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PINK FLOYD - 'Oh, By The Way'   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Tuesday, 01 January 2008

Money? It's a Gas!

Taking it’s name from an aside from a forgotten Industry insider (the rest of  the statement is “…. Which Ones Pink?”), this limited edition 14 album box set is an ideal catch all for any highly casual fan of Pink Floyd.  To be frank, if you already own all or most of the Floyd albums - don’t get this. If you need all the Pink Floyd albums : start here. The 16 disc set is competitively priced (for what it is), and accurately reproduces all the original LP artwork at CD size. (However, since there is one very slight variation between the LP and CD editions of ’The Division Bell’, it does not actually reproduce the original LP’s).

The 16 disc, 149-song box set chronicles the Pink Floyd story from their original 1967 maudlin, whimsical blitzed space rock of the Syd-BarrettPiper At The Gates Of Dawn” to 1994’s, maudlin, epic Gilmour-era “The Division Bell”. Simply put, this is a diverse, massive collection of material that charts the bands slow but massive progression from being the zenith of 60’s psychedelic to being world-conquering, stadium-filling purveyors of a peculiarly British brand of introspective miserbailism. The evolution is slow and steady, yet one could listen to the first and last albums in this collection and be definitively staggered that it could be the work of the same group. And yet, at the same time, be able to draw a clear line between the two.

One thing that first leaps out is that the group have always been immaculately produced. 1967’s “Astronomy Domine” sounds fresh and clear and it could have in fact been released yesterday as it sounds utterly contemporary and timeless. The closings song on what will be the final record “High Hopes” sounds equally timeless. In fact, only 1987’s “Momentary Lapse Of Reason” suffers slightly production wise as it reflects a new and untested lineup of the band learning their craft in the studio and the production on it - most obviously the drums - are clearly rooted in the Eighties.

 

The majority of their work comes from the years 1967-1977 (with ten of their fourteen albums in this short period), and during this time the Floyd were fiercely prolific : touring the world with some great hunger, and recording numerous records, soundtracks, compilations and a wealth of material - some of it still languishing undeservedly in the vaults. Once Syd left the group in early 1968, and David Gilmour joined, the subsequent three records are the sound of a band looking for a new direction. “Saucerful Of Secrets” is the only record to feature the five-piece Floyd lineup, and is a confused artistic mess as Syd audibly untangles and falls to pieces on ‘Jugband Blues’, whilst Roger starts to assume control with the driving (and oft-sampled) ‘Let There Be Light’. It has some great moments and is an intruiging look at a group in transition.

 1969’s “More” (the soundtrack accompanying the film of the same name), meanwhile offers the heaviest Pink Floyd recordings ever : near to hard rock-metal than anything else they ever did : in addition this album offers re-recordings of the original soundtrack rearranged for record release - as the versions heard in the  film are often substantially different and the film itself features two songs not released anywhere else. Hard to believe the definitive Floyd box set would fail to release these songs, but despite what you have heard this ISN’T the definitive Floyd Box Set.  It's an odd ride, of many different styles and lacking a singular voice, but worth a listen.

The next two discs are “Ummagumma” : one half a sadly truncated four-song fabulous live recording of the band at the height of their live abilities, the other a frankly unlistenable collection of half-arsed solo recordings from a band audibly trying to find a direction. Quite why the two songs recorded by the band as a whole for the project (“Embryo” and “Biding My Time”) aren’t on this set and replaced by the appalling sound collage that is "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict" no one with ears will ever know. “Ummagumma” is an imperfect experience, to be charitable, rescued only by the live portion of the disc that is well worth listening to.

Around this time, the band recorded 7 songs and around 40 minutes worth of music for the “Zabriskie Point” film. This has been released as part of a double-album multi-artist soundtrack : quite why it isn’t included in the set is somewhat baffling as the material is very good and  stands well as a Floyd record in it’s own right. Again, another missed opportunity to clear up and tidy the bands complicated discography.

 

Atom Heart Mother”, the next album in the set is a undeservedly bashed record in their canon. The title track is an ambitious, epic instrumental with orchestra that is a precursor to the bands signature tune “Echoes”. Side two is generally formless, compiled of just a number of frankly average songs. Again, as with all the material on this disc, the production is strong  but the songs are lacking.

Meddle” - the 1971 album - contains the bands signature piece “Echoes” : a massive, definitive space-rock-funk-jam that lasts about 22 minutes, is the perfect accompaniment to the end of “2001”, and was undoubtedly the absolute, brain-mashing highlight of 2006’s David Gilmour Tour : seeing it performed by the ersatz version of the Floyd  - containing 2/3rds of the final touring lineup - on his 2006 tour, assaulted by lasers and smoke in the confines of the Royal Albert Hall was one of the musical highlights of my life. Nonetheless, we’re getting off track : “Meddle” is a great record that is the first foreshadowing of the creative heights the band will achieve.

1972’s “Obscured By Clouds” is again, an overlooked classic : rarely performed live, and overshadowed by the release a few months later of “Dark Side Of The Moon”, it contains some of the finest music they ever released. The first three songs are tense, powerful coiled instrumentals that they rarely explored, and “Free Four” is perhaps the most overlooked/under-rated song The Floyd ever released, being a requiem of a middle-aged man reminiscing from an imaginary future, topped off with some of the finest guitar work Gilmour was ever to make.

 

In the end, 1973’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” is the record the band will forever be most well known for : In the charts for something like 1,000 weeks, the ten song suite offers a first in Floyd terms with a  distinctive, uninterrupted flow of material over 45 minutes that works as one long song. It touches upon broad themes (evidenced in titles like “Time”, “Money”, “Us And Them”, “Breathe”) that encapsulates the whole of human experience from birth to death. It helps that the music is fantastic, the Floyd at an apex of creativity and melodic strengths, with a timeless production and creating a near perfect whole.

1975’s “Wish You Were Here” again touches upon the central theme of their work, and one to which they would often return : that all human being are by essence, alone, even if they try to pretend otherwise. The album’s centrepiece of the 9 part, spread-over-two-sides 27 minute “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is a masterful elegy to departed former leader Syd Barrett which is one of the bands most.. Cohesive…. Musical works in their career and a focal point of the live shows of the band and it’s members solo tours ever since. The title track - the most emotional moment of their 2005 reform-and-goodbye show at Live 8 - is a staple rock classic that is unfairly lumped with “Hotel California”, but is far superior : more mystical, more aspirational, more affecting, and overall a highpoint in a career of highlights.

1977’s “Animals” is, I feel, the Floyd’s single best record. A fiercely cynical record built on aggressive rock backing, lacking the occasionally bland AORisms of the rest of their work, completely unsuited for radio airplay with an average song length of 10 minutes,  At the time of its release Floyd looked to be just another dinosaur, another relic of the past that may very well be swept aside in the new wave. In some respects, the Floyd were everything that Punk was fighting against, and in the midst of this, they released their most obviously anti-establishment album : Animals is a damning indictment of capitalism, hypocrisy, and near enough everything and everybody.

Thematically, the album revolves around a sort of retelling of Orwell’s Animal Farm, adrift as it is with Sheep and Dogs and Pigs (the three strata of society), and making clear the underlying themes of both texts : man is an animal who happens to wear shoes, and is as ruthless as any other animal in the wild. This theory is offset by Waters sweet love songs “Pigs On The Wing” – the one chink of light in a resolutely grey sky – which serve both as relief from the unremitting nihilism and to reinforce the darkness of the rest of the set. The album is an epic vision of unremitting cycnicism and the undiscovered jewel in the Floyd’s crown.

From here on, the Floyd became… less prolific. Four albums in five years rapidly became four albums in seventeen years. The band were beset by business issues and personal conflicts, and the inevitable drying of the creative well over time. 1979’s l“The Wall” is regarded by many but not by myself, as their masterwork. A 30 something multimillionaire producing a double album, wrapped up in some bizarre narrative, trying to equate the decline of a stupid, immature rock star's descent into madness with abandonment issues because The Germans killed his daddy at Anzio. Now, it wouldn't take a genius to work out that it is, at least in some way autobiographical. And that's before Roger wrote the screenplay for the film and kept using the word "Roger" instead of the word "Pink" .

All things considered, The Wall would've made a fantastic single album, a painful double album, and an absolutely dreadful triple album. Despite its massive commercial success, artistically "The Wall" is an enormous conceit : an artschool project of a grown man exorcising his demons on an obscene scale, endlessly repeating the same motifs and musical ideas, painting some rose tinted picture of childhood tainted by war, death, demon headmasters straight out of children's storybooks, whinging about how dreadful it is being surrounded by sex, money and drugs. It does have five or six great songs on, three absolute stone dead classics (“Another Brick In The Wall”, “Comfortably Numb”, “Mother”), but also about six of the worst songs the Floyd ever recorded (most of sides three and four, actually). “The Wall” is good - but incredibly over-rated and unworthy of the praise afforded to it.

The final album with Roger at the helm was “The Final Cut”. A fabulous record. But it is, in all but name, a Waters solo record which only two of the remaining Floyd only play on (Rick Wright having been ousted out in a battle of egos). Again, following a thematic narrative, “The Final Cut” details the bitter tirade of a survivor of an unnamed war against the world leaders. Inspired by the Falklands, and ending in the aural recreation of the end of the world, there was nowhere else for this version of the Floyd to go. The album is immaculately produced, fiercely articulate, compelling listening, deeply under-appreciated and features some of Waters finest writing, as well as being blessed with some fabulous but occasional solos from Gilmour. However, it is overall less than the sum of its parts as it sounds like a solo album. It’s a VERY long way from the debut in all respects and shows great artists evolve at all times. Even if their audience may not necessarily follow them.

Album 13 is “A Momentary Lapse Of Reason”. Waters had left, and the remaining two Floyds (aided by Rick Wright) carried on in a controversial move that kept lawyers and journalists busy for most of the Eighties. “Momentary Lapse” suffers from a dated production, but contains a fine collection of songs that accurately re-create the Floyd sound of the seventies with mystical, aspirational imagery, sweeping solos, majestic and atmospheric keyboard parts, and understated, unfussy drumming from Mason. Aided and abetted by 17 session musicians, one could argue this isn’t the Floyd but a solo Gilmour album under the Floyd tag - though quite how this would differ from the equally bloated “Wall” and “Final Cut” (and their respectively singular vision that makes them practically Waters solo records) I don’t know.

Final CD in the set is “The Division Bell”. This sees the band come full circle and the Waters-less Floyd work in a similar fashion as to the way they used to : as musicians in a room, jamming out ideas. As a result, “The Division Bell” is not only a classic return to form in every respect, but sounds for the first time in two decades, like the work of a band pulling and working together. The material is excellent, and far removed from the usual bluff and fluff one would expect of a bunch of millionaries on the verge of retirement. There’s no filler, no padding, no duffers on this record, but a collection of finely crafted, artistically worthy material that stands the equal of anything they did in their heyday., proving once and for all, that unlike many of their contemporaries of the time, the Floyd never had a truly barren patch, but remained artistically worthwhile and vibrant throughout all their incarnations.

One could argue endlessly about the existence of this box set, about the absence of unreleased or rare material - for few bands discographies is as complicated as the Floyd  -who have managed to secrete an enormous amount of rare material on compilation records, on dead formats, hidden only on soundtrack albums and VHS tapes, about the long overdue DVD releases of “Delicate Sound Of Thunder” and “La Carrera Panamerica”, about the still-hidden-in-the-vaults Wall concert film, about the absence of any of the vast amount of much bootlegged unreleased stuff, the missing and cancelled-before-release “Top Gear BBC Sessions” album, the numerous unreleased live recordings, about the lack of any definitive DVD documentary or DVD of the legion of promotional films and television appearances.. And given the length of that sentence alone I think it’s fairly clear what the bands fans would rather have instead of this box set. In some respects, I am glad that the original mooted documentary DVD with the set - presumably the one broadcast on the BBC a few weeks ago - was dropped as this means that any Pink Floyd completist need not buy it.

However, my simple advice to anyone is - if you have all or most of the Floyds work already don’t buy this. If you want all their work, this is simply the best, cheapest and quicket way to get it all. If you like what is here, don’t forget to buy “Relics” and the live albums at a later date - if your wallet can stand it.

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