Tuesday, February 28, 2012
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PINK FLOYD - THE WALL IMMERSION EDITION
I don't need a Wall scarf, collector cards, cheap coasters, or big marbles. In fact, most of the attendant packaging here is simply filler, including two booklets that include sketches, photos, and lyrics, but not one historical essay or statement from the band members, or anything approaching added information. Sure, it's nice to be reminded of the visual element to the creation, especially those cool Gerald Scarfe illustrations of marching hammers and such that would turn up later in the stage show, video and movie. But it's a case of what isn't here in this box instead of what is. More (or less) on that later.
What we do get is a great lot of the original double-disc, broken up into three parts. There is the original double-album, released here on two-CD's and newly remastered. Next comes a 1980 live recording of the Wall in concert, from Earl's Court in London. Finally, we step back to get two stuffed-full CD's of demos, first from Roger Waters' home recordings as he compiled the project, and then later versions once the band came in. This is the new and exciting stuff for fans. A final, seventh disc is visual, a DVD that includes a making-of documentary, an interview with Scarfe, and the old video for Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2.
The Wall is a landmark for several reasons in the Floyd cannon. Despite Dark Side Of The Moon's fame and chart longevity records, it's the Floyd disc fans know the best, its largest-seller. It's also the album where Roger Waters finally took complete control of the band, coming up with the concept, writing the vast bulk of the songs, and spearheading the effort from start to finish. It's also the most cohesive of their concept albums, with a somewhat coherent story line, and little of the group noodling and drifting that had long been part of the typical Pink Floyd album. With no ideas up their sleeves, the others had asked Waters what he had. He offered them two concepts to choose from, either The Wall, or the tracks that became his first solo disc, The Pros And Cons of Hitchhiking. They chose wisely.
It's a nasty piece of work. Infused with autobiographical elements, the tale follows the character Pink, born in the war years, with a father killed in combat, who then enters into his own personal battles. The horrible Teacher, representing a stifling education system. The clinging Mother, overprotective and emotionally damaging. Society, the government, mental illness, fame, and as Pink becomes a rock star, the dreaded fans. They are all just bricks in the wall he builds around himself, as he retreats. Much of the alienation Waters felt for the fans came from the infamous spitting incident in Montreal on the Animals tour, when one rowdy crowd member who clawed his way to the stage got in full in the face from Waters. Simply, he'd had it up to here with people who wanted to party at rock shows instead of listen to the music. So, there were a lot of themes about 20th century life there, and somehow Waters managed to get a story out of it. As rock concept albums go, it's certainly up there with The Who's Tommy and Quadrophenia as a decent tale.
You can buy the remastered album on it's own for twenty dollars. If you like Floyd, you probably already have it in some version. The big question is whether to shell out the hundred bucks for this Immersion box. Trinkets aside, stuff you'll look at once and file away, is there enough to feel you're getting your monies' worth? Let's look at the demos first. Floyd followers will have a field day going through the differences as we move from Waters' initial recordings to the addition of the band and producer Bob Ezrin, as the project grows closer to fruition. You get some insight into Waters' first thoughts on the subject matter, including an early take on Another Brick where we sings "We don't need your adulation" instead of education, this version aimed at certain fans of the band. Things get filled in as the demos progress, including different sound effects and voice-overs. Happiest Days Of Our Lives fleshes out the story of the psychopathic teacher, lyrics that were later dropped, which make it clear that he was, initially, not condemning the whole education system. High school students in 1979 clearly preferred the final version. There's a very different take of the end piece, Outside The Wall, with alternate lyrics, synth, and a children's choir, which is not bleak at all. Instead, it's more of a shrug of the shoulders, an "oh well, life ain't easy", which would have left the listener with much confusion about what all that serious stuff was about earlier.
Dave Gilmour's not insignificant contributions are also introduced and adapted into the story, and we hear the incomplete Comfortably Numb, still wordless, as Gilmour mouths the melody with doo-doo-doo's, still a sad and beautiful piece with just his guitar. If you know the final version like the back of your hand (and there are many who do), you'll enjoy these two disc the most.
The live concert is a good job, Gilmour especially shining on guitar and vocals. But now comes my chief beef. I've (hypothetically) bought the Wall box to be completely immersed in the album. The Wall was conceived of as a touring, visual show, and Waters went through great hoops to put these shows on. It's one of the most famous live events undertaken in rock, with its giant wall built slowly and then destroyed over two hours, the Scarfe illustrations projected on the Wall as part of the show, the giant teacher puppet, the phony Floyd band that opened the night, Gilmour playing on top of the Wall, it's all about the visuals. So why don't we get the damn show? We know its out there, because on the DVD there's a two-minute snippet, plus plenty of footage used in the documentary. Sigh. For the consumer, it makes no sense. I know why we don't get the god-awful movie with Bob Geldof as Pink, but seeing the live show surely counts as part of the experience. At least the documentary does give us a lot of insight, touching on everything from Richard Wright's firing during the making of the album, to the horrible relationships within the band, to the isolation and antipathy Waters felt that drove the project. Time has certainly mellowed Waters, and he and the others are able to reflect on it all with grace, and even humour ("I hope people understand I was being satirical", Waters advises).
One hundred dollars is a lot of money to plop down, even if it is your favourite band or album. There won't be another Wall boxed set, so what's done is done. I'm sure there are reasons for both the glaring omissions here, the lack of a historical booklet, and the non-appearance of a concert DVD, but I had fully expected to find both in this set, and I'm left feeling like The Wall Immersion Edition is a few bricks short of a load.