poster DuneTo many, the new documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune will feel like a nice consolation for the fact that cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky never finished his version of Frank Herbert’s esteemed sci-fi epic. It’s a terrific chronicle of the Chilean director’s ambitious planning to prepare a thorough treatment for his first film proposed to major Hollywood studios. But it is also a celebration of unfettered creativity in all its glorious excess.

For Jodorowsky, a film about several worlds fighting for possession of a substance that expands consciousness should be treated literally as a mind-altering experience. When he set out to adapt the beloved book (which he admits he never read) in 1975, he said he wanted to not just make a film but “a prophet.” He wanted to alter viewers’ sense of perception. He says he wanted to create the cinematic sensation of taking LSD.

What resulted was several hard-bound books of spaceship designs, character sketches, costumes and storyboards that detailed his vision … but no film. In this documentary, filmmaker Frank Pavich interviews Jodorowsky who waffles between the bright side of bringing a new vision to Hollywood that predated Star Wars and a suppressed rage at the machine that stifled his vision. 7Pavich also brings to life the images of the book by editing together the story boards and animating some of the many detailed concept designs of the spaceships by rendering them digitally. The camera pans and scales over the static images from the book. There are sound effects and an eerie, Moog-drenched score by Kurt Stenzel that could have been the score to Jodorowky’s Dune. It’s as close to the would-be movie as we get.

But that’s not the point of this documentary.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is really about the vision of the cult director that ultimately expands the consciousness of Hollywood for the daring vision needed to pull off science fiction with respect to considering possibilities that go beyond earthbound thinking. dune.ac-2 aDirectors like George Lucas, Ridley Scott and James Cameron are indeed indebted to Jodorowsky for planting the seed of possibility for latter-day sci-fi work such as their’s.

Jodorowsky gathered a true dream team of collaborators, or, as he calls them, warriors, to make his film. He hired people like H.R. Giger, who would later design the title monster of the Alien movies, to design the world of the evil Harkonnen. The dark prog rock band Magma was to compose all the music associated with it. Meanwhile, Pink Floyd agreed to also provide original music and Chris Foss and Jean “Moebius” Giraud were brought in for design and artwork. Dan O’Bannon who would go on to write the screenplay for Alien was hired as a screenwriter based on what Jodorowsky saw in Dark Star. Clearly inspired about by Kurick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jodorowsky also pursued that film’s Oscar-winning effects man Douglas Trumbull. However, Jodorowsky was turned off by his underwhelming, practical bottom-line attitude. He was no spiritual warrior for Dune.

5

The beauty of this documentary comes from its ability to channel Jodorowsky’s lively attitude for art as enlightenment and spiritual home. When he says he does not want to compromise to the studios even if it means the demise of his project, it becomes the right thing. It’s as if Jodorowsky’s Dune fell apart as a martyr so it might inspire films like Star Wars and Alien.

As ever with Jodorowsky, there’s humor in his wisdom. When Star Wars fans bemoaned George Lucas’ revising 6his films with digital effects in the 1990s the mantra became “George Lucas raped my childhood.” Jodorowsky, however, proudly declares, “I raped Frank Herbert,” as he thrusts his hips back and forth holding an imaginary book doggy style in front of him. In that charming Jodorowsky way of his, he is not belittling the source material. Instead, he compares it to the consummation of marriage, taking a virginal bride dressed in white to the bedroom, tearing away her dress and fucking her. “I raped him with love,” he adds.

It doesn’t matter that Jodorowsky never read the book. What matters is that he created his own work, something that has only gained more value over time. The legend grows as with its mystical possibilities, hence the notion that this may indeed be one of the greatest films never made. Director Nicolas Winding Refn appears early in the documentary to boast that he’s the only one who has seen Jodorowsky’s version of Dune because the director himself sat with him and paged through the book and shared his vision. As we can expect with Refn, it’s a rather juvenile and insulting comment to this idea of possibilities of what the essence of this film did for science fiction cinema. It lowers the film to a materialistic level that defies Jodorowsky’s vision, which belongs to the imagination, and that’s why Jodorowsky’s Dune stands as the greatest sci-fi movie never made.

