I first heard Pink Floyd’s 1979 double album the Wall sometime in 1984, as a 12-year-old boy. A neighbor at my apartment building loaned me a cassette version, and I played it through only once, before going to bed. That night, after climbing under the sheets in the bottom bunk of the bed I shared with my little brother, I suffered a nightmare. I no longer remember what I dreamt, but I knew I had experienced the Wall’s honest, primal power even though I could barely understand what was going on in the “narrative” of this concept album. I would not go back to listen to it again until about five years later.
In the years since, I have covered Pink Floyd reissues and books as a freelance music writer, often in the pages of the record collector’s magazine, “Goldmine.” I personally enjoyed owning the Shine On CD box set in 1992, which included the full Wall album, after saving up some money as a poor college student. A friend who worked at a record store would help me out with his employee discount. I have seen Alan Parker’s film version of the album, conceived with the Wall’s principal songwriter, Roger Waters on VHS. I own the first edition DVD version and have watched it several times since, even with commentary. I also reviewed Water’s staging of the album in Berlin when a DVD of the show came out in 2003, for “Goldmine.” I have grown to know the album well, and though it no longer frightens me, its punch remains and probably always will.
Though the album is known for furthering the rift between Waters and his collaborators in Pink Floyd, I have always found an almost auterist benefit to Waters handling the majority of the songwriting for the Wall. The album seems to chronicle the mental breakdown of a rock ‘n’ roll star who tangles with his sense of self in the wake of his fame. Sex (“Young Lust”) and drugs (“Comfortably Numb”) were never depicted more bleakly on a rock ‘n’ roll record. It was honest and genuine, and Waters dives deep, going back to growing up fatherless thanks to World War II (“Goodbye Blue Sky”). He examines the role of a smothering mother (“Mother” and “The Trial”) and domineering boarding school education (“Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”). The references to a wall throughout the album provide a metaphor about the gradual psychological isolation of the protagonist to the outside world. The only cure? “Tear down the Wall,” chants a mob at the end of the next-to-last track of the album. Chronicling a dynamic, if gloomy journey into isolation, the album produced some of the band’s greatest hits like the aforementioned “Comfortably Numb” and “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.” The music is grim and potent throughout, until a wonderful, if subtle shift in tone at album’s end. “Outside the Wall” is an underrated number that illuminates and subverts all the tracks that unfolded before it. It truly sounds like hope (though “it’s not easy”). All the self-important, if self-critical posing, both ironic and bombastic, is over. There is no more spectacle to be seen here. There’s a mellowness in Waters’ voice joined by a harmonious chorus of other voices. The rock elements are gone, as the main instrument is clarinet, augmented by the high-pitched hum of a droning accordion and sprightly strum of a mandolin. It makes for an ingenious tonal shift that offers an often-overlooked turnaround, not to mention a bright sense of hope to the mostly gloomy album.
The Wall Immersion set contents
(clicking on images below will give you a hi-res view)
The Wall is a true masterpiece of rock concept albums. It is the sole, intensive “Immersion” box set of the recent Pink Floyd reissues by EMI I was interested in owning because I was real curious about what else went into making this album (all those demos!). EMI Records was generous enough to offer me a review copy for an intensive look at the extras packed inside the box that sells at a suggested retail price of just over $100. The price is justified by lots of physical elements, the most bizarre of which includes a velvet bag of three white marbles with the lined pattern of bricks familiar to anyone who has seen the album’s cover (a reference to “They must have taken all my marbles away”?).
The lines on the marbles arrived a bit broken up and worn, so whatever paint used was not the right quality for lasting handling (A tiny slip of paper inserted among them says “Glass Marbles Made in China”). They also are not perfectly round with some indentations on the surface. Also among the weirder items included in the box: a fringed gray scarf with the Wall pattern and the marching hammer logo printed at each edge.
It looks a bit cheap and marks a fashion trend that has passed on most hip men and was probably never in fashion for the hardcore Pink Floyd fan this set is designed for. Maybe someone’s wife would like it? There is also a set of cheap cardboard coasters that spell out the band’s name.
Beyond the coasters, the paper items are a bit more interesting. There are three black paper envelopes of varying sizes. The one marked “memorabilia” includes a replica backstage pass to a Wall show at the Nassau Coliseum, February 26, 1980. There is also a full-color, embossed ticket for a show in Berlin.
Another envelope is labeled “collector’s cards,” which contained four cards with pictures that are also in the books enclosed with this set. On the reverse side of the image there is text, and they are numbered various numbers out of 57. The text side has a song title and part of the lyrics oriented with the image on the reverse side.
The text side also refers to the cards as “anti-cigarette cards” because, apparently, cigarette packs back in the day of this album’s original release would come with such cards as added incentive for smokers. The view on smoking nowadays has changed much in the years since these cards first emerged. Now, these cards can apparently be found in various Pink Floyd products.
The third envelope is labeled “Mark Fisher Cards” and contains larger-formatted, one-sided cards of sketches depicting the stage design of the Wall show by Mark Fisher.
Other paper stuffs include an art print of an illustration of “the Wife” by Gerald Scarfe from the art he designed for both the inside of the album and the stage show (the creature below would later be created as a giant blow-up puppet with light-up neon lips and eyes).
There is also a folded up giant-sized poster with the lyrics of all the songs on the album, written out in the same ferocious script Scarfe used as the original lyric sheet of the album.
Finally there are two soft-covered booklets and a pamphlet with song titles for every disc enclosed and credits to the engineers, designers and musicians involved.
The larger of the books, simply titled “Pink Floyd The Wall,” contains photographs of the band during the Wall show, as well as the set pieces, behind-the-scenes images, sketches by Fisher and Scarfe and the lyrics as designed by Scarfe. The layout was conceived by Storm Thorgerson whose Hipgnosis studios had a longtime working relationship with Pink Floyd up until the Wall.
The other, slightly smaller, book titled “The Wall Pink Floyd Circa 1980-1 Booklet For The Immersion Box Set” contains nothing but photos of Pink Floyd during the Wall show circa— of course— 1980 and 1981. This one is edited by one of the photographers involved: Jill Furmanovsky. There are no essays or interviews at all in these books, however. Taking that into consideration, the books enclosed in the Wall Immersion set only deserve a fraction of attention that the thick, hardcover book I remember from the Shine On box set warranted*. There is nothing to really read or absorb beyond the lyrics and photos. The Wall Immersion booklet does have an interesting back cover image and brief essay showing the reach of the band into the war-torn country of Sarajevo in 1999:
I would have liked further essays with longer, more in-depth analysis of the album or its conception. Though the plethora of period pictures of the band performing the Wall in both the Immersion booklet and the Wall booklet are nice at capturing this particular moment of Floyd’s career, they beg for some context beyond the album’s lyrics and credits. The glossy paper is of fine quality and will certainly offer an upgrade to any other inserts in any other version of this album and lyrics from the album, but they deserved a little more attention by the design team.
The true substance of the box appears in the seven discs enclosed in— of all things— individual cardboard sleeves. I am sure I speak for many collectors when I protest the use of cardboard sleeves without any protection to the discs, so allow me one more complaint. Japanese releases in cardboard sleeves always come in scratch-preventive plastic sleeves. OK, so there is one tray in this box, below all the ephemera, with cardboard hubs designed to hold four of the discs. Still, for the price tag of this set, plastic trays that prevent the play surfaces from any physical contact could have easily been used instead of all this cardboard, which can scratch play surfaces and attract moisture.
That said, I have long let go of any illusions that CDs or even LPs will last “forever” when treated with care, so I am not too bothered by the quality of the design. Still, I want to speak for some of the more serious collectors out there. But also, to address the serious collectors, I handle all of my CDs and records with as much care as possible, but I know I will be long dead before the elements seriously degrade them or I’m just plain over them and another reissue comes down the pike. I still have the beat up copy of the hardback book that came in the Shine On box set. The outer box grew so worn, I decided to throw it out and pack the CDs on my shelf, showing of the Darkside of the Moon cover art pattern that appears on the black CD jewel cases’ spines:
The Wall CDs
Finally, on to the music. Though the art on the labels have been redesigned for the box set, the audio on the two Wall CDs features the same remaster work by the band’s longtime engineer James Guthrie and Joel Plante, released last year as part of EMI’s 2011 remaster campaign of the entire Floyd catalog. I have already reflected on the terrific remastering job of these albums, including the Wall (As Pink Floyd reissue mania continues, allow me a few words on said band), one of the major highlights being the clarity in the vocals. These new mixes allow the singers’ words to pop out without disturbing the original mix. I think purists have complained of nit-picky details, but seriously, nothing super-altered has emerged. This was not George Lucas going into the original Star Wars and adding whole scenes with digital cartoons or altering characters à la Han-shoots-first. This is a faithful polishing job that does fair justice to the source material.
The live CDs
Besides the remastering of the classic album, Guthrie and Plante went to work resurrecting Is There Anybody Out There? a full-length concert performance of the Wall recorded over the course of the band’s brief Wall tour in 1980-81. Any true Pink Floyd fan would most likely already own the original version, released as both a 2-CD set and a deluxe edition with a hardback book, in 2000.
It’s a well-known live album compiled from various shows of the original tour but still following the order of songs on the Wall. The differences in the songs from the original album should prove of interest to any fan with a close knowledge of the Wall.
Is There Anybody Out There? opens with an announcer typical of many live shows in the day. He says, “…Before the show begins the house management would like to request just a few things. First, please no fireworks…” as the sound of the musicians warming up starts to drown out part of the speech (for a split second, it almost sounds as if the band is gearing up to play “One of Theses Days,” the opening track to Meddle). Just as he finishes, “Well, I think the band’s ready to go now … no, no. Not quite yet. One thing I would like to point out, upon conclusion of the show…” the band pounds the man’s voice into oblivion with booming intro of “In the Flesh?”. It offers a great stage set-up to the fact that this is the performance of a concept album chronicling the psychic unraveling of a rock star poisoned by fame. In the years that have passed since 1981, this announcement sounds quaint, as security nowadays can do little to deter the pocket recorders not to mention smart phones most concertgoers bring to shows. More than ever, like it or not, the varying lights of smart phones and digital cameras seem part of a show. This amusing intro only heightens the classic feeling of this rock album that has well stood the test of time beyond the need of such announcements.
The live album enforces the notion that Pink Floyd was more than just a creative studio band. Their shows were amazing live experiences, even if they maintained a dedication to the original recordings, for the most part. Even though the band extends a few songs with meandering solos during Is There Anybody Out There?, the songs still cut close to the original recordings. “Mother” goes on for 7:55 thanks to some particularly passionate indulgence the original version does not have. The first CD ends with an instrumental overture called “The Last Few Bricks” featuring themes from many of the album. It worked as a musical interlude so stage hands might complete adding “the last few bricks” to the large, white wall, which covered the band for most of the second half of the show. Though this wall obscured the band for much of the show, it offers a poetic touch that reinforced the band members as faceless artists and not pop rock idols who needed spotlights shining on them. They were from a time and a genre that preferred anonymity and wanted only the music to matter.
The seventh disc is a DVD, which is coded for all regions, though in the NTSC format. It features lots of fantastic archival footage of the band’s live shows in the early eighties, culled together for a 50-minute documentary put together in 2000 by EMI called Behind the Wall. It features interviews with the band members and narration that explains what was happening in and around the band at the time. There is also a nice detour into what happened before their pinnacle of fame, leading up to the live production of the Wall. Waters talks about his growing disdain for the sort of rock ‘n’ roll stadium audience whose participants just jumped on the bandwagon of popular trends or what was hot on the pop charts, following it to the venue. He says this is why he conceived the Wall. He truly wanted to separate the band from the audience and build a huge wall on stage that the band could play behind. He addresses a famous incident he seems a bit ashamed of in retrospect where he spit on a kid pushing his way toward the stage. “Afterwards I became really depressed and thought, ‘My God, what have I been reduced to?’” he says.
Besides insightful commentary from all band members, including the late keyboardist Rick Wright, the program features lots of fantastic professionally shot live footage of the band during some of only 29 shows they performed of the Wall. The few clips that appear are so well done, with multiple cameras, it makes you long for a full, live filmed performance. The band have often said that not enough of this quality footage exists to make a full, proper live concert video, however (Note: the image below is not representative of the picture quality on the DVD included in the Wall Immersion set, just on old still found from an earlier incarnation of the DVD, which has been remastered for this box set).
Though this is a DVD, many will be disappointed to learn there is no audio version of the album remastered into a 5.1 DVD surround mix. This feature was included in the only two other Immersion Pink Floyd reissues that have come out so far: the Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. However, an interview with Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason revealed a 5.1 mix for the Wall had been planned and may see the light of day in a future reissue.
Instead, Pink Floyd fans will have to settle with visual material many may already be familiar with, albeit restored and improved over any of its earlier incarnations in both video and sound quality. There is also a restored video of the band’s famous single “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” as well as a live performance of “the Happiest Days of Our Lives” that looks amazing with blue lens flares and multiple angles. The video comes to a stop just as the giant teacher puppet appears, however, fading out as Waters sings “We don’t need no education…” making for quite a cruel tease.
Finally, also on the disc is an extended interview with Scarfe from the Behind the Wall documentary and for Getty Images. It goes on for about 17 minutes and has some overlap with Behind the Wall, but features footage otherwise never released officially.
It is mostly him as a talking head with a few cutaway shots to his drawings. He talks about how his creative process with Waters and other animators, often in a long uncut monologue. There is also a nice moment when he stands next to a portfolio and explains some of his Wall illustrations, which were later turned into film sequences projected during the live show and then wound up in Parker’s film version.
The Demo CDs
Finally, the moment most of the hardcore fans of the Wall probably most anticipated: the more than two hours worth of demos, spread across two CDs included in this set, entitled “Work in Progress – Part 1 and 2 [respectively], 1979.” The sleeves of both discs feature “A word about the content of these ‘demo’ discs” written by Guthrie. He explains that Waters had produced “about 3 album’s worth of material,” only 14 minutes of which appear on these discs, he however notes. The rest are much fuller band demos trying to sketch out the running order of the album.
Considering the amount of demos and the redundancies here, I cannot harshly pass judgment on what is or is not included. I do not envy those tasked with weeding through the demos, sequencing them and putting them together into the interesting collages that fill the two discs included here, and they are interesting.
Disc 5 has a total runtime of 71:21. Programme 1, composed of the Waters demos, feels like a cruel teaser, as the tracks offer only a fraction of what were the first kernels of the Wall. These 22 tracks, for the most part, fade away before they barely start. Some are as short as 19 seconds and definitely sound like they last longer, even though they may not be complete songs. They mostly feature Waters strumming an acoustic guitar with some effects thrown in here and there with snippets of him singing variations of lyrics that ultimately ended up on the Wall. There are some definite odd differences like the lyrics of “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2:” “I don’t need no education/I don’t need no rising water.” Hearing “Run Like Hell” as first conceived by Waters reveals a completely different idea until guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour had his input. The song sways in an almost country manner and had lyrics like, “You better run like hell if you wanna get away from here.” “What Shall We Do Now?” was first known as “Backs to the Wall” but included lyrics that did not change much at all, on the other hand.
By the time Programme 2 starts, things grow even more interesting. This “programme” marks the start of the band demos, and they contain complete songs, including some that never wound up on the Wall or even changed completely into other songs on the album. One of these songs is “Teacher, Teacher,” a bright little tune that seems just a bit lighter than the rest of the music that wound up in the album. It’s an airy piece with an awkward shift into a chorus that seemed destined to the outtakes archive. Then there is the bluesy, meandering “Sexual Revolution” that runs out of words and momentum halfway through its five-minute runtime. Some of these demos rise above curious experiments, however. “In the Flesh” has a nice extended intro, featuring a quiet, acoustic guitar breakdown and distant moaning. Though the drums pop like gunshots, it loses some punch and fades away at the end.
The demos reveal the members of Pink Floyd as a band deeply involved in experimentation open to exploring ideas while refining their way to a masterpiece. The attention to detail throughout is impressive. Toward the end of the Disc 5, during Programme 3, a hint of the start of the album is offered, as the first six tracks of the album appear in sequential order, in rough demo form. The real concentrated power of the Wall now finally appears, though the recording quality is weak and some of the songs have been faded out and truncated. It ends with an incredible version of “Mother,” with added groans, screeches and sighs of synthesizers. It’s super-affected and weird with Gilmour going reverb crazy on bluesy electric guitar. Though not as moving as the spare album version most are familiar with, it carries a strange surreal— dare-I-say— druggy, psychedelic quality, as if a younger Pink Floyd were at work here.
At a runtime of 57:29, Disc 6 is shorter, but the demos are longer here, (though, once again, the music is not always complete). Programme 1 of this CD mixes both the Waters and the band demos. The first three tracks are Waters’ demos and reveals how much vision he had early in the process. He uses many overdubs and even sings the bombastic drum part of “Bring the Boys Back Home.” The band demos begin with track four and an especially interesting, if over-the-top, version of “Hey You.” The dynamics are more intense than the final recording, as the band had yet to work out the song’s subtleties and add polish in the studio. “The Doctor,” later known as “Comfortably Numb,” opens very different from the final version, as Waters sings more literal lines before he toned the lyrics down for a more evocative quality. It again offers a great example of how fine-tuned the album came to be. There is a second version of “The Doctor (Comfortably Numb)” during Programme 2 of the disc where Gilmour sings all of the lyrics. You can tell the band was searching for something with this track, and these working versions, though fine in themselves, are testament to the detailed wringer the band put its creativity through. A name change to “Comfortably Numb” would make for a smart capper to the many tweaks the song later went through.
The songs on the second “Work in Progress” disc are also more distinctive. “Run Like Hell” features guitars that sound so crystalline they practically sparkle. The echo is so luscious at times it sounds as if they are playing the music under water. You can just hear Waters and Gilmour grooving along for the sake of indulging in this exaggerated sound effect. It fades away before it gets too indulgent, though, and it sill makes for a treat, nonetheless. Many of the demos on this disc have a sheen that sounds more produced than the previous demo disc. Sometimes it’s too a fault. “One of My Turns” goes off grooving on an organ down a terrible street as Waters’ singing falls embarrassingly out of synch.
Finally, the second demo disc wraps with Gilmour’s slight contributions. He sings “do-dos” mapping out the lyric structure of “Comfortably Numb” on a dreamily affected acoustic guitar, and then there is an electric, wah-wah instrumental version of “Run Like Hell.” The two tracks provide not only clear insight into how he participated in the songwriting versus Waters but also how important these slight but essential contributions were to a couple of album highlights.
With Independent Ethos, I do not just limit myself to obscure titles, artists or films, though it often might seem so. There are many popular works out there that come from a creative, personal space, and this fancy box set thoroughly explores one of the most iconic progressive rock albums that ever did indeed come from such a space. Despite all the trinkets and extras that seem to pad this “immersion” experience of the Wall, the truly exciting aspect of this box lies within its music and its treatment. Even the visuals come after the music. There are seven discs included here, but it’s barely enough to contain all the interesting aspects of Pink Floyd’s 1979 double album. The music alone, but also the picture books, were enough to throw me back to a time when this album just came out. I may have been a kid in elementary school, but the presence of the album in popular music already made an impression in my mind.
Though I was too young to enjoy the original tour of the Wall in 1980-81, I do count myself among many that have seen Roger Waters’ recent live show of the full album (Waters’ ‘the Wall’ live cements theme with vivid production). Last month, Waters once gain came to the same venue in my area for another one of these shows, and this time I reviewed it for “County Grind,” one of the blogs on the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times” website. This time, they secured a pair of tickets for me, and I had a view from the floor. You can read that review and see lots of close-up pictures by jumping through the following photo taken of Waters at the show:
The tour continues as I post this long-in-the-works blog post (pardon the length), including stops at larger stadiums than this tour was ever first designed for. Visit Roger Waters’ website for the remaining tour dates. Finally, the Wall Immersion set is available at most stores. If you purchase it through Amazon via this link, you will be supporting this blog with a commission provided by Amazon at no extra charge to you.
*The Shine On box set was designed by Thorgerson.
November 23, 2011
Pink Floyd has seen quite a resurgence in interest these past couple of years. Since the blog began, I have referenced them often. There was the amazing Dark Side of the Moon cover album headlined by the Flaming Lips (Flaming Lips’ brilliant take on Dark Side of the Moon). Then Roger Waters began his global tour where he performed the Wall in its entirety (Waters’s ‘the Wall’ live cements theme with vivid production). Now comes a comprehensive campaign reissuing and remastering the band’s entire back catalog, including some insanely thorough box set treatments for several albums.
Earlier this month, EMI Records continued its “Why Pink Floyd?” campaign with its second “immersion” box set, the five-disc CD/DVD/Blu-ray of Pink Floyd’s 1975 masterpiece Wish You Were Here (Support Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). On Black Friday, indie record stores will offer an exclusive 7-inch vinyl box set of the singles spawned by that other masterpiece by Pink Floyd, 1979′s the Wall, thanks to those Record Store Day people (Here are a couple of indie stores in my area that should be carrying it: Radio-Active Records and Sweat Records). That album will also receive the “immersion” treatment in February of next year (Support Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon).
Already available are a couple of compilations, an immersion set for Dark Side of the Moon (Support Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon), not to mention vinyl versions of the albums selected for the immersion sets already out or yet to be released. Then, of course, there are the individual remastered albums issued on CD. Frankly, the immersion sets with all their subtle variation of the same album are quite overwhelming to a casual Pink Floyd fan, such as myself. For instance, check out the details on Dark Side of the Moon (copy and pasted from Amazon’s description):
DISC 1 – CD 1:
The Dark Side Of The Moon digitally remastered by James Guthrie 2011
The Dark Side Of The Moon performed live at Wembley in 1974 (2011 Mix and previously unreleased)
DISC 3 – DVD 1, ALL AUDIO:
- The Dark Side Of The Moon, James Guthrie 2003 5.1 Surround Mix (previously released only on SACD) in standard resolution audio at 448 kbps
– The Dark Side Of The Moon, James Guthrie 2003 5.1 Surround Mix (previously released only on SACD) in high resolution audio at 640 kbps
– The Dark Side Of The Moon, LPCM Stereo mix (as disc 1)
– The Dark Side Of The Moon, Alan Parsons Quad Mix (previously released only on vinyl LP/8 track tape in 1973) in standard resolution audio at 448 kbps
– The Dark Side Of The Moon, Alan Parsons Quad Mix (previously released only on vinyl LP/8 track tape in 1973) in high resolution audio at 640 kbps
DISC 4 – DVD 2, ALL AUDIO VISUAL:
-Live In Brighton 1972:
Careful With That Axe, Eugene (previously unreleased on DVD)
Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (previously unreleased on DVD)
-The Dark Side Of The Moon, 2003 documentary (25 min EPK)
-Concert Screen Films (60 min total):
British Tour 1974
French Tour 1974
North American Tour 1975
Screen films play in stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound
DISC 5 – BLURAY, AUDIO+AUDIO VISUAL
-AUDIO: The Dark Side Of The Moon, James Guthrie 2003 5.1 Surround Mix (previously released only on SACD) in high resolution audio at 96 kHz/24-bit
-AUDIO: The Dark Side Of The Moon, Original stereo mix (1973) mastered in high resolution audio at 96 kHz/24-bit
-AUDIO VISUAL: Live In Brighton 1972:
Careful With That Axe, Eugene (previously unreleased on DVD/BluRay)
Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (previously unreleased on DVD/BluRay)
-AUDIO VISUAL: The Dark Side Of The Moon, 2003 documentary (EPK)
-AUDIO VISUAL: Concert Screen Films (5.1 Surround Mix):
British Tour 1974
French Tour 1974
North American Tour 1975
-AUDIO VISUAL: Concert Screen Films (High Resolution Stereo Mix):
British Tour 1974
French Tour 1974
North American Tour 1975
DISC 6 – CD3:
-The Dark Side Of The Moon 1972 Early Album Mix engineered by Alan Parsons (previously unreleased)
– The Hard Way (from ‘Household Objects’ project)
– Us And Them, Richard Wright Demo (previously unreleased)
– The Travel Sequence, live from Brighton June 1972 (previously unreleased)
– The Mortality Sequence, live from Brighton June 1972 (previously unreleased)
– Any Colour You Like, live from Brighton June 1972 (previously unreleased)
– The Travel Sequence, studio recording 1972 (previously unreleased)
– Money, Roger Waters’ demo (previously unreleased)
40 page 27cm x 27cm booklet designed by Storm Thorgerson
Exclusive photo book edited by Jill Furmanovsky
27cm x 27cm Exclusive Storm Thorgerson Art Print
5 x Collectors’ Cards featuring art and comments by Storm Thorgerson
Replica of The Dark Side Of The Moon Tour Ticket
Replica of The Dark Side Of The Moon Backstage Pass
3 x Black marbles
9 x Coasters (unique to this box) featuring early Storm Thorgerson design sketches
12 page credits booklet
When I first saw those details my head began to hurt. This is clearly designed for the certain Pink Floyd fan in mind. In this post you will learn I am not that kind of fan (though maybe I am for David Bowie). Still, I do take Pink Floyd’s influence on popular and alternative music seriously. I even have a deep affection for much of their output. I can also get pretty passionate about which records in the Floyd canon matter.
My awareness of the band started in the late seventies, on local FM radio but also on the TV show I used to love as a kid: “WKRP in Cincinnati:”
Having watched that clip as a little, elementary school kid, it stuck with me and probably even informed the sort of music appreciator I am today (thank you, Dr. Johnny Fever). As the punk rock scene emerged in the same country that spawned Pink Floyd around that time, Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten lumped them in his “boring old farts” category. Dance crazes from pogoing to disco to techno came and went. Yet, Pink Floyd continued to matter. If progressive rock ever had a figurehead it would be Pink Floyd. But the Floyd also transcended that genre by finding a presence on the pop charts and even influencing “progressive” musicians of today. Just listen to the birds and acoustic guitar that opens Radiohead’s “Giving Up the Ghost” from their new album the King of Limbs. Pink Floyd did something similar on “Grantchester Meadows” from 1969′s Ummagumma. Today, these reissued albums are at the upper parts of the selling charts on Amazon.
Yes, this is some popular music, but Pink Floyd attained this popularity by maintaining an independent ethos many bands and musicians of their stature have never been afforded. They made albums with entire sides of one record dedicated to a single song and still made a lucrative impact on the music charts. Most recently, they famously fought against allowing iTunes to sell single songs out of context of an album.
This band is an independent force, whose creativity reshaped the popular music world. With this recent re-release of the Pink Floyd catalog, remastered by James Guthrie, Pink Floyd’s engineer since the Wall, I’ve spent several weeks re-experiencing the entire catalog. It gave me a chance to really go back and spend time with some albums I have not heard in years and some I’ve also never grown tired of, not to mention a few surprises I have never given a chance. But, I’m not oblivious to the fact Pink Floyd also brewed up some dull work that never totally clicked, be it in a stretch to find their elusive greatness in some of their early albums to their post-Wall implosion.
It was not until the Shine On box set saw release in 1992 that I actually gave Pink Floyd any space in my music collection. I had just begun writing music reviews in ‘zines and my college paper, not to mention spent a fair amount of time as DJ and later program director and my college radio station. I felt obligated to get to know this band. The packaging of Shine On— though pricey for an undergrad— was impressive, and I had a friend who worked at a Sound Warehouse who could buy it for me with his employee discount.
The collection contained a selection of key albums, promoted as their best works by those who compiled the set. The band was officially involved, but it did not include Roger Waters any longer, who famously sued or tried to sue the remaining members for continuing on as Pink Floyd without him. This bias is apparent in the album choices featured in the set. Like most, I recognized its short-coming in including the post-Roger Waters album, 1987′s A Momentary Lapse of Reason, over the band’s Syd Barret-led debut full-length, 1967′s Piper of the Gates of Dawn (guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour had yet to join Pink Floyd). I still got into all the albums inside, very gradually, except for parts of Momentary Lapse of Reason, which still has a dated eighties-era quality and lacked the odd flavor Waters brought to the band. I still own all those versions of the albums, though the outer box wore out practical use over the years, but at least the spines of the CDs look cool lined up on the shelf, as seen in the image below:
Now, having finally spent time with the entirety of Pink Floyd’s catalog (all 16 full-length albums, including the soundtracks for two Barbet Schroeder films: More from 1969 and Obscured By Clouds the soundtrack to his 1972 film the Valley), a more complete picture comes to light of the band, not to mention some of the clear improvements in the sonics of these albums. Of course there will also be naysayers and purists who will protest any tinkering to the original releases (some people want to hear tape hiss in the music, which I think is just as bad as hearing surface noise on vinyl). But, when you listen to this new 2011 version of the Wall and can clearly make out words that sounded a bit indecipherable in earlier releases, you know something was done right in the remastering process. On the con side of this new remaster of the Wall, cues for “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2″ and “Young Lust” will not please many who want to isolate those tracks for whatever reason. Then again, this is a concept album that deserves a full contextual listen.
Speaking of the Wall, the first Pink Floyd album where Waters wrote all the lyrics, one new observation I made of his choice lyric pattern became apparent while hearing “Mother” from that album, “Brain Damage” from Dark Side of the Moon, “Wish You Were Here” from the album of the same name and “If” from Atom Heart Mother (maybe others?). He changes the number of syllables per line every so often and ever so slightly in an odd but still rhythmic pattern that bolsters the impact of his words, which are often very self-reflexive, tortured and existential. It clearly makes him the stand out lyricist of the band.
Pink Floyd’s great Waters-penned songs, however, only adds to the disappointment of 1983′s the Final Cut, where Waters entirely took creative control, leaving the other band members with almost bit parts, equivalent to the components of the National Philharmonic Orchestra featured throughout. Subtitled “A Requiem for the Post War Dream by Roger Waters” on the back cover, this album was to be a sequel to the Wall, where Waters bemoans his lot in life, growing up fatherless in post-war 1950s England. But he also stretches into the then current Cold War era of politics and society in the wordy album, where more is just too much, detracting from Waters’ strengths as a lyricist. Its ambitious and falls flat. Again, sonics are improved throughout, which does great justice to much of the subtlety of the album’s softer moments, as well as the many bombastic ones. Waters’ scream in “The Gunner’s Dream” bleeds into the screech of saxophone seamlessly. Though again, the effect can sound a bit over-the-top, typical of the entire album.
Listening to all these albums, reveals the fine line Pink Floyd often walked that frequently dipped into greatness. Atom Heart Mother‘s single-track A-side, the 24-minute “Atom Heart Mother Suite” reaches too hard, plodding along with its overly dramatic horns, obtrusive samples and Gilmour’s bored strumming. But then, just a year later comes “Echoes” on the B-side of Meddle. The orchestrations are gone and the band has found a place for some evocative lyrics. “Atom Heart Mother Suite” has its moments, especially during its middle guitar vs. organ jam and the softer, creepier chorus of voices. However, the grooving in it never comes close to the dynamic quality of “Echoes.” That track knows how to start soft and build dramatic crescendos with just the key players that are Pink Floyd: Waters on a soulful, solid bass, Gilmour soaring on guitar while breezily singing lead, keyboardist Rick Wright offering luscious, swinging organ bits, and drummer Nick Mason providing his decorative, scatter shot rhythms. One of Pink Floyd’s less celebrated apexes in the recording studio. I love the fact that a tremendously shot live version was caught on film for one of the most amazing Pink Floyd live videos available, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (though the Meddle version eclipses its performance power):
I can go back and forth about where Pink Floyd succeed (Animals is a tight, powerful concept album) and stumble (Most of the noodling on the studio album of Ummagumma goes nowhere and sounds like the soundtrack of a psychedelic B-grade horror movie). However, I cannot fail to pay tribute to the presence of Syd Barrett in the band’s early career. Like Waters, he too seemed obsessed with the subject of the mind and perception. Maybe it was the acid, but his lyrical contribution comes from a world beyond Waters’ depressed realm. No one could capture the “Twilight Zone” quality of Barrett’s words, from the opening lines of the opening track on Pink Floyd’s debut full-length, 1967′s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn: “Lime and limpid green a second scene/A fight between the blue you once knew” to the closing lines of the final track of the final Barret/Pink Floyd album, 1967′s A Saucerful of Secrets: “And the sea isn’t green/And I love the Queen/And what exactly is a dream/And what exactly is a joke.” Barrett would go on to be institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia, the result of his well-known abuse of LSD, and then die whilst living at home with his mother in 2006 of complications from diabetes. Barrett was a living legend, madness personified, yet he seemed in tune with the greater mystery of existence in this universe that few know and understand.
I barely found a blemish in the results of the remasters. Though, as noted, the new remastering process has made some of the blemishes of Pink Floyd’s catalog pop, like Gilmour’s aforementioned languorous strums in the “Atom Heart Mother Suite.” For every such moment, there is the redemption of hearing all of the fervor of Gilmour’s playing in the guitar solo of “Money.” However, on the live disc Ummagumma some tape hiss remains (it becomes most apparent during the hushed opening of “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”), and some of the audience applause comes across flat and trebly. Still, the performance, for the most part, never sounded cleaner. These four tracks almost sound like studio outtakes. Tape hiss is an inherent problem for many pre-digital albums released on CD. With A Saucerful of Secrets, I noticed less tape hiss in this new version of the album as opposed to the 1992 remaster from the Shine On set, however. It has been cleaned up so well, that I can finally hear the slowly swelling and throbbing minor key drones beneath the quiet din that opens the title track. That part of the track never stood out until now.
It is hard to cover all 16 of these gloriously remastered works in one blog post, and this has probably gone on long enough. So one last note: for those seeking key bonus tracks, none of the albums have been marred in flow with tacked on studio outtakes or live versions, except on supplemental discs on two albums selected as “experience” versions. Particularly outstanding is the complete live version of Dark Side of the Moon at Wembley Arena in 1974 in the “experience” version of that same album.
There is also the “experience” version of Wish You Were Here, featuring an early live version of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” also recorded in 1974 at Wembley. Though labeled as Parts 1 – 6, it is actually nearly finished up to Part 8 (the studio album is book-ended with “Shine On (Parts 1-5)” and “Shine On (Parts 6-9)”). Even more interesting are lengthy embryonic live versions of “Sheep” and “Dogs,” from the 1977 Animals album, presented alternately as “Raving and Drooling” and “You Gotta Be Crazy,” recorded at the same show.
Though I turned on to Pink Floyd later in my life as fan of alternative and progressive rock, I had been keenly aware of them on the radio as a kid. Later on, I could also always count on a few teenage friends who either had Floyd in their collection, if not their parents. Like the Beatles, I took them for granted, but I never failed to recognize their important role in the history of popular art rock. The mass of their work reveals a few bumps in the road, but they indeed merit this broad remastering treatment by EMI.
Note: EMI provided review copies of all the 2011 remastered CDs for the purposes of this post.