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.