Hans Morgenstern

Jodorowsky’s Dune runs 90 minutes and is rated PG-13 (for fantastical violent and sexual images and drug references). It opens in South Florida on Apr. 25 in Miami Beach at the Regal South Beach and in Boca Raton at Living Room Theaters and Regal Shadowood. The following week, it opens in Miami at O Cinema Wynwood. It will appear at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on June 7 with other Jodorowsky surprises to be announced. Sony Pictures Classics invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.

Update: Actor Brontis Jodorowsky will present the film in person on June 15; he will also introduce another film he stars in, Táu (see MBC’s calendar for details). On Tuesday, June 17, at 7 p.m., he, Village Voice film critic Michael Atkinson and Miami Herald film critic Rene Rodriguez will share the stage at MBC in the second installment of the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss this film and other works by Jodorowsky (see details). A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night.

Earlier Update: Cinema Paradiso has booked Jodorowsky’s Dune to begin its run Friday, May 23, at both its Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood locations (jump through the city names for dates and times).

 

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

MGMT vinyl clouds. Photo by Hans Morgenstern

MGMT continue to drift down the rabbit hole with the brilliant, if at times mixed bag, that is its new self-titled album. If you can get past some rather heavy-handed early efforts in weirdness that open the album, you will find some amazing rewards in this further experimental album by Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden. The center of the duo’s fourth full-length album stands as the band’s most triumphant moment in its career. Songs like “Introspection,” “Astro-Mancy” and “I Love You Too, Death” might sound like filler to some but actually harbor some of MGMT’s most inspired moments of creativity ever.

Though rather sweet, get past the child’s voice that kicks off the album (“Alien Days”) and transitions into VanWyngarden’s hazy voice and some rather banal guitar strumming with some zippy, perky synthesized space-rock decora. You can even skip the second low-key, sleepy-voiced number, “Cool Song No. 2,” peppered with the sounds of the jungle, like the howls of monkeys. It’s easier to like “Mystery Disease,” with its dense layers of throbbing electronics, but despite some rather original thoroughly deconstructed samples that includes covers of “You Are My Lucky Star” and “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes” by Werner Müller and His Orchestra, the track never seems to go anywhere after four minutes. However, it’s when you arrive to track four where things really become interesting.

The cover of Faine Jade’s “Introspection” truly sets the album in motion toward post-psych-rock inventiveness. The phasing left-right-left-right-left of VanWyngarden singing the opening lines both brings a clichéd added dimension to the mix and an affectionate nod to the loopy stereophonic indulgence of the genre. MGMT vinyl detail. Photo by Hans MorgensternAs they did when they covered bands like Pink Floyd (“Lucifer Sam”) and Cleaners From Venus (“Only a Shadow”), MGMT stay true to the original tune but pump it up with a witty, almost cartoonish sense of psychedelic rock on steroids. But the track is also filled with shimmering bits of décor like phasing reverb and, God Bless them, a flute solo, not to mention Goldwasser’s complimentary bits of synthesized space rock sprinkles, as it builds to a soaring finale of all the bits layering up together to come to a sudden ecstatic cut.

The percussive “WHACK” of “Your Life Is a Lie” suddenly kicks in with hardly a chance for a breath. It’s a ruthless track on many levels. The lyrics offer an exploration of brutal honesty while the music feels like a non-stop assault. “Here’s the deal/Open your eyes/Your life is a lie/Don’t say a word/I’ll tell you why/You’re living a lie/Your life is a lie,” VanWyngarden sings with a deadpan delivery to conclude over and over that you are “on your own.” MGMT prove they still have a sense of looking at a deeper layer of existence, not too different from the sensibility that so richly informed the nostalgic moment of “Time To Pretend” (“I’ll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms … Yeah I’ll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone,” he sang juxtaposing those lyrics with “I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars/You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars”). But with “Your Life Is a Lie” something purer lies in the lyrics’ directness that skip subversion and get right to the point that speaks to today’s tendency for everyone to indulge in personas propagated by generation Y’s “We’re all so original together,” not to mention the social media filters provided by cyberspace and the whizz-bang edits of “reality television” that’s ironically and heavy-handedly contrived.

The song structure, with a metallic cowbell smack for punctuation, bobs on a perpetual, dense, unrelenting percussive racket with no real hook. With its sharp clacks of metal, rumbling bass and a range of instrumentation joining in to clang along to illuminate a humming buzz, the first single off the album was a slap in the face against all that is catchy about early MGMT. The video offers witty literal visuals, which is appropriate considering the words are far from subversive:

Side B, opens with a brilliant, ghostly shimmer that could have been lifted from a Broadcast record. A hypnotic electro pulse overtakes it, soaring off to space-rock heights until a burbling, creaking sound fades in to underlie the song’s pulsating electronics. With these three musical evolutions, “A Good Sadness” settles into a groove for VanWyngarden’s voice to appear. It’s mixed low, weaving through the din of electronics, breathy and layered and almost as inhuman and spectral as the multi-tracks. He becomes difficult to understand, but a few words like “memories” and “to feel it’s all right” appear among the sibilant vocals before the din swells and peters away in the distance on echoing beeps. It’s another impressionistic, layered— if more electronic— triumph that maybe the band’s most celestial moment.

“Astro-Mancy” kicks off sounding like “Abdulmajid,” an obscure David Bowie-Brian Eno collaboration from that duo’s time together in Berlin. You half-expect this busy track with its jungle-like rhythms and sporadic, active electro-whistles and phases to be an instrumental. Once again, VanWyngarden’s voice returns, with even more dreamier treatments.MGMT Side B. Photo by Hans Morgenstern It may as well be an instrumental, as he seems just as hard to understand as the previous track. But a glance in the lyric sheet reveals a surrealistic theme more interested in creating atmosphere than offering a concrete message. With coos and oos exhaling below his echoing vocals, VanWyngarden seems to sigh his lyrics: “My green silken river and two lights/I could almost touch the free walls.” It sounds like the aural equivalent of an LSD trip.

Just when you think the album could not go stranger, here comes the audio-hallucinatory build-up of melodies and synch shifts in “I Love You Too, Death.” Buzzy and pulsing electronics meld with flutes, ticking brushes and reverberated single dings on a tiny bell. Again VanWyngarden’s voice appears spectral and drenched in echo but much clearer, as he half whispers lines alluding to the grim reaper (“Who is much more than a friend/But never by my side?/All beginnings are an end”). As with many songs on this album, the lyrics grow more surreal as the song layers up with instrumentation (“Autumn hurts far less than sticks, knowing winter’s five feet tall”). Very gradually more melodies appear, first harmonium sighs then a strumming guitar. Still the track’s opening melody of flute and bell carries on, and the song ever so subtly morphs into something completely different while still maintaining a subtle familiarity. It’s the musical equivalent of deja-vu, and it’s brilliantly crafted.

It may be MGMT had little where else to go at this point, as the next track returns to the self-conscious zaniness that opened the album. “Plenty of Girls in the Sea” breaks up the strangeness like “Excuse Me” interrupted Peter Gabriel’s weirdo/dramatic first album. The cabaret-like tune feels out of place and too sly for its own sake. It’ll be new to some kids and may even sound weird for the sake of being weird, but it’s the obvious kind of bizarreness, despite the sometimes ironic lyrical play (“There’s plenty of girls in the sea/And plenty of those are not women”).

MGMT. Image Courtesy Columbia Records.

But then comes the capper, “An Orphan of Fortune,” which earns it’s spot as a closing number. It feels rather unfinished but still mysterious. It opens with a misty, creepy quality until shifting to a cascade of percussion and layers of creaking, warped electronics. At first listen, this could be a lost Bauhaus song. When the song explodes in an elastic, blurring “melody,” VanWyngarden’s voice emerges, again immersed in the mix to impressionistic quality. A few words jump out like “morning” and “erode” before the song once again shifts, breaking it down for a melodica solo. Then the wash of percussion returns with the vocals and more instruments piling in and freaking out, as VanWyngarden repeats “into Twilight” until everything halts for a shimmering phasing fade out, which gives way to a rather grotesque, roaring organ solo that kind of just peters out, almost exhausted in an anti-climactic fade out.

