L&M_1_SHEET_MECH_FIN_WEB1429825458Biopics are often constrained by an obligation to transmit their subject’s life in a couple of hours of cinema. While some of those films can be fine, it’s refreshing when a filmmaker can offer something different. Director Bill Pohlad along with writers Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner do this in two ways with Love & Mercy, their exploration of the music and the madness of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. First, they focus on two distinct periods of Wilson’s life. In the late 1960s Wilson took to composing and experimenting in the studio while the rest of the band went on tour. This period produced the albums Pet Sounds (1966) and its follow-up, the unreleased Smile album. In the late ‘80s, Wilson became a recluse. Back then, he seemed like another causality of LSD, like Syd Barret of Pink Floyd. Despite some ill-recevied solo albums, he was out of the spotlight. What was more interesting was that he had spent two to three years in self-imposed bed rest. Otherwise, the wider public no longer seemed to care about Brian Wilson or The Beach Boys.

The second way the story unfolds is through Wilson’s music — in both its presence and absence. The late ‘60s was the beginning of Wilson’s most creative period, and the work would become legendary. Unfortunately, theLM_03545.CR2 wide acclaim wouldn’t come until decades later. In the late ‘80s, he was so far gone, a sense of irrelevance clouds the era. Neither of these periods are a well-understood part of the musician’s career. He was an outcast during both, but with hindsight, he has enjoyed a rebirth, influencing bands like Stereolab and Of Montreal, among others in the ‘90s*. In 2004, Wilson revitalized Smile with a tour and an album called Brian Wilson Presents Smile. He’s still recording new music today.

Music was redemption for Wilson, and the filmmakers understand this, alternating between the two eras for the movie’s duration, telling a story with two different actors playing the same man as a musician caught enthrall with the process of creation (Paul Dano) and a musician denied it utterly (John Cusack). For a director who hasn’t directed a film since 1990, Love & Mercy is an accomplished work. Of course, in the interim Pohlad has produced films like Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Tree of Life (2011), and 12 Years a Slave (2013), so he’s worked with some amazing directors since then. But the film stands on its own in every aspect of cinema and hopefully will not be forgotten come awards season. It features amazing work in every element you can imagine, from editing the dual storylines together and the performances that bring them to life. There’s also meticulous production design. Those familiar with the album covers of The Beach Boys will be astonished at the detail in the scenes that depict their creations. The cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman, who has been working with Wes Anderson since Bottle Rocket (1996), highlights his keen eye for period atmosphere.

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Ultimately, PohIad shows great understanding that the story of Wilson — who also cooperated with the production — is as much about the music as it is about the personality associated with it. It’s exhilarating to watch the construction of the songs in the studio. There are many distinct instruments playing signature, familiar parts from certain songs. It’s what makes Wilson so brilliant, he understands the qualities of so many instruments and played to their strengths and sometimes pushed them beyond. But he also found ways to use the studio as part of the album. From ambient noise and little accidents, Pohlad pays tribute to every aspect of Wilson’s creativity in this movie.

The first standout scene in the studio, when the large band of Pet Sounds assembles to perform the first bit of music, feels appropriately unsettling. The music they produced is angular and unfinished. Without calling too much attention to itself, it foretells the terrible looming failure of the album, which was a commercial disappointment for the group. But gradually things come together, and the studio musicians Brian has gathered clearly begin to delight in the work, even when Brian brings in a couple of dogs to bark for the record.

Sure, it’s madcap, but it also speaks to the din in Brian’s head, something the film establishes at the very beginning. In order to highlight the sounds in his head, Love & Mercy opens in darkness. A chaotic stew of famous Beach Boys musical bits eventually meld together to form the semblance of a song that crescendos as the camera pulls out from an earhole and then cuts to silence after a visual cut to the foot of an ornate bed, where the viewer is confronted with the lump of an obese bearded man meant to be Wilson, lying prone in the eerie hush of dreary silence.

Paul Dano in Love & Mercy

Wilson has long said he has been plagued by internal voices and music, and in this movie you get the sense of a man struggling to exorcise these voices by externalizing them through music. There’s creativity but also a curse. Beyond cooperating with sharing his story, Wilson also gave Oscar-winning soundtrack composer Atticus Ross access to all the masters he had. There are bits of Beach Boys music you may have never heard used in the score, assembled by Ross as both extradiegetic score and narrative musical hallucinatory moments key to the story inside Wilson’s head.

