It’s funny, I’d never have deemed myself a massive fan of Pink Floyd, but this past week has shown me just how much I care for these songs. It started when I decided to review the upcoming Meddle Reimagined, a star-studded cast of musicians performing the entirety of Meddle. It seemed like an easy album to review, but I wondered why anyone would start with Meddle; to my surprise, they hadn’t started with Meddle at all! Scanning the Cleopatra Records archives, I found two more closely related tribute albums covering Wish You Were Here and Animals, easily my favourite Floyd records, and got very excited. There were also a plethora of other Pink Floyd tribute albums to confuse things – including Billy Sherwood’s pair from the mid-’00s that featured some of the same artists, Return to the Dark Side of the Moon and Back Against the Wall – but these didn’t seem to relate to the current series. Because I’m a habitual completist, I’ve decided to review the three that seem to comprise the current series, starting with the first, Still Wish You Were Here.
From the first few seconds of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, something is different. Geoff Downes sets up the familiar atmospheric intro on his keyboards, but Mel Collins signals that this is not going to be the same trip you’re used to by playing some notes on the flute. And what tasteful notes they are.
Shine On is known for its sweeping Gilmour guitar solos. Who gets to fill his auspicious shoes? None other than Steve Hackett, who adds his own slant whilst staying close to the source material. Already we have members of Yes, Genesis and King Crimson playing one of the best tracks Pink Floyd ever recorded. Are you excited yet?
Geoff Tate of Queensrÿche provides some gruff vocals but manages to hit all the high notes. Then it’s time for the outro, and I was amazed to find that I actually preferred the tight groove held by Ian Paice and Billy Sheehan to the original version. I actually wanted it to last a bit longer, but I’ve found that they rarely extend any sequences on these tribute albums. If everyone’s recording their parts separately – because I cannot imagine the artists found any kind of time to record these parts together, plus COVID was still a concern at the time – it would make sense that they have to stick to the script. Mel Collins kills it on the sax to provide a soulful outro.
Next up is Welcome to the Machine with vocals by Todd Rundgren and bass by Tony Levin. It’s a great performance, but the star of the show is Rick Wakeman, whose style perfectly fits the synthesiser runs in this post-apocalyptic tune. He manages to make the song his own, and I can’t believe I never pictured him playing this synth-dominated track before.
Have a Cigar has actually been featured in Dream Theater’s discography before, the band paying homage to Floyd in their tonally similar song Peruvian Skies from the live album Once in a LIVEtime. Now, DT frontman James LaBrie gets to sing the entire song that people forget was originally sung not by a Pink Floyd member, but by Roy Harper. LaBrie sounds like he is having a heck of a time belting out this all-time classic, especially with the iconic line “Which one is Pink?” He’s joined by artists that seem like oil and water on page: punk being represented by Jah Wobble, Rat Scabies and Steve Stevens, and prog by the legendary Patrick Moraz, whose talents are mostly squandered in this guitar-heavy track. Stevens proves he can really rock like the best of them in the blistering finale.
They can’t all be winners, and the album’s title track is a little too overdone for my liking. Edgar Froese (I know, right?) comes in a little too hard on the synths during the intro, and from then on it feels as if the musicians are all competing for their place in the spotlight; the result, a noisy rendition of what should be a gentle, subtle tune. The source material is so brilliant however that even a sub-par performance sounds great, and I could not help myself singing along with Rik Emmet. The original ends with a few understated repetitions of the main theme and some vocalisation, but here Joe Satriani shreds a guitar solo that sends the song into outer space. It feels like a faux pas to have two songs in a row ending with pyrotechnic solos, but I won’t complain when the talent on display is as great as this. I’m just not entirely sure it fits the tune.
The album’s finale is perfectly realised, in my opinion. For Shine On’s second half, a less notorious but still wildly talented cast of musicians are present, including Steve Hillage and the funkadelic Bootsy Collins, whose bass timbre explores groovy new realms within this legendary piece. The original ending had Richard Wright playing a keyboard solo with a very distinct soft timbre, and I cannot say that I prefer Rod Argent’s more zappy take on it.
It’s a really simple idea: get a shedload of prog A-listers who love Pink Floyd and get them to play music we all know and love. But sometimes simple just works. The sheer range of famous musicians on this recording is astounding, and it’s a bit of a brainteaser to imagine all of them, who come from wildly different bands and genres, playing together. There’s occasionally an element of Frankenstein’s monster to the thing, where too many seemingly brilliant parts have been cobbled together to make something hideous, but I was actually surprised at how well the whole project held up and even surpassed the original record at times. I can’t say Still Wish You Were Here would ever replace the original, but as a tribute, it is utterly stunning.
TRACK LISTING & MUSICIANS
01. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V) (13:17)
– Billy Sheehan: Bass
– Ian Paice: Drums
– Mel Collins: Flute, Alto Saxophone
– Steve Hackett: Guitar
– Geoff Downes: Keyboards
– Geoff Tate: Vocals
02. Welcome to the Machine (6:58)
– Tony Levin: Bass
– Rick Wakeman: Synthesiser [MiniMoog]
– Todd Rundgren: Vocals
03. Have a Cigar (5:07)
– Jah Wobble: Bass
– Rat Scabies: Drums
– Steve Stevens: Guitar
– Patrick Moraz: Keyboards, Synthesiser
– James LaBrie: Vocals
04. Wish You Were Here (5:34)
– David Ellefson: Bass
– Carmine Appice: Drums
– Joe Satriani: Guitar
– Edgar Froese: Keyboards, Synthesiser
– Rik Emmett: Vocals
05. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX) (12:39)
– Bootsy Collins: Bass
– Ian Paice: Drums
– Steve Hillage: Guitar
– Rod Argent: Vocals, Keyboards, Synthesiser
Total Time – 43:17
Record Label: Cleopatra Records
Date of Release: 28th May 2021
Cleopatra Records – Bandcamp