And so the short album ends on a rather low-key note that may sound like a shrug, if this band were not so sly. This is music for fans of the early Brian Eno and Pink Floyd. MGMT wrote a couple of great pop tunes early in its career that expanded their audience far wider than its heart for weirdness could handle. It’s great that “Kids” and “Electric Feel” where both witty and catchy, but so much of their stellar work is moody, atmospheric, dynamic and ultimately transporting. With this self-titled album, the duo has returned to work with Dave Fridmann, who made a name for himself by shaping the sound of the Flaming Lips and first worked with MGMT on its breakthrough 2008 album Oracular Spectacular, which featured those aforementioned singles. As much as the band showed growth working with Sonic Boom on its last album (My review: MGMT grow with Congratulations), their ease in working with Fridmann shines through on this new album. The genius hinted at in Oracular, like the shifting atmospheric “Future Reflections,“ reaches new organic heights in many songs of this new album.

Finally, the band has had visuals made for each track in an “optimizer” mode found on the CD or as a download in the vinyl version. As revealed by the trailer below, the “optimized” album features animated psychedelically-colored digital images from alien creatures to skyscapes that accompany the music on the album.

Music history is filled with artists who have tried to visualize music, from Walt Disney to Len Lye. Though there has been science that shows some correlation with color and music, this music critic prefers the evocative quality of music in relation to one’s own imagination. For instance, few probably feel the sensation of peering into a darkened corner of a desolated, run down, dusty mansion when they hear the opening drones and whistles of “A Good Sadness.”

MGMT vinyl. Photo by Hans Morgenstern

The “optimizer” trailer above implies the enhanced experience of watching visuals accompanied by the music. However, as ever, the vinyl is the true treat, offering pure aural bliss with nothing but the imagination to accompany the listening experience (again, note the research). Music is a blur of impressions, offering a feeling more than anything visual. There’s a taste of nostalgia and cracks into the subconscious dreamland that defy words. The creativity of this album works best as it was initially intended by the musicians: as music. The fact that the LP arrives on 180 gram vinyl, “pressed in Europe” (Columbia Records does have access to some of the best plants there), shines through on this record of rather intricate audio gymnastics. Because it’s so active and dynamic with so many layers of melody, contrast and din, it is best experienced on the separation and space provided by vinyl.

Hans Morgenstern

Columbia provided a promotional copy of the vinyl version of this album for the purposes of this review.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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 DVD

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.

Final thoughts

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.

Hans Morgenstern

*The Shine On box set was designed by Thorgerson.

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

I have produced another artist profile piece for another “New Times” publication in South Florida. This one appears in the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times,” and it has something to do with Roger Waters’ upcoming June 15 performance of the Wall in Broward County. No, it is not Roger Waters (“He’s not talking,” I was told) but his son, Harry Waters, who has toured with the former Pink Floyd bassist/vocalist/songwriter since 2001. We spoke via phone, last month, while the band took a break between shows in Los Angeles. “Lovely nice weather,” he said of the place, in his quick, chirpy English accent. He has his own show worth noting that will take place in South Florida a couple of days after the Wall show at Fort Lauderdale’s Revolution Live (buy tickets). The show benefits local 501©(3), Community Arts & Culture.

You can read the entire piece after the jump through the publication’s logo below. It also features an interview with a South Florida-based saxophonist, Michael Sinisgalli, who collaborated with Harry once before and will participate in this up-coming show:

Though he started learning piano at the age of 8, following his parents suggestion, the 34-year-old Waters would not find a true love for the instrument until several years later. “I definitely wasn’t one of those prodigal children that picks it up, and that’s all they do,” he said. “I played kind of for four years, but I didn’t practice or anything, and then when I was about 12, I got a new teacher, and he sparked my passion for piano music, like boogie woogie and Scott Joplin and that kind of thing, and Fats Waller.”

In my profile on the younger Waters, we take a closer look at how that early passion in swinging piano music led him to form his own jazz band, which he plays on the side of these Wall shows since they kicked off in the fall of 2010 (Roger Waters to do the Wall on next tour; I also reviewed an early performance of one of these shows here: Waters’s ‘the Wall’ live cements theme with vivid production). The younger Waters said he has played a few of these jazz shows during the tour of the Wall, and this would mark his second in South Florida. “I did a few in Argentina, in BA, which was really nice. I did some in Eastern Europe, so kinda of as many as I can. Yep! Yeah, they’re really cool.”

Here’s some recently up-loaded, HD videos of some of his performances in Buenos Aires, Argentina:

Finally, this has to be my favorite number of his, “Jarrets Dreams,” and we talked about it at length. He described it as “more of  a textual kind of thing, and it’s a little longer. There is a melody. There is a tune and some soloing over some very basic chords … I never solo on that because the piano is not the melody. It’s like a groove-based thing. It’s like one of those Herbie Hancock tunes where you have a bass line that just goes throughout … and the piano serves that purpose. It just underpins the rest of that song. If I stop playing that phrase, the song would disappear (laughs). I can’t really solo over that because you have to play it with two hands, that phrase. You can’t play it with one hand, so it’s not like I can play with one hand and then improvise over the top. So that’s my role in that song, it’s just to keep the song going. Yeah, it has that hypnotic, repetitive kind of nature, which is what I was going for, so I’m pleased with that song. It’s fun to play, really.”

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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

DISC 2 – CD 2:

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

Scarf

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.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Today, Nov, 23, Churchill’s Pub and Dangerfun will host The Bends: A Radiohead Tribute. Several local bands will take the stage to play their  favorite Radiohead tunes. Among them Andy Christ, Lindsaybell, Ian Michael, Rebel, Xela Zaid, boxwood, Triple Gem, Gonzo Danny, Jackie Ransom, Joikels, Johnny OneTwo, BadAss (edit: BadAss has cancelled due to illness, I am told by Churchill’s. Eric Schwartz will fill in) and DJ Saul Good.

The doors open at 8 p.m., and the show begins at 9. Those below drinking age will need to give up $5 to get in, and anyone over 21 is expected to drink. Here’s Xela Zaid’s take on “Paranoid Android,” which I love, only because it sounds so distinctly Xela-esque– only he can make an acoustic guitar sound so luscious and noisy at once, but if any of the songs are going to be as loosely interpreted as this, drink might help:

I might make it out to the show. I do love me some Radiohead. Actually, they have come to be one of my all-time favorite bands but totally by surprise. I never thought I would be a Radiohead completist (as far as songs go– not formats– those people are crazy), but it turns out I have all their albums on vinyl, including the fancy version of In Rainbows pictured below.

To top it off, I recently completed my new Radiohead collection of deluxe editions (the double CD+DVD versions). I wound up with practically brand new sets of Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief at reasonable used prices (just under $20 each thanks to wherehouse.com).

In the wake of these purchases, I had noticed an odd sort of backlash against the band, probably prompted by “Spin Magazine”’s Nov. 9, 2009 cover issue. “16 Rock Myths Debunked.” Well, here was the leading myth by Chris Norris:

Rock Myth No. 1: Radiohead Can Do No Wrong

Reality: Radiohead kinda blow

Now, I shan’t fault him for his view, nor all the others he invited onto his Radiohead haters bandwagon. His key argument is that they put him off because they behave so dang pretentious. I’ll admit the band seems to rationalize every release, looking for a purpose or reason to release an album. “So they’re a band, making records. Why all the newspeak? Does Radiohead’s every move have to be without precedent? Must they define a new music language?” he moans. Look, fine, I’ll go with that. A true artist will know humility and be happy with it. Yet, it does seem Radiohead strain to be vital with each and every release, sometimes quite self-consciously changing up their sound (most especially with Kid A and Amnesiac).

Whatever the rhetoric they may couch their logic for releasing an album, it does nothing to detract from how consistently interesting each of their releases have been since Pablo Honey in 1993.  With every release, Radiohead has impressed me, but the band never won me over as a dedicated fan until Amnesiac. Now, don’t misinterpret that. As a college radio DJ, I was there in 1993 when the “Creep” single first made the rounds on college radio and later started appearing on heavy rotation on MTV’s alternative rock show “120 Minutes.” I also caught Radiohead live on Miami Beach opening up for Belly at the intimate Cameo Theater, where I also got Thom Yorke’s and Jonny Greenwood’s autographs*.

But I was a very casual fan then (my passion then was for Stereolab more than Radiohead. Ironically, I’m more interested in what Radiohead is currently doing than Stereolab). I went to their show with Belly only because the college radio station I worked for, Florida International University’s WUFI, then on 540 AM, had free tickets. I remember my date and I screaming “Lurgee” between songs, whenever we had the chance, as that was my favorite track on Pablo Honey. Still, they never played it that night. Even later on, when we clarified by yelling “I feel better,” the song’s opening line, Yorke just responded with “good for you.” Clearly, this is not the kind of guy who likes being told what to do or satisfy any expectations, even back then. After I met him and Greenwood, I asked Greenwood why they didn’t play “Lurgee,” he said, “I don’t why we didn’t play it. We usually do.”

Anyway, back then it was all just a freak encounter. I loved their layers of guitars, which back then sounded like an easier to digest My Bloody Valentine. It was all fun and interesting, but my interest in them was only casual. When it came to bands with layers of guitar noise, I preferred Kitchens of Distinction’s work (a more obscure band, I know, yet they did the lush layers of guitar noise as early as ’89) to Radiohead. Once again, I’m quite over the Kitchens’ now dated sounding work in comparison to Radiohead’s. In the meantime, Yorke became amused by the two pretty Miami girls hanging off him on either arm.

When OK Computer came out, critics began comparing Radiohead with Pink Floyd and Genesis and other prog rock artists of the early 70s. Probably most lazily due to the sound of the Mellotron on “Exit Music (For a Film)” and the lengthy, time-shifting “Paranoid Android,” which became an MTV hit at the time. I thought the Bends had been a strong follow-up to Pablo Honey for sure, and had bought that CD soon after its release. But OK Computer was the first of their albums to totally blow me away and feels like my favorite album.

Then came the two albums almost designed to push away the casual fan: Kid A and Amnesiac. I bought Kid A soon after its release. It was a curious departure as it melded the avant-dance-oriented break beats of Aphex Twin and rock. It wasn’t so much a new sound, as it harvested certain music schemes that came before it (it wasn’t too different from what Moby or even Brian Eno only a few years earlier). It wasn’t a perfect album, as only one song grabbed me immediately: “Morning Bell,” but it would casually grow on me over the years as amazingly atmospheric songs began to take shape like “Everything In Its Right Place” and “How to Disappear Completely.”

Then came a fateful trip on train, crossing the Czech Republic with a class from FIU, during my studies for a Master’s degree. It was an overcast day and the grassy countryside spotted with modest cottages zipped past my window. One student had offered to loan me his CD copy of Amnesiac, which I had not got around to buying, skeptical after Kid A‘s then seeming half-assed quality. Then, “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box” started up on its metallic beat. With my attention on the adventurous development of the song, as I stared out at the passing landscape, my love for Radiohead had solidified.

With every subsequent release, I was there as a fan, even if Hail to the Thief felt a little weak upon first listen. It did grow on me, much as Kid A had. Then came In Rainbows, which I downloaded for free from Radiohead’s website, since they said I could pay whatever I wanted. My experience with their prior albums merited that price. They would have to earn my appreciation and money. However, it only took a few listens before I knew I would pay more than $80 for the aforementioned deluxe version on two 45 rpm vinyl LPs in a hardbound case with fancy abstract art book and a bonus CD of outtakes, along with the CD of the album.

I have no regrets. I dare say In Rainbows, may finally be that Radiohead album that ideally melds their electro tendencies with guitar-oriented rock. It leaves me looking forward for the new album, which I hear they are close to finishing (see Greenwood’s post on their official site here).

*You’ll notice I handed Thom a notepad asking him a couple of questions, as my editor (a not-much-older faculty member) wanted me to write an article about the then rising trend of moshing (the small bits of research thankfully never amounted to anything more than this humorous autograph). It was noisy there in the alleyway outside the club, so I asked him just to fill it out. I saw that he signed it, so I just thought “what the heck” and  handed the pad to Jonny, so he might autograph it. I now keep the autographs below the CD tray of my Pablo Honey CD, which I got for a few cents from the BMG club later on.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

After decades of familiarity with Pink Floyd’s the Wall my way of hearing the album has been changed forever thanks Floyd founding member Roger Waters’ new live show. I really want to be absorbed by the show, so I forwent any video recording or picture taking (Lourdes Herrero, a friend who sat next to me, shot all the pictures in this post). Experiencing the album’s key songwriter and his band reproduce the concept-album-to-end-all-concept-albums live over the weekend added much more to an album that I had thought I knew inside and out.

But indulge me one negative: I thought Waters’ attempt to socialize the themes of psychological Oedipal distress inconsistent, unnecessary and a bit heavy-handed. He seemed to have devised this reasoning in the announcement of the tour back in April. As Waters said in the post, he felt the need to tour behind this 1980 Pink Floyd album to “draw some comparisons, to illuminate our current predicament,” especially in this age of supposed higher avenues of communication thanks to the Internet, he continues. As great a work of art the original album is at inviting interpretation by the listener, to revise the meaning of the album without some re-writing, seems a stretch.

Not that I would have condoned changing a note of the original album, but Waters need not excuse himself from finally rendering the album live in its entirety when it is well known Pink Floyd had only performed a handful of live shows soon after the album’s release.* All Pink Floyd fans care about is that the main man behind the album is performing said album live, in its entirety, and he certainly did it justice on Saturday, Nov. 13, at the Bank Atlantic Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Let it be known, that I count myself among those who have stuck by Waters since he quit Pink Floyd and subsequently sued the remaining members after they decided to continue on as Pink Floyd without him. After former frontman Syd Barret lost his marbles and left the band, Waters, to me, was the leader of Floyd henceforth and forevermore. I would prefer to see him do the Wall live as a solo artist over the rest of the band members (listen to how cheesy the Wall tracks sound on the live album Pulse, for instance). Any other Pink Floyd work, after the Final Cut, never amounted to the masterpiece that was the Wall. None of it was even as adventurous, albeit as messy, as the Final Cut or as good as the albums that preceded the Wall.

With those biases in mind, the memory of the show this past Saturday, has grown warmer as the time has passed (those whistles from that asshole who kept shrilly peeping after every line of “Mother” have faded and the bloody ocean projected over the wall during “the Thin Ice,” has grown more vivid in my memory).** The only moment I recall Waters’ heavy-handedness in altering the original inspiration for the concept album becoming totally off-putting, was sucking the darker soul out of “Mother” by replacing the character of the mother with the idea of the government as oppressor.

Yes, the crowd certainly responded to the new metaphor, especially to the line “Mother, should I trust the government?” and the words “No fucking way” suddenly appeared projected on the wall. The audience roared and applauded like a Tea Party rally.  But what’s so dark about the original song is the intimate blood bond between son and mother, and her well-intentioned, albeit misguided, oppressiveness. Adding to the inconsistency of this attempt to fit this new metaphor into the story is the representation of the mother as a humanoid during “the Trial.”

This did not haunt me throughout the show in the least, however. The show had so much going on visually and the sound and the performance was so immaculate, I was mostly left in awe. I was experiencing an undeniable piece of rock ‘n’ roll canon by the man who wrote it. I am certain bands will even keep this album alive long after Waters has passed away (a la the Australian Pink Floyd‘s recent rendition of the Wall at the Miami Beach Fillmore, not too long ago).

Just as in the old days of Pink Floyd’s live version of the Wall, the titular object would grow on stage as the songs progressed. Stagehands would fill in spaces in the Wall with large white (most likely foam) rectangular bricks, as the band progressed through the piece. By the end of the first half, the Wall had completely sealed the band away from the audience.

Once the Wall completely hid the band, I had feared how exciting the show might be. During “Hey You” spotlights overhead would shine on unseen persons behind the wall, in time to the parts. This only provided an establishment of the idea of the protagonist, of course played by Waters, behind a wall. Soon enough Waters would engage with the wall in full view of the audience while projections on the wall, would warp the perception of the massive set piece. Some bricks would sometimes disappear, and during “Comfortably Numb” the wall would even swirl and twist into darkness, capturing the feeling of being inside the wall. The outside of the wall had transformed into the inside.

As I said at the beginning, the live show certainly sealed the themes of album powerfully. No more so than solidifying the flow of the more chaotic second part of the album. Then there were the worms, seemingly eating at the wall by actually winding through the virtual bricks.

After all these years, I never noticed how key the 30 second track “Stop” was to the transition from the fascist concert to the trial. After all the bombast of “In the Flesh,” when even a giant remote controlled black pig with raging red, glowing eyes floated from beyond the Wall, right next to our seats, the stage was reduced to a tiny spotlight focused on a small, pink dummy sitting on top of the Wall.

All the anger directed at humanity during “In the Flesh” is of course a channel for the anger inside our hero. It is when he sings “Stop,” that the scared little self makes a true appearance, and then “the Trial” begins with the famous lines:

“The prisoner who now stands before you
Was caught red-handed showing feelings
Showing feelings of an almost human nature;
This will not do.”

It was an ingenious moment during the show that certainly highlighted the album’s themes well. I had often felt “the Trial” felt too literal a theatrical bit on the album, the Alan Parker-directed film, and even in Waters’ live version with an all-star cast in Berlin back in 1990. But its rendition during this live show, finally sold the song to me. Waters stalked the stage, dressed in black, singing the parts of the players: the teacher, the mother, the girlfriend and judge to various affect, as all the massive puppets hovered over him. I never noticed him look out at the audience during this number. He would just sing hunched over, holding the microphone in his two clenched fists. It all vividly brought to life the schizophrenia of perceptions that haunted the protagonist to shutting himself off from the world.

As important as the stage show was, and I am not going to complain about the seats I got during the pre-sale,*** I have mixed feelings about maybe seeing a little more of what the musicians were doing. Even when the wall was partially built, at the start of the show, I could not see the drummer. The band was also all dressed in black, clearly keeping a lower profile to the stage show, but adding a fitting color scheme when they donned the red arm bands for the fascist rock numbers.

There is something also to be said further about the projections on the wall. Gerald Scarfe’s artwork for both the album and the film version, were a key component to this live show. All the animations from the film were here, projected onto the giant wall and also on the circular screen above the band. If anyone ever wondered what was going on below the flowers’ eerie dance during “Empty Spaces” in the film, you’ll see that in the digitally added roots projected along the wall. Also, the marching hammers have grown in menacing number for this show. Then there were the moments Waters interacted with the Wall and allowed the projections to do the “talking,” which often brought cheers from the audience, especially during the anti-war messages. Waters– as is the hero of the Wall— is a product of growing up fatherless due to war, after all.

Finally, there were also some great moments with the props: the teacher and girlfriend/wife unfolded from the ceilings promptly and menacingly danced in their corners during their various numbers.****

All in all, it was all something much more than a rock show, truly bringing justice to one of Pink Floyd greatest works.

Update: Waters returned for a second Wall show on June 15, 2012 ar the same venue, and 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 got a view from the floor. You can read that review and see lots of close-up pictures through the logo below:

*The only live dates for the album as Floyd occurred Feb 7-13, 1980 in LA and Feb. 24-28 in NYC. Europe would not get the Wall live until a year later for several dates in Germany and a final series of dates in England ( p. 185 Pink Floyd: In the Flesh – the Complete Performance History by Glenn Povey and Ian Russell).

**To that douche bag who kept whistling throughout many of the songs and yapping with his entourage for practically half the show, though he may not be reading this: a big “F U.” Pardon my fascist tendencies, but there should be a contract signed by all attending concertgoers to be still and reverent to such a performance and have police at every door to drag them out should they not show the courtesy to give the show the attention it deserves. Maybe a kick to the mouth would be justified, too.

***I was practically above stage right, in the second level of seats, in the first row. Sometimes, I leaned on the rail and rested my chin on my crossed forearms in rapt attention. During his thanks to the crowd, Waters even turned and pointed up to me and said “especially you.” Or maybe it was my friend who started our side in the hammer salute or it might have been that whistling asshole.

****Though I heard that during the second show, which my friend who took the pics attended but I did not, a technical glitch prevented the girlfriend puppet from coming down from the rafters.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)