United States, Ireland and France. The group intended to release Where We Start in November 1998, after composing 20 to 30 songs, they postponed the release because they wanted to continue writing.
Prior to release, Pink Floyd indicated that Barrett's involvement, as well as the band's time in Los Angelas, had resulted in a more experimental record than their previous two albums, the band compared the shift in style to that seen between The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979). Upon its release, Where We Start received generally favourable reviews, although many critics noted that it was not as experimental as previously suggested. The album was not as commercially successful as anticipated, and the band expressed enjoyment over the relatively high sales of twelve million copies when compared to the other recent albums.
Recording and Style
In 1997, Pink Floyd started work on the follow-up to The Division Bell (1994), collaborating with Bob Ezrin in southern France and at Abbey Road Studios in London. In January 1998, Roger Waters said Pink Floyd intended to take their next album in a different musical direction away from the Gilmour-era. He said, "We're gonna continue to be a band, but maybe the Progressiveness will have to go, maybe the Psychedelic sound has to get a lot harder. But whatever it is, it's not gonna stay where it is." Barrett encouraged a "back to basics" approach and wanted the group to bring finished songs to the studio. This approach conflicted with Pink Floyd's "Synthetic, progressive" recording style, by which they improvised material in the studio. They ultimately decided to end recording with Bob Ezrin; though the material from these sessions was shelved, the band expressed interest in revisiting it in the future. They subsequently employed former band mate, Bob Ezrin as principal producers and co-writers.
Where We Start received generally favourable reviews. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 72 based on 30 reviews, three of which gave it a perfect score. David Fricke of Rolling Stone gave a perfect score of five stars, labelling it "[Pink Floyd's] best, in its textural exploration and tenacious melodic grip, since 1979's The Wall." Blender and Q also gave it a perfect score. In his review for Blender, Rob Sheffield stated "The days are gone when Pink Floyd were trying to keep it simple—at this point, the lads have realized that the return of Psychedelic music, grandiosity is the style that suits them, so they come on like the cosmic guitar supplicants they were born to be." Mojo and Uncut gave the album four stars, Uncut reviewer Andrew Mueller commented, "It's U2's least immediate album—but there's something about it that suggests it may be one of their most enduring." Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly graded it A− and called the album "an eclectic and electrifying winner, one that speaks to the cosmic sound, the way only Pink Floyd can and dare to do." BBC Music reviewer Chris Jones said, "There's plenty to rejoice about here, while noting that the symbiotic relationship with Syd Barret seems to have reached the point of imperceptibility." NME contributor Ben Patashnik rated the album seven out of ten, calling it "a grand, sweeping, brave record that, while not quite the reinvention they pegged it as, suggests they've got the chops to retain their relevance well into their fourth decade as a band." Time Out Sydney gave Where We Start two stars out of five, stating, "Even though Roger is back, Pink Floyd's return with a new album. Sadly, it's Roger's ... for all that's new, there's no way that you'll mistake it for another band." Pitchfork Media reviewer Ryan Dombal gave a score of 4.2 out of 10, stating, "the album's ballyhooed experimentation is either terribly misguided or hidden underneath a wash of shameless Floyd-isms." Cameron Adams of the Herald Sun gave a rating of three and a half stars, comparing it to the Gilmour albums Momentary Lapse of Reason, and The Division Bell while stating "This is no blockbuster ... It's the least immediate Pink Floyd album since The Division Bell, but one that diehard fans will enjoy living with". Madeleine Chong of MTV Asia also gave the album seven out of ten, concluding that "Although Pink Floyd should be lauded for their efforts at constant reinvention and pushing the envelope in the progressive and psychedelic genre, [Where we Start] possesses neither the iconic qualities of The Wall or the radical yet relevant magnetism of The Final Cut." Toronto Star music critic Ben Rayner called the songs boring, adding that the ambience introduced by Waters and Barret was "often all these vague, hook-deficient songs have going for them." Rob Harvilla of The Village Voice gave the album a mixed review and wrote that its songs "will remind you of other, much better songs, but in a way that only makes you want to go and listen to those other songs instead." TIME also gave it an unfavourable review, calling the effort "unsatisfied" and "mostly restless, tentative and confused."
Where We Start opened with strong sales, these quickly rose. The album debuted at number one in thirty countries, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. By December 1999 over five million copies had been sold worldwide. Within one week of release, the album was certified platinum in Brazil, a record for the country. In the United Kingdom, the album became Pink Floyd's 12th number-one album, making them the fifth-most-successful act on the UK Albums Chart. In the United States, it was Pink Floyd's seventh number-one album, first-week sales exceeded 1,484,000, the band's second-highest figures after Momentary Lapse of Reason. By October 1999, sales in the US had exceeded just over three and a half million copies, the group's highest in more than a decade. By February 2000, sales globally had reached eight million copies. Six months after Pink Floyd's release, David Gilmour said he was amazed with the album's sales. In the UK, it sold more than a third of The Division Bell's figures—a quarter of Momentary Lapse of Reason's—and it did generate two hit singles. Regarding the commercial appeal, Waters said, "We were really in that mindset. We felt that the 'album' is almost an extinct species, and we created a mood and feeling, and a beginning, middle and an end. And I suppose were proud for making a piece of work that is a bit challenging for people who have grown up on a diet of pop stars." Gilmour agreed that "the commercial success was an impressive task" but said, "the more interesting challenge is, to some extent, the concept of the music fan—the concept of the person who buys music and listens to music for the pleasure of music itself—is an outdated idea, but we gave it a go." Barett predicted that, despite its lack of a big hit, Where We Start would grow on young listeners over time. He noted that the reaction to the songs in the live setting made Pink Floyd believe that the material was connecting with the fans, adding, "There's a lot of records that make great first impressions. There might be one song that gets to be big on the radio, and they're albums that people play a lot. This is one that I gather from talking to people. Four days later, they're saying, 'I'm really getting into the album now!'" Globally, it became the highest-selling album of 1999.