Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Well, if Wishes were Dark Sides ... (Pink Floyd remasters)

When it comes to Pink Floyd albums, "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here" are certainly two of the group's most popular works. And with every classic band deciding to remaster their albums, it only made sense for Pink Floyd to do the same. ... I guess. :) And these two albums were among the ones I was most curious about, for getting new details and revelations.

The longevity of both albums comes from the quality of the material, the quality of the performances and the quality of the audio experiences. Both albums have always sounded so clean, so detailed and so densely layered.

Those great qualities, in effect, work against the 2011 remastered editions of the albums.
The problem with many Pink Floyd reissues of the past, including former remasters, is that Pink Floyd was such a great studio band ... the band members (excepting founder Syd Barrett) all had an appreciation for using the studio and developing the processes for getting the most out of the production and sound.

How is that a problem? Well, every edition of the Pink Floyd album series basically has to work around how good the albums have ALWAYS sounded. I even have some old beaten up vinyl albums that still sound awesome, despite the years, the scratches and the warpings ... And a lot of vinyl doesn't hold up that well.

Pink Floyd lucked into having a producer who'd cut his teeth with the Beatles and George Martin (Norman Smith). After Smith abdicated the producer's seat, the band produced themselves with the help of talented engineers (not the least of which include Chris Thomas, Alan Parsons and James Guthrie, among others).

The band was all about getting the best sounds, and getting the best sounds onto disc. So the fidelity has always been fantastic. The last series of remasters in the 1990s worked on the bass and treble balances, refining the mid-range and kind of giving more atmosphere to the albums. That was all well and good, even though the prices were still pretty high for another generation of previously released material.

I've bought several of the 2011 remasters, because I love Pink Floyd and I have been very curious about what new sounds would be unearthed. I've snagged "Piper at the Gates of Dawn," "Dark Side of the Moon," "Wish You Were Here," "Animals," "The Wall" and "The Final Cut."

As much as I love "A Saucerful of Secrets," "Meddle" and "Division Bell," and as much as I enjoy the other albums in the collection, I wanted the best of the best albums to experience them ... so I pretty much just bought the classics. Maybe later ...

The truth is, none of the albums are THAT different after the remastering process. This isn't like the Beatles' remasters, where great material was buried under bad transfers and overall flatness from bad tape processes to poor CD mastering in early generations. Pink Floyd's first CD releases may have been a bit sterile, but they were still clear and detailed. The 1990s remasters gave back to the atmosphere.

The 2011 remasters? Well, you get a bit more separation and there are the occasional little instrumental or vocal highlights that standout. But nothing so dramatic as to be noteworthy.

A couple years back, Pink Floyd released a remaster of "Dark Side" that was supposed to be so definitive, they even changed the name of the album from "Dark Side of the Moon" to "The Dark Side of the Moon" (notice the addition of the definitive article "THE"). I fell for the advertising there, too. I bought it. I listened to it with high quality headphones. I heard minor differences, got some fun moments, but wasn't too blown away.

Here's the thing, folks. Some artists and some albums really benefit from remastering. Especially as technology improves, music that suffered from poor handling or degrading tapes or whatever get cleaned up so people can hear the music as the artist(s) intended. That's a good thing, it really is, and I support that. I've bought numerous copies of the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," and I bought both the mono and stereo Beatles box sets for just those reasons. When you want to hear the music the best it's ever been, there are prices to pay.

But the Pink Floyd material really doesn't warrant the constant remastering and re-release. The music and production have stood the test of time. So buying the albums, by themselves, really isn't too worthwhile.

But. But!

But the expanded editions of the albums DO have some perks that make them worthwhile.

So far, "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here" are the only albums that have gotten the big treatments. "The Wall" is also going to get the special treatment. The others? Dunno. Haven't seen anything suggesting expanded releases for the remaining albums.

So far, there are three ways to buy "Dark Side" and "Wish," with the standard one disc being the cheapest. Then there are two-disc versions that are more than double the cost. The third version is very expansive, with more discs and booklets (but who can afford them? ... About $130 for each album?).

Being a man of meager income (much of which gets spent on a lot of music), I have to be pretty selective in my purchases. So those uber deluxe Pink Floyd albums aren't gonna happen anytime soon. So I've gone for the two-disc versions of "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here."

"Dark Side" offers the live version of the album in its entirety, from 1974. It's quite fantastic. The vocals are gruffer, the tape loops are used differently (the "I've been mad for fucking years" loop at the beginning is wonderful), and the overall effect far surpasses the 1994 live version included on "Pulse." The band works together really well, and the cleanup work done on the 1974 tapes is exemplary. I won't say the live version is better than the studio version, but this live version adds a new dimension to the work that makes it as worthwhile as the classic studio work.

"Wish You Were Here" includes the rest of the 1974 concert, featuring an early version of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" (my favorite Pink Floyd song), as well as "You've Got to Be Crazy" (an early version of "Dogs," which would show up on "Animals") and "Raving and Drooling" (an early version of "Sheep," also from "Animals"). These three selections are almost worth the price of the set by themselves. The performances are fantastic, and the lyrical differences are notable (I've owned bootlegs of the performances, so they weren't previously unheard on my end ... but they sound better than ever after all the remixing and mastering).

But "Wish" also features one of the tracks from Pink Floyd's abandoned "Household Objects" project (after "Dark Side" was over, the band felt creatively and emotionally exhausted and tried to spark some new musical ideas by using household objects like wine glasses, silverware and rubber bands to create sounds ... this idea crashed and burned when the group decided they could make all those sounds better with regular instruments and synthesizers). "Wine Glasses" is an interesting track, but one can see why this idea didn't progress further. Still, as far as bonus tracks go, it suits the bill perfectly.

"Wish" also offers alternate versions of "Have a Cigar" and "Wish You Were Here." The original album version of "Cigar" featured Roy Harper on lead vocals as Waters didn't feel he did a very good job on it and Gilmour didn't identify with the material and didn't want to try it out. The bonus version here is of the band's attempts, with Waters handling the tune. The lyrics differ in places, too. It's quite cool, actually, but the Harper version is definitive. The "Wish You Were Here" alternative version is also notably different, with the structure and arrangement differing significantly from the classic version. Violinist Stephane Grappelli is higher in the mix, too, giving his contribution more of a feature than had been heard in the classic version (which was buried very much in the mix).

The bonus discs for both "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here" make the remastered editions of these albums totally worthwhile. And finally, Pink Floyd pries open the vaults to release bonus tracks! I am hopeful they'll release some sort of compilation album of previously unreleased goodies (but I won't hold my breath waiting for it).

If you don't already have these albums, then by all means go out and get them. They DO sound fantastic. If you already have the albums, then invest in the two-disc versions for the bonus tracks as they are certainly interesting (and even if you have the material on bootlegs, pay for the stuff  ... I'm not judging those involved in the practice, but buying the albums is how you thank the artists AND encourage the labels to release more of the vault stuff). And if you have the money available, then by all means get the super editions. The reviews I've read for those sound promising!

Pink Floyd is a great classic band, with a lot of great material, and I hope the rest of the catalog gets expanded release too. There are plenty of goodies just waiting to be released (even stuff that bootleggers have yet to discover). "Wish" may be my favorite album in their collection, but I also love "The Final Cut" and would be curious what they could dig up there on a second disc. I know "The Wall" has plenty of demos and some live material coming with it. "Animals" could be interesting, if they provided some of the controversial live material from the period (the concert where Waters spits on an audience member would be enjoyable). And the Barrett material from "Piper" and "Secrets" that didn't make it to albums? Yeah, hook me up!

So here's to the goodies still waiting to be presented to fans! (And here's hoping the B-sides and rarities get releases, too!)


  1. A very elaborate comment. Thanks for sharing. The Immersion box sets are simply breathtaking! Absolute must-buys for those with financial means (they ARE pretty expensive indeed). For example, the DSOTM set contains a pre-final version of the ablum with different ideas, an eye-opener to PF's creative process :-)

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

      I've since picked up the Immersion box for "The Wall," and I enjoy it thoroughly. I wish the Roger Waters demos / band demos / early versions had been sequenced a bit differently, but that's a minor complaint.

      From what I've read and heard, the "Dark Side of The Moon" Immersion box is the best of the three. Maybe it's time to save up to get that one! Your comments definitely whet the appetite.

      The 2-disc version of "Wish You Were Here" seems to be plenty for most fans, as the Immersion box doesn't seem to get the same buzz as "Dark Side" or "The Wall" boxes do.

      Thanks again for stopping by!


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