Saturday, October 8, 2011


Everybody's talking Pink Floyd again, as a well-timed and coordinated reissue program sees all their albums remastered, and special editions anticipating your every need.  You can now buy each disc in a basic version with the original tracks and a nice new booklet, and some come as 2-CD Experience editions, and then there are the Immersion multi-disc sets for Dark Side Of The Moon, WIsh You Were Here, and coming next spring, The Wall.  Those puppies have $100-plus price tags, and feature video and audio mixes, live concerts, outtakes, grand books, you name it.  Or you can get all 14 basic studio discs in one boxed set called The Discovery Box.  That's a lot of Floyd, and some tough choices to make.  I'll review them in bits and pieces, instead of trying to sum them all up in one brilliant, Grammy and Pulitzer-winning piece of music journalism.  Some day though, mark my golden words.

You don't have any choices with the band's first couple of releases.  No bonus tracks or live material, not even the mono mixes that have been out before.  These are the discs of the Syd Barrett days, and only The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn had his full participation  Saucerful sees Barrett on only four tracks, as he was famously replaced by Dave Gilmour during this time, already an erratic shell of his former self.  If you have never paid attention to the first blush of Pink Floyd, and know them for The Wall and such, this ain't that.  In fact, it's not really like anything you know.  Supposedly a blues band (hah!), the art college kids came along in a London that was exploding with avant-garde thought, and imported hippie culture.  Barrett was writing strange and silly lyrics about gnomes and scarecrows, and the rest of them got all excited about experimental and spacey sounds.  They were loud, loony, and had a psychedelic light show.  It's also quite possible drugs were involved, but I wasn't there.  At times, as you can imagine, this was drivel, and some of it got recorded.  There's a reason why these aren't mentioned in the best all-time lists.  But there are also some truly transcendent numbers, including Piper opener Astronomy Domine, and the instrumental blaster Interstellar Overdrive.

For Saucerful, Floyd found themselves leaderless, and everyone had to pitch in, Roger Waters far from in control then, and Gilmour still the substitute.  Richard Wright and Nick Mason found themselves singing and writing.  Luckily the group did come up with a couple more space numbers, Waters' Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, and the instrumental title cut.  Only one Barrett song made the final cut, the minor Jugband Blues.

I get the idea of keeping all the albums in their original state for these basic editions, but unfortunately it actually hurts the legacy of the group.  As was the standard of the day, singles were kept off of British albums, which means several strong A and B-sides of this period don't get included.  This means their first two 45's, Arnold Layne and See Emily Play aren't on Piper, which means you don't get the full understanding of what Syd Barrett was about, Emily being his best song with Floyd.  Also, a golden opportunity was missed to celebrate Barrett's contributions, something supposedly important to the group.  All the extra attention for this reissue blitz is being put on the big albums, but it might have be nice to tart up the little guys a bit.

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