David Gilmour

REVIEW: Pink Floyd – The Endless River (2014 CD/Blu-ray)

NEW RELEASE

PINK FLOYD – The Endless River (2014 Columbia CD/Blu-ray deluxe edition)

Sometimes you just have to take a chance.

Perhaps that’s the theme of The Endless River, but I’ll warn you in advance that it’s the theme of this review.  Sometimes, you have to take a chance, and buy an album on pure faith.  Sometimes you want something to be good, just because you liked the idea of it.  I took a chance on it, not really expecting too much, but liking the concept enough to try.

IMG_20141123_171023The Endless River is an intriguing idea with successful execution.  Even though these recordings were made 20 years ago during The Division Bell sessions, David Gilmour gambled that there might be something worth salvaging here in memory of late keyboardist Rick Wright.  When they recorded Division Bell, they actually thought they might have two albums’ worth of material.  The second album, which they never finished, would have been more instrumental and ambient in nature.  Less song-oriented, more meandering and scenic.  Not too far off from what The Endless River is, perhaps.

Unafraid of a little work, Gilmour and Nick Mason got back together and finished what they had started with Rick.  According to David, “We listened to over 20 hours of the three of us playing together and selected the music we wanted to work on for the new album. Over the last year we’ve added new parts, re-recorded others and generally harnessed studio technology to make a 21st century Pink Floyd album. With Rick gone, and with him the chance of ever doing it again, it feels right that these revisited and reworked tracks should be made available as part of our repertoire.”

I will state for the record that there is no comparison between the CD and 5.1 surround Blu-ray listening experiences.  The Blu-ray enveloped me in electronic warmth from the start, occasionally startling me with an unexpected bit of guitar here, or sax there.  By comparison to the 3D experience of 5.1 surround sound, CD is flat and tinny.  Having said that, the CD is one of the best sounding CDs out there right now.  Sonically, this is absolutely flawless.  The keys, organ, and drums are warm and genuine, sometimes wrapped up in dreamy synth.

The Endless River is divided up into four sides, but is best experienced in one sitting.  The four sides have distinct “song” sections within them, but everything flows with a purpose.  Some of the more composed sections really stand out as potential fully-fledged songs:  The chugging “Allons-y (1) & (2)” for example, or the guitar showcase of “It’s What We Do”.   A track like “Sum” takes a while to build, but when it does, it’s into another impressive Gilmour show piece.  (Then on the same side, Nick Mason gets his own moment on the percussive “Skins”.)

Other memorable moments include “Talkin’ Hawkin'” which reprises the Stephen Hawking voice from The Division Bell‘s “Keep Talking”.  I love the haunting church organ on “Autumn ’68”.  There is also one vocal song, “Louder Than Words”, which was chosen as a single.  It’s not a particularly special Pink Floyd song; I think the instrumental pieces are far more interesting than “Louder Than Words”.

A number of bonus tracks are included on the DVD and Blu-ray deluxe editions.  These include unreleased studio jams and unfinished tracks, as well as a couple rough album tracks.  “Anisina” and “Evrika (a) & (b)” are cool, relaxed jams.  “Evrika” is similar in nature to parts that made it to the finished album.  The most interesting unreleased song is easily “Nervana”, a basic guitar riff jam that doesn’t sound anything like Pink Floyd at all.  It does sound cool though, a detour into what might have been…if only Gilmore had taken a chance.  Some of these bonus tracks are accompanied by 1994 black and white behind the scenes footage and stills.  Very cool stuff, if you’re into watching the best musicians in the world getting the job done.

The deluxe comes in a box with some post cards (one with lenticular art), a hardcover booklet with more photos, credits and lyrics, and individual sleeves for the discs.  Nothing overly fancy, it’s the Blu-ray disc itself that is the selling feature of this set.  Some of the bonus tracks are cool and worth having, but it’s that awesome dreamlike 5.1 surround mix that is the clincher.  If you’ve ever wondered, “What’s the big fuss about surround sound anyway?” then see if you have a buddy who can demonstrate this album to you in surround, on a good system with a decent subwoofer.  Strap yourself in.

I think Rick Wright would have been very happy and proud of the finished product, all these years later.  Take a chance on The Endless River and see if you too will be swept away.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Rock Aid Armenia – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions

ROCK AID ARMENIA – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions (2010 Edel CD/DVD set)

When some of the biggest names in both British and Canadian rock combined together to re-record “Smoke on the Water”, as a mega-collaboration charity track, I don’t care who you are:  You gotta listen!   Originally released as “Smoke on the Water ’90” on The Earthquake Album, it didn’t garner the attention of, say, a Hear N’ Aid, but it’s definitely a noteworthy track.  The Earthquake Album contained just the radio mix, which was an edited down version lacking Paul Rodgers.  This package on the other hand is a CD/DVD combo set including all 4 versions of “Smoke ’90” and a documentary.

The region 0 encoded DVD is 40 minutes long, and filled with incredible behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews.  First, an explanation of the cause:  rebuilding a children’s music school in Armenia, destroyed in a 1988 earthquake.  Then, the musicians arrive!  Roger Taylor (Queen) is first in the door.  Can’t do anything without the drums!  He shows off his considerable chops while warming up.  Chris Squire (Yes) is next, who reveals that all egos have been dealt with in advance of the recording.  Brian May turns up with a broken arm (skateboarding accident) to offer his support; he would return to record after the arm has healed.  The recording takes place over five separate sessions.  One benefit of this arrangement was that it enabled Ritchie Blackmore to show up, without having to see Ian Gillan!

IOMMI MAYOh, to be in that room…

Soon to arrive:  Tony Iommi.  Paul Rodgers.  Bruce Dickinson.  David Gilmour.  Alex Lifeson.  Two keyboardists:  Keith Emerson and Geoff Downes.  Even Bryan Adams sings some backing vocals, after he turned up just to check out the recording studio!  (Gilmour can’t help but take a stab at Rogers Waters during the interview segments.)  Incidentally, I found it cool that Rodgers recorded his vocals with a hand-held mike.

I’ve always been a fan of this version of “Smoke”; in fact this was the first version of that I ever heard, 23 years ago.  The band was dubbed Rock Aid Armenia.  They got together in late ’89, and recorded this updated sounding cover.  Gillan, Dickinson and Rodgers handled the lead vocals, in that order.  It’s great to hear Iommi playing those chunky chords again.  Chris Squire’s bass work is fairly simple, but perfect.

The CD includes an updated 2010 remix that cuts down a lot of Keith Emerson’s cheesey keyboards.  Emerson stated that he wanted to put his own stamp on his parts, based on ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”.  He probably wouldn’t be happy to be mixed down on this version, but his keys always stood out like a sore thumb to me.  The 2010 mix adds in a lot more previously unheard guitar fills instead. Other extras include a previously unreleased version of the song, with an entire Ian Gillan vocal take.

This is a great little-known recording, and I’m glad an obscurity like this has finally been reissued properly.

4/5 stars

Footnote:  In 2011 and 2012, Gillan and Iommi followed this with a single and compilation album under the name WhoCares; also featuring Nicko McBrain, Jon Lord and Jason Newsted!

Part 71/ REVIEW: Pink Floyd – Shine On (9 disc box set)

Shine On came out in ’92, I got my copy 11 years later.  First, the story of how I acquired this exceptional copy, and then the review!

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 71:  Shine On

I still have the receipt:  I paid $199.99 on February 12 2003.  New, it’s going for about $440 on Amazon.com these days.  I paid a lot, that is true; we did not get staff discounts on big ticket things such as this.  However, when I encountered Shine On that day, I’d never seen one in better shape.

The hardcover book, containing 110 large pages of text, photos, artwork and credits, was still sealed in plastic.  Nobody had even bothered to open it.  The eight artwork post cards were intact in the black envelope.  The little black fold-out display box was still folded, and remains so to this day.  It’s a very nice touch but I prefer to keep mine as I found it.

The discs, each housed in its own shiny black plastic case, are all mint.  Maybe some were never played before I got hold of it.  The cases are also nearly spotless.  Most of the time, the biggest defect with used copies of this set were broken cases.  Each case was unique:  The front of the case had a small image of the album, and the spine of the case had a piece of a rainbow embossed.  Put all 8 CD cases together in the correct order and you get an image of the Dark Side prism effect.  That’s why the set comes with that little cardboard display – in case you felt like showing them off this way.

Lastly, the bonus CD, The Early Singles, is intact.  A set in this condition was a rarity and I’d never seen better.  Over the years, every set I encountered had a defect of some kind, major or minor:

  • The bonus CD would be missing
  • One or more discs badly scratched
  • One or more cases badly broken
  • One or more postcards or pieces missing
  • The box itself would sometimes be missing and all you’d get is the discs with the little display case
  • Or, just the book would be missing
  • Once, the book was warped and damaged from excessive moisture

You can see why I jumped at the chance.  A box of this condition, used, well that could not be passed up. Likely I’d never see one again that wasn’t sealed brand new — but as a deleted catalogue item, new copies were upwards of $300 at the time.

So, no staff discount?  No problem.  VISA to the rescue.

A $200 sale was a good chunk of my daily quota.  Head office was in the habit of calling at 5 and checking the sales for the day so far.  I read mine off, which was high obviously, but didn’t say why it was high.

“Wow!  Good for you Mikey!  You’ve been busy, keep it up.”

“Yeah, well, it’s been a good day y’know,” I responded.  May as well take the credit for it too, right, hell it was my money.

I was dating Radio Statio Girl at the time.  However I was already starting to get cynical about our prospects, having been dumped once already by this time.  Our second go-round was pleasant but a bit tense.  I was supposed to drive down to her place that night, but I decided to spend the evening with Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason instead.

I called.  “Yeah, hey.  I’m not feeling well at all.  I think I’m going to puke.”

Considering the much bigger lies she tossed my way before and after, I thought my little white lie was pretty innocuous.  Especially when I was immersed in Meddle for the first time ever!

PINK FLOYD – Shine On (9 disc box set) (1992)

At the time of release, this was probably the coolest way to get some of the best Floyd discs.  Now with Immersion Editions, Why Pink Floyd…?, fresh remasters, and 5.1 mixes all available, this seems pretty basic.  Indeed, all albums are simple 1992-ish remasterings, no bonus material aside from the afforementioned The Early Singles disc.  And just FYI, you can often find that disc on its own.  Somehow it got separated from a lot of Shine On box sets.

As I described in my story above, the box’s contents are elaborate and fragile, and difficult to find complete.  This is a heavy, heavy box too — not exactly portable.  I find the remastering to be fine, it was 1992 and it’s probably not as loud as more current editions.  Picky audiophiles, I have no idea which you will prefer.

The albums included are as follows:

Disc 1: A Saucerful of Secrets

Disc 2: Meddle

Disc 3: The Dark Side of the Moon

Disc 4: Wish You Were Here

Disc 5: Animals

Disc 6: The Wall part one

Disc 7: The Wall part two

Disc 8: A Momentary Lapse of Reason

Disc 9: The Early Singles

So you’ll notice right away that there are some important albums missing.  Sure, you can understand why albums like Atom Heart Mother or Obscurred by Clouds were not included in a (merely) 9 disc Floyd box set, if the purpose was to boil it down to essentials.  I think it’s a shame that The Final Cut, one of my favourites, is not inside.  I would have preferred that or Piper at the Gates of Dawn to A Momentary Lapse I think.

The real bonuses to this set are twofold:  The book and The Early Singles.

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I don’t know what the current status of these single A and B sides are, in regards to current CD releases.  I know the Piper three disc set has some of these tracks.  But here’s the contents of The Early Singles:

  1. Arnold Layne
  2. Candy and a Currant Bun
  3. See Emily Play
  4. The Scarecrow
  5. Apples and Oranges
  6. Paintbox
  7. It Would Be So Nice
  8. Julia Dream
  9. Point Me At the Sky
  10. Careful With That Axe, Eugene

There are no liner notes with this disc.  I believe all tracks are stereo mixes.

The book is absolutely stunning and will take days to read.  There are extensive interviews from magazine sources, lyrics, liner notes, a nice discography, and loads of old reviews both gushing and nasty.  There’s plenty of artwork and photos to look at, too.

I won’t go too deeply into the music.  Reviewing these albums each on their own would be a monumental task.  Suffice to say that there is much brilliance within.  I think both Dark Side and The Wall are complete triumphs while Meddle and Animals come very very close to that level.  There is much to love here, and much that will take many listens to penetrate.

As a set, this is not perfect and I think the biggest flaw is the selection of albums.  Having said that, for a collector who wants a beautiful deluxe collector’s item, this is easily a:

4/5 stars.

For people who would rather have something with more music on it, you’re better off going with some of the more recent reissues.