But on the other side, there are scenarios brought to life in the studio, like Brian’s painstaking approach to create the chugging cello parts in “Good Vibrations.” There are also incredibly visual moments. During a particularly harrowing montage toward the end of the film, we get a few seconds of the studio band in fireman helmets playing some unheard section of Smile with Brian twirling in the middle, shirt open, under his own fireman’s helmet, space eyed and holding smoking flares. The heartbreaking coda of “Surf’s Up” plays over the image that is a mixture of both creative triumph and melancholy madness.

Some may wonder if the actors did their own singing. To my ears, I cannot tell that they did. It’s almost jarring when we first see Dano open his mouth and hear Wilson’s voice come out of it, so I doubt he did LM_00304.CR2(Ed: Dano did, making his performance that more impressive). Also, The Beach Boys’ harmonizing has often been considered some of the most complex singing ever recorded. But it’s a testament to Dano’s acting that he can capture Wilson’s awkward ticks so that the viewer can soon accept seeing this quirky actor as Wilson.

Above all, music drives the narrative, and one could consider almost every other scene and how it is used to push the narrative forward via music. After that unsettling opening scene, the film’s more straightforward narrative begins at the Cadillac dealership where the ’80s Brian met his wife Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks). The smooth jazz sounds of Kenny G’s “Songbird” plays softly over the P.A. It’s actually an annoyingly high-pitched, simplistic melody, the antithesis to the complex harmonies Wilson created with The Beach Boys. When Brian asks to sit in one car with Melinda, they close the doors, sealing out the cloying melody, and he even locks the doors. Maybe he’s locking out the music, but he’s also finding some alone time from his bodyguard. By the late ‘80s, Wilson had long been under the care of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Landy was a famous celebrity psychologist, who actually succeeded in getting Wilson out of bed and the funk of depression that had him habitually abusing drugs. But, by the late ‘80s, he made Wilson his only case and inserted himself as a business partner and even co-songwriter. He micro-managed Wilson’s life with medication and around-the-clock surveillance.

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But that never meant the music and voices had left Wilson alone. Though heavily medicated during this time, Love & Mercy also shows Brian continuing to struggle with the phantom sounds, but with no creative outlet compared to the ‘60s storyline. When the real music appears, we get a glimpse of what it means to Brian in real life. During a sailing trip with Melinda, the sound of “Sloop John B (I Wanna Go Home)” emanates from the pilot house through a cranked up, trebly speaker. Landy’s son captains the boat. Brian and Melinda sit toward the bow, and Brian asks the captain to turn it off. Clearly not understanding Brian, the captain yells toward the bow, “It’s a tribute to you, Brian.” Then Brian casually explains, “It sort of destroys my brain.”

It’s a sad way to show how negative the specter of his old group has become to him. Besides that moment, there is no Beach Boys music in this section of Brian’s life. There’s one lovely moment, however, of Brian sharing his talents with Melinda that also LOVEANDMERCY081431647886serves as a subtle musical declaration of the film’s title. When she comes over to his house for her first visit, he sits at the piano to play a romantic melody and suddenly stops. Her jaw drops, and she asks what it was. Brian replies, “Something I came up with when I first saw you.” She asks what he might plan to do with it. He says, “Nothing … Every once in a while your soul comes out to play.”

Those with a sharp ear and a familiarity with Wilson’s solo work will notice that melody is the first utterance of the film’s title, “Love and Mercy,” which also happens to be the opening track of his 1988 debut solo album Brian Wilson. That the director chooses to reveal the film’s title through music speaks to how important music is not only to Wilson but the film itself. Brian Wilson fans are bound to have a blast with this film, but it also goes to show how important music is in driving the film’s narrative in subtle ways.

Still, the music also works without much context, which invites any member of the audience to find their own way to appreciate how music works as a narrative device. Pohlad constructs his story musically, as well, trusting in all the film’s separate parts to work on transmitting the story. It’s easy to fill in the blanks of Wilson’s relationship with Dr. Landy when Giamatti gives a powerful, stark performance. Landy’s intrusiveness is first revealed during Brian’s and Melinda’s first date: a Moody Blues concert. During the climax of wails of “Nights in White Satin,” Melinda leans over to tell Brian, John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks Love & Mercy“This song is so great.” Brian quietly agrees, “Yeah.” Landy, whose sitting on Melinda’s other side, leans to her to ask, “What did you say?” where she must explain her exchange with Brian. Landy will later corner Melinda at his office in an attempt to win her over to his side, explaining that, as Brian’s doctor, he will need her to report to him whatever Brian tells her. It’s a twisted scene that also features one of several moments where Giamatti is allowed to show off his grand acting without a pause for reverse shot. He blends malice and sincerity to creepy, riveting heights, and Pohlad gives him room, not allowing for any edits to taint or manipulate his performances. It’s not slow-paced editing but the creation of tension by expert acting. Cusack is also allowed moments to shine in this way.

Mike Love (Jake Abel) and the Wilsons’ patriarch (Bill Camp) are the nemeses of the other part of Brian’s life. Mike is comfortable with the early hits about California girls and surfing, and he becomes resentful with new tangents in the songwriting, impatient with Brian’s meticulousness and resistant to any rule breaking, like including studio banter during a solo in the middle of “Here Today.” He calls it “unprofessional.” When he’s given the lyrics to “Hang On To Your Ego,” Mike asks Brian, “Is this a druggie song?” and refuses to sing the lyrics until Brian explains otherwise and the other Beach Boys take Brian’s side. Love is also the one to say Pet Sounds won’t even make gold, so now it’s time to go back to writing “real music.”

Murry Wilson is the precursor and parallel to Landy, who like Mike, is also turned off by attempts at more profound songwriting by Brian, questioning the ironic lyrics of “God Only Knows.” After he’s fired as the band’s manager, the elder Wilson interrupts a recording session to present the band with his new discovery, The Sunrays, and their Beach Boys imitation song, “I Live For the Sun.” Brian retreats to the studio, where he can hear the grating single through the walls, and he’s overtaken by a nightmare blur of his own creative voices clashing with the din of The Sunrays’ amateurish harmonies.

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Love & Mercy is filled with these small details also expressed by even slighter but still fascinating supporting characters. Van Dyke Parks (Max Schneider) was an important collaborator of Wilson’s, but the narrative stays focused on Wislon’s experience. Van’s biggest moment comes when Love bullies him out of a Beach Boys meeting at a pool. Brian is treading water in the deep end, pleading with his band mates to join him there so Phil Spector (Jonathan Slavin) can’t hear them because he has the house bugged. Dennis Wilson (Kenny Wormald), who’s standing in the shallow side of the pool that the others are sitting around, counters, “We’re too shallow for the deep end.” It’s a sly metaphor for the gulf between the members of the group.

The film is rich with these musical and dramatic instances that capture life moments with musical and creative resonance. Pohlad does more justice to a life lived by focusing on the details and showing less concern for a big story arc. That’s not life. Life is a chaotic mix of moments filled with their own highs and lows. It’s not unlike the shredding given to Smile, torn apart across other albums, including Smiley Smile (1967) and Surf’s Up (1971). Wilson also comes across as a person torn. It’s about music in abundance and the absence of it, and how it tears about a creative and crazy person whose legend has become inextricable from his music. “These things I’ll be until I die.”

Hans Morgenstern

*Into the 2000s there’s also Grizzly Bear.

You can read my interview with the director here:

Director of Beach Boys pic Love & Mercy talks about externalizing Brian Wilson’s musical madness and how to deal with the character of Mike Love

Love & Mercy runs 120 minutes and is rated PG-13 (for cussing and the depiction of complications with drugs and rock ‘n’ roll).

Update 2: Love & Mercy is coming the the Bill Cosford Cinema for a weekend run this Friday, July 31. Click here for the schedule.

It opens in limited release in the Miami area this Friday, June 5. In our South Florida area, the venues hosting the film are as follows:

  • Miami-Dade: Coral Gables Art Cinema, Aventura Mall 24 Theatres and Regal South Beach 18
  • Keys: Tropic Cinema Key West  
  • Broward County:  Cinemark Paradise 24, The Classic Gateway Theatre
  • Boca/Palm Beach counties:  Living Room Theaters/Boca, Regal Shadowood 16/Boca, Cinemark Palace 20/Boca, Muvico Parisian 20, Movies of Delray 5,  Delray Marketplace 12, Cinemark Boynton Beach 14

Update: The film expands on June 12 in South Florida at these theaters:

  • Silverspot Coconut Creek Cinemas Coconut Creek
  • Cinepolis Grove 15 Coconut Grove
  • Oakwood 18 Hollywood
  • O Cinema Miami Beach Miami Beach
  • Sunset Place 24 Theatres

For other theaters across the U.S., visit the film’s website and put in your zip code in the box in the upper left corner via this link. All images courtesy of Roadside Attractions, who also hosted a preview screening at the Coral Gables Art Cinema for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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The story of The Beach Boys is so much more fascinating than most assume. The band behind such early 1960s hits as “Surfin’ Safari” and “I Get Around” were a family affair, made up of brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and a friend named Al Jardine. Among them, though, was a musical genius: Brian Wilson. It was his vision in the studio — from the band’s signature harmonies to angular musical ideas to putting dogs barking on a record — that took the band from hit factory to more complex levels that would gain them critical acclaim and go on to influence many other artists for decades to come.

But the thing about Wilson is that he was also clinically crazy. From the physical and mental abuse suffered by the band members’ father/manager to the abuse of LSD, Wilson spiraled downward. He was also very sensitive and introverted. He had a fear of flying and preferred working in the studio to touring live. By the 1980s, after he legendarily retreated to bed for three years and some failed solo work, people wrote him off as helplessly crazy, not unlike Syd Barrett. But gradually questions arose about his personal psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy. Wilson’s brother Carl had to fight in court to free his brother from Landy’s obsessive care that took away the musician’s autonomy and even the rights to some of his music.

No one can point to one thing that broke this man down, but his musical highs were heavily balanced out by his personal lows. In a new biopic, Love & Mercy (Read our review: Love & Mercy harnesses the music & madness of Brian Wilson), director/producer Bill Pohlad finds a way to focus on both yet still make the music the most important element in Wilson’s life. It’s an amazing achievement by the producer of Wild (Wild features brutally honest and vulnerable performance by Witherspoon — a film Review), LM_01332FD.psd12 years a Slave (The Florida Film Critics Circle announce `12 Years a Slave’ big winner for 2013… and the picks by Indie Ethos) and a personal favorite, Tree of Life (An antidote for Oscar hype: My 20 favorite films of 2011 [numbers 10 – 1]). On May 15, after watching the film twice, I spoke with Pohlad via phone. I could have easily gone on a tangent to talk about these other amazing films, if we had had the time, but amazing in its own way, is his return to directing after almost 25 years. Few know his debut feature film released in 1990, starring José Ferrer and James Whitmore called Old Explorers, which is only available on VHS on the secondary market (Support the Independent Ethos, you can try to purchase direct through Amazon via this link). Like many, I haven’t seen it, so I cannot attest to its quality. But I can only imagine Pohlad has learned a lot as a producer because Love & Mercy stands as one of this writer’s favorite movies of 2015, so far.

I’ve already written one article from our interview in the Miami New Times’ Art and Culture blog. The piece mostly covers Pohlad’s acting choices (two actors play Wilson: John Cusack and  Paul Dano) and how he uses Wilson’s music in impressive sound collages based on actual music by Wilson and re-contextualized by Atticus Ross. You can read that article by jumping through the blog’s logo below:

NT Arts

We spoke about other topics, but I couldn’t fit it all in the article, so here’s an abridged Q&A of material missing from that article, which is still no less interesting for those who plan to see this extraordinary film about a man, his madness and his music (my glowing review, which will focus on the presence and absence of music in the film’s narrative, is coming soon).

Hans Morgenstern: I want to talk about the creative way you declare the title of the film within the narrative. There’s this scene where Brian Wilson sits at the piano playing what turns out to be the melody for “Love and Mercy” for Melinda.

Bill Pohlad: Not everybody catches that. In fact, you’re the first one that actually mentions it.

I’m big on music. So I imagine you must be very attuned to music.

I’ve always been a big music fan. I find a lot of filmmakers are frustrated musicians and a lot of musicians are frustrated filmmakers, I think, once you talk to people. But I certainly fall into that category. I love music, and I wish that maybe I’d pursued that. I’ve always loved it and followed, and I think one of the attractions to this movie was trying to capture — like the Pet Sounds era and that kind thing — what’s inside the head of an incredible, creative musician.

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You certainly capture that when representing what’s going on inside his head. You capture his music as well as his sickness. How did you decided on this manner to represent that?

Well, I think it comes from learning about Brian and talking to him and [his wife] Melinda [played by Elizabeth Banks] a little bit and trying to get a sense of what he actually experienced. As I got to know the story better, and I got to spend a little more time with him — both of them — you get a sense of what goes on in his head. He’s admitted, of course, and it’s very well known that he hears voices and things like that, but there’s also the musical element.

I think you do something great with the editing: you let the actors perform. A lot of times you see actors’ performances chopped up in the editing, but you had some longish takes.

Yeah, I believe in actors’ performances, and certainly the other directors that I worked with as a producer in some of the other films, that I admired have kind of allowed me to push more in that direction and have more confidence about that.

Speaking of some of the people you admire, there’s a sequence at the end of the movie [that we see in the trailer] in Brian’s bed that reminded me of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Yeah. You don’t necessarily want to do those things blatantly. I was afraid, I’m going back and forth thinking that people would think that was a total rip-off. But to me because of the role that that bed played in Brian’s life … where that sequence at the end came from was the fact that we’re trying to create a film here that’s true and kind of authentic … When I first started talking to John Cusack about the role, he was like, ‘Well, you know, but at the end, isn’t there a time when Brian could, you know, like get up and leave and walk out … on Landy or something like that?’ As a filmmaker or a storyteller LM_04823.CR2you’re always looking for those ways to end the movie or something like that, but the problem is that never actually happened. Brian never did walk out. There wasn’t any dramatic storming away from Landy, so I wanted to find a way to end the film that was more true to what actually happened and true to life. Our lives just don’t go that way: clean and neat, so the idea of like having this period where you’re able to like see Brian struggling within himself, with who he is and where he’s been and coming from some kind of peace, that felt more authentic than trying to force some kind of ending, so that’s where that sequence came from. Then, when you’re visualizing it with the bed and all, yeah, someone can think of Kubrick and all that, but hopefully it’s organic to the movie as well.

Mike Love [played by Jake Abel] comes across a little, I would say acerbic in the film. Have you had any reaction from him about the movie?

I don’t know. We haven’t heard yet. The whole Mike Love thing is tricky in the sense that certainly he has a reputation, either fairly or unfairly, of being a tough guy or whatever, and not a particularly pleasant guy. I mean, the first thing I wanted to do is deal with that in the storytelling sense. I don’t like the idea of creating arch villains or one-dimensional guys, and Mike was a great example of that. I didn’t really want him to be seen in that way, as the bad guy. It’s too easy, and I wanted to relate to LOVEANDMERCY071431647756him and tried to. I hope it comes through a little bit. He’s just a guy. He’s a human being. He’s different than Brian. That doesn’t make him bad. You just know that Brian’s a creative genius, and we’re telling this story about this extraordinary, creative artist, but the guy next to him is just a regular guy. He’s got talents of his own, but he’s not that kind of guy. That does not make him bad. I wanted to portray it in that way, saying, Hey, maybe you can relate to this guy. He’s got a good gig going, and all of a sudden his cousin starts going off, and starts doing these really weird things. It’s like, ‘Hey, c’mon what are you doing?’ As opposed to making him like that bad guy, so hopefully there’s some balance there.

Hans Morgenstern

I’ll leave you with a featurette with more information by the actors and Pohlad:

Update Love & Mercy is coming the the Bill Cosford Cinema for a weekend run this Friday, July 31. Click here for the schedule.

Love & Mercy opens in limited release this Friday, June 5, across the nation. In our South Florida area, the venues are as follows:

  • Miami-Dade: Coral Gables Art Cinema, Aventura Mall 24 Theatres and Regal South Beach 18
  • Keys: Tropic Cinema Key West  
  • Broward County:  Cinemark Paradise 24, The Classic Gateway Theatre
  • Boca/Palm Beach counties:  Living Room Theaters/Boca, Regal Shadowood 16/Boca, Cinemark Palace 20/Boca, Muvico Parisian 20, Movies of Delray 5,  Delray Marketplace 12, Cinemark Boynton Beach 14

For other theaters across the U.S., visit the film’s website and put in your zip code in the box in the upper left corner via this link. All images courtesy of Roadside Attractions, who also hosted a preview screening for the purpose of this interview.

(Copyright 2015 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.)