Monday, November 7, 2011
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PINK FLOYD - WISH YOU WERE HERE, A FOOT IN THE DOOR - BEST OF
Syd Barrett might have been crazy, but at least he was concise. You can't say that about the rest of Pink Floyd. I imagine if somehow he could have kept his hands out of the candy jar, he wouldn't have been serving up 20-minute album sides, as his pals did, passing interminably-long guitar solos and plodding synth lines as grand creations. But that's what passed for high art in 1975, and apparently still does in some quarters. Wish You Were Here still gets great props and poll numbers in the great album magazines. But sensible pruning would have revealed that disc to be about a sides' worth of decent tunes, no more. Syd, still alive in '75, no doubt wished he wasn't there for his infamous appearance at a mixing session for Shine On You Crazy Diamond, the song ostensibly about him. The group members notoriously didn't recognize him, head-shaven and a couple of stone in excess of a decent lorry-load. Supposedly they felt awful about what Syd had become, but to my ears they could have equally been embarrassed about what they had become without him.
I was never a huge Pink Floyd fan, but this recent reissue program called Why Pink Floyd? has had me asking the same question, and not coming up with a good answer. I've now sat through the entirety of their album catalogue, and it's only confirmed they had four good albums, and a whole lot of mind-numbingly boring albums that went on for hours before a song with a tune would rear its head and jostle me out of my stupor. That's the career in a nutshell, and it accurately describes the Wish You Were Here disc, too. Roger Waters, desperately searching for a concept, since by 1975 they were a concept band, and he was the main writer, had some material written, but wanted it all to link. This is the album that's supposed to be about Syd and the sense of absence that brought, but that's only part of it, and made for good copy and myth-making for fans. You'll find it in the ridiculously long parts of Shine On You Crazy Diamond that open and close the disc, as well as the much more enjoyable Wish You Were Here. The other lyrical concept is about the evil record industry, which it is, of course, but somehow these complaints, coming from a band that was allowed to record and release Atom Heart Mother, seem awfully whiny. Of course a bunch of suits are hovering around counting the money you made from Money. You should have been thanking them for continuing to take a chance on you for six years before that.
Anyway, that's just another rant, a little bit directed at the content, but I actually do think Have A Cigar is one of the best depictions of music moguls ("By the way, which one's Pink"?) you can find, and a good song to boot. It's just that somebody really should have taken a razor blade to Shine On. Out Nov. 8th are two special versions of the disc, a two-CD Experience edition, and the 5-disc Behemoth Monstrosity Gargantua, which includes no more new music, but rather endless DVD, 5.1, and other mixes, and for the live of me I can't figure out why they take three more pieces of media, but they do. How many ways do you want to hear this thing? Stick with the 2-disc, as it actually has quality on it from start to finish, and is historically important. You get the three songs the band had written in 1974 and were playing live in concert: Shine On, Raving And Drooling, and You've Got To Be Crazy (I guess it was the crazy concept they were working on). The latter two were chucked out after Waters came up with the other concept for the album, and they ended up being renamed and used on the Animals disc. There's also a famous wine glass-rubbing experiment that was used for a loop on the eventual album, and two cool album out-takes. First, a version of Have A Cigar as sung by Waters instead of guest vocalist Roy Harper, which I prefer to the released cut. Waters had felt he couldn't hit the notes with his range, but it sounds like a more natural version to me than Harper's well-known take. And, there's the often-reported take of Wish You Were Here, with jazz great Stephane Grappelli doing a violin solo. It had been rumoured that tape was gone, but here it is finally. It's obvious there was no point to having the solo, and it was wisely scrapped, but it's exactly the kind of thing you want on these bonus discs.
Also newly released is yet another in a long string of compilations by the band, this one called A Foot In The Door - The Best Of Pink Floyd. Now, being as that's about as far as I want to get inside the Pink Floyd playhouse, this is the one I'd hoped would have the truly best and brightest. However, it sticks with the usual suspects, concentrates on Dark Side, Wish, and The Wall, and misses both interesting cuts off, say, Meddle, and non-LP singles such as Arnold Layne. Being as the reissue campaign has few rare cuts, and there are plenty scattered in the Floyd discography, it would have been nice to see some of them show up somewhere (like the Dave Gilmour-only re-recording of Money, for instance). The two-disc best of, Echoes, from a decade back remains a better collection, and actually requires less pruning. Man, I find this group way too frustrating to enjoy.