Following by roughly seven months the release of a mammoth box set issued in recognition of the 50th anniversary of The Dark Side of the Moon
by Pink Floyd
, the standalone (CD, vinyl and Blu-ray) remasters of the iconic group's eighth studio album are testament to the loyalty of the fanbase (not to mention the mercenary nature of staggered releases).
And yet hearing the album with the benefit of hindsight, it's difficult to know what to make of this eighth album by the iconic British band. On the one hand, it almost sounds like a caricature of progressive rock, a reduction of its most salient attributesan overarching concept, interpolation of musique concrète among other sonic elementswatered down to the lowest common denominator.
On the other hand, as the end result of an unusually democratic artistic effort involving not just the four members of The Floyd, but also additional musicians and singers, the studio engineering crew and the graphic artists, the unified end result can also come across as the apotheosis of the prog rock genre, an achievement all the more admirable given the bitter (and protracted) fracture of The Floyd upon the 1985 departure of bassist/vocalist/lyricist Roger Waters
The technical efforts of James Guthrie and Joel Plante (based upon Chris Thomas' original mix) is certainly impressive on its very own terms, particularly given the fact the recordings were first captured a half-century ago on the ever-so-nuanced medium of sixteen tracks. The realism and definition of the sound effects are startling at times, but certainly no more so than that of the musical instruments, but when it matters most, during "Breathe (In The Air)," for instance, non-pareil guitarist David Gilmour's nonpareil fretboarding is of a piece with Richard Wright's understated but nontheless imaginative keyboard work.
Those latter tones, over and above organ and piano, include but are not limited to use of a VCS3 synthesizer (pioneered by Pete Townshend on Who's Next
(MCA, 1971). And they are of a piece with sound effects such as the heartbeat that begins these ten tracks, the metronomic likes of which drummer Nick Mason
maintains throughout with suitable embellishment; bandleader of the 'Saucerful of Secrets' ensemble of recent years, his contributions are as integral in their own way as the lyrics of main ideaman Waters.
In the larger context of the Pink Floyd discography, the accessible nature of The Dark Side of the Moon
lies in the balance of instrumental and vocal tracks, four of the former and six of the latter. No profundities may arise from either "Time" nor "Money," but they do work as literal expressions of a preoccupation with those verities of the human condition, even if they're telegraphed fairly obviously with the sound of, respectively, the chiming of a clock and the ringing of a cash register..
Still, those elements are no more or less simplistic than the intellectual observations within "Us And Them," "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse." This triad of tracks concludes the roughly forty minutes playing time and more or less ties together the underlying themes: the nature of individuality and independent thinking becomes interwoven with hypotheticals involving the futility of life. In echo of that motif (and further touching upon contemporary culture), the wordless "On The Run" and "The Great Gig in the Sky" allude to the ennui of the working musician (for better or worse, a topic close to the heart of this foursome).
Participants from outside the core four of Pink Floyd supply indispensable changes of pace to the listening experience. Insertion of those alternately conventional and contrasting texturesDick Parry's saxophone for "Us And Them" and "Money," plus vocalist Clare Torry on "The Great Gig in the Sky" (who was enlisted by engineer Alan Parsons) inject familiar elements of conventionalism into the largely implicit narrative.
But the very brevity of the record may be its greatest virtue. It certainly belies the concentrated effort Pink Floyd expended on the preparation for and recording of this longplayer included playing material in concert before, during and after studio sessions. And the sustained attention to detail is all the more laudable as it's emblematic of a self-restraint that precluded pretentious suites of material or the tedious bulk of a multi-record set (like The Wall
The quartet's own collective focus also carried over to the ingenious continuity of the Hipgnosis/George Hardie graphic design. As on the original gatefold cover, the graphics blend together inside and outside the CD sleeve in much the same way the music continues uninterrupted for the better part of its duration; in the end, this package is the immersive likes of which that aided immeasurable in the consolidation of the long-playing album as the prevailing configuration for popular music (and beyond) at the time of its original release.
The comparatively brief playing time of The Dark Side of the Moon
stands in oddly inverse proportion to its longstanding commercial success (and that of Pink Floyd itself). Whether or not this title is actually the definitive work of the group or simply a literal-minded reduction of the most salient features of its prior projects, such as Meddle
(Capitol/Harvest, 1971), there's no denying its position in the pantheon of best-selling records of all time.
It's no small irony indeed that either of the two perspectives can legitimately validate the popularity of the effort and the band that created it.
Speak to Me; Breathe (In The Air); On the Run; Time; The Great Gig in the Sky;
Money; Us and Them; Any Colour You Like; Brain Damage; Eclipse.
David Gilmour: vocals, Synthi AKS; Richard Wright: EMS VCS 3, Synthi AKS, vocals;
Roger Waters: vocals, VCS 3, tape effects; Nick Mason: percussion, tape effects.
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