'Oh great,' you're probably thinking, 'another critic on the Internet with her head up her own ass talking about this fucking Pink Floyd album again. How droll.' Let me assuage your concerns: I'm not here to review or otherwise convince you either way on The Dark Side of the Moon itself. You've already heard it by now, and you're already either lauding it to the high heavens or sick of hearing every track except "On the Run" played over and over on classic rock radio. Yet another review of this album isn't going to change your opinion. What I am here to review for you, however, is one of the album's recent remasters, the 2011 'experience' edition. This particular version of the album was released as part of Pink Floyd's recent awareness campaign, Why Pink Floyd...? It's notable because it contains a second disc of bonus material, a first for the band, which no doubt will only augment the experience in a well-metered, mature manner that can only be expected from a band of Pink Floyd's calibre.
...wait, hold up. The second disc is just a live performance of The Dark Side of the Moon? The same album we just spent all of disc one listening to?
Maybe I'm alone in holding this opinion, but I firmly believe that bonus material is supposed to make buying an album a second time actually worth it, not literally result in purchasing two copies of the same album. I'll admit, I'd rather hear a live performance of an album than low-quality demos (as oh-so-many bands are want to release), but Pink Floyd are a band of extreme longevity and legendary status; surely there's something more interesting they have recorded that could have been released with this album? I wouldn't be nearly as rancourous about it if this happened to be the first time a full live performance of this album was being released. But it isn't. You can already hear The Dark Side of the Moon played in full on the second disc of their 1995 live album Pulse.
I can already hear all of you angrily clacking at your keyboards, preparing only your most snobbish hate mail after that comment. You're going to point out to me that Pulse was recorded during the inferior post-Roger Waters era, or that the 1974 Wembley Empire Pool performance (from which this recording was taken) was recently rated the third best Pink Floyd gig ever by their fans. How I could I possibly find this recording inferior? I grant you, that is all true. However, if that is your line of reasoning in response to my argument, then you're already such a die-hard Pink Floyd fan that you don't need me to convince you to buy this album in the first place. You've already purchased it on principle and you'll enjoy it regardless of what I say. The thing is, the intent of these releases isn't to appease long-time fans of the band who will scoop up any material released with their name on it (myself included amongst their number); the point is to make their back catalogue more appealing to new listeners. A new fan of the band simply isn't going to appreciate the same material reiterated for a second time. Someone listening to this album for the first time is going to listen to the second disc and wonder what the hell the point was.
Even if you begrudgingly concede me that point, you Floyd-heads are still going to wonder where my hate for this album stems from. So what if it's a deep-cut that only 'real' fans will appreciate. Isn't that exactly what I, as an unabashed Pink Floyd fan, want to hear? In theory, yes, you're right. But here's the problem with that line of reasoning: I don't even feel it's that particularly good of a performance. The backing vocalists Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams in particular deserve to be singled out for their incredibly sub-par performance. Listening to them butcher the backing vocals on "Time" and "Money" is bad enough to make me want to use the entire disc as a coaster; their individual vocal solos during the jammed-out version of "The Great Gig in the Sky" only serve to seal the deal. Actually, that particular song strikes me as incredibly weak in comparison to the studio version. The keyboards feel flat and distant, not to mention that they waver out of tune more than that drunk number you belted out during karaoke at your cousin's wedding. What's more, the parts of the set that aren't annoying in of themselves are just bland. "Breathe in the Air" feels incredibly uninspired compared to its original recording, and "On the Run" is every bit as boring as it usually is, especially without the visual accompaniment that made the Pulse version surprisingly engaging. Even my favourite pieces on this set feel like a chore to listen to. The usually amazing guitar solo that defines "Time" feels surprisingly soulless, "Us and Them" lacks its usual high level of intensity (especially on saxophonist Dick Parry's part), and the extended version of "Money" drags on for far too long for how little development it actually has. The only part of the performance I really enjoyed was the 8-minute "Any Colour You Like" jam, and even that got a bit tiring after a while. In short, this recording is really nothing I'd rather listen to over the Pulse version or, dare I say it, the original recording itself. And when the studio version is literally one disc away, I find it hard to believe anyone would listen to this performance out of anything other than sheer desperation or, more likely, masochism.
I really don't like the idea of characterizing Pink Floyd as money-grubbing fat cats out to wrench every last penny from their listeners, but they've taken what could've been a wonderful opportunity to reward their fans with this reissue series and, frankly, gave it almost no effort. It's disappointing, and I hope not characteristic of the forthcoming reissues, that they've decided to release such bland material to accompany the original album; they've wasted a good opportunity to refresh and deepen their catalogue to make it more appealing to long-time fans and newcomers alike.
On the approximately 0% chance you don't already own this album (check your basement--they spontaneously generate), I suppose now is as good a time as any to get it. But honestly, this isn't the version you want, nor the version you need. You're better off saving yourself a few bucks and getting the 2011 remaster by itself (the 'discovery' edition) or purchasing the excellent 2003 5.1 surround-sound SACD version. And if you happen to be a diehard Pink Floyd fan, you're better off getting the 6 disc 'immersion' edition; it comes with much more interesting material and you'll appreciate it much more. I think The Dark Side of the Moon is literally a perfect album, but this particular release has managed to make me uncharacteristically frustrated with it, as well as the band. Do yourself a favour and avoid it.
3.0 / 10
The last of the three major Pink Floyd albums to be expanded and reissued is their 1979 double-album opus The Wall. If you haven't heard of this album already, then...well, ...
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