We’ve finally made it to the present day, where our motley crew of prog A-listers take a few steps back in time to revisit Meddle, an album that – let’s face it – you probably only listen to for the first and last track. But what glorious tracks they are. Released in 1971, Meddle saw Pink Floyd refining their sound from the psychedelic ramblings of Atom Heart Mother and becoming more ‘progressive’, for want of a better term. The side-length track Echoes was one of the longest songs ever released until that point and became the benchmark of excellence when it came to writing epic prog rock. This is the sound of Pink Floyd finally arriving on the prog scene, ready to dominate.
The cast of musicians is so familiar by this point that they’re starting to feel like family. Steve Stevens, Geoff Downes, Bootsy Collins and Carmine Appice take on One of These Days, the infectious, hard-rocking instrumental opener. This was the first track from all of these albums that I heard and I remember wondering if this was really going to be a ‘reimagined’ track or a straight cover. To my surprise, there were some differences after all, Downes’s synths going heavy during the breakdown, making the section more dreamlike. However, the group return closer to the source material for the final rockier part. I’m glad that the band tried something new rather than ape the original, although I can’t say I necessarily prefer it.
What I did appreciate, however, was the reintroduction to songs I had overlooked for many years. James LaBrie once again features on the soft, melodic A Pillow of Winds, accompanied not by Patrick Moraz but by former Dream Theater member Derek Sherinian. What a nice surprise! Maybe it’s the mix, but this version feels much more intense somehow and less serene than the original, but I do think the song fits LaBrie’s vocal style.
Fearless also suffers from being a little noisier than the original version. It doesn’t feature any musicians that I know about, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying this tune which features a subversive rhythm that lands on the second beat of the bar during the main theme.
I’m surprised that Rick Wakeman wanted to return after the Sheep debacle from Animals Revisited, but he returns in full force, giving sultry tones to San Tropez on the piano. It’s sung by Graham Bonnet, who sang for Rainbow for one of their albums, specifically the one that had Since You Been Gone. Researching this sent me down a rabbit hole; did you know that Since You Been Gone was not originally recorded by Rainbow, but by former Argent guitarist Russ Ballard in 1976? Madness! Megadeth’s Chris Poland and Slayer’s Dave Lombardo also fill in here; it’s positively hilarious to hear two thrash metal players play on this casual blues track, and yet they blend in so well.
Terry Reid and Brian Auger, two musicians who I’ve never heard of but have over a century’s worth of experience between them, take over the duties of covering Seamus, the novelty country blues song that many fans can agree is one of Pink Floyd’s worst tunes. I understand that Seamus had to be included to represent the full album, but did Reid and Auger really have to stretch the song out to nearly double its original length? At least the original track was brief. As a cover, it’s fine and perfectly listenable (though the howling dog gets annoying, especially over four minutes as opposed to two), but this is not what I’ve come for. And speaking of which…
A submarine-like ping signals the start of the main attraction. For such an auspicious track as Echoes, the producers have lined up a saucy roster of musicians including Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess, King Crimson’s Pat Mastelotto and Dweezil Zappa, with David J on bass and Frank DiMino providing the dreamy vocals. Echoes is a track that’s so perfectly written that it simultaneously feels twice its length and also flits by in the blink of an eye. Unlike many prog epics, Echoes has a very simple three-verse, three-chorus structure, though filled in with absolutely vast instrumental sections. It’s the natural progression of these sections, which feel like they take just the right amount of time, that makes this track so glorious. The beautiful and somewhat haunting lyrics bring to mind The Beatles, especially with the line “Inviting and inciting me to rise.” It’s also well known that this song makes for a great accompaniment to the trippy finale of 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the finest films ever made.
But you all know how great this song is; the real question is, what about this version? Well, I have to say that, with all of the ‘space’ in this song, I’m surprised that the group played the song as straight as they did. After all, this is supposed to be a reimagining and it feels like there are plenty of ways that the group could have tinkered with the song. Besides some alternative solos by Rudess and Zappa, who frustratingly seems to be playing as close to Gilmour’s style as possible, this is by and large the same great track that you know and love. Perhaps there was a fear that changing any part of this song would be sacrilege, but the result is a cover that is, by and large, redundant.
The part I would have most liked to see a change in is the ‘wind’ or ‘seagull’ section in the centre of the song, which I have to admit is my least favourite part, even though I have grown accustomed to it. After completing the funky jam section, Mastelotto does a drum roll to introduce the ambient part which gave me some false hope that it might get changed to a drum solo. The band do not attempt to recreate the particular screeching sound heard in the original, and we’re instead left with some rather dull reverb effects. So they managed to make it even less interesting. What gives?
I recently started a Pokémon blog where I get my Mum, who knows very little about the franchise, to draw Pokémon based purely on a verbal description. What I’ve come to love about this project is that it makes you appreciate almost every aspect of the original design in a way that you might never have done before.
When listening to these Pink Floyd tribute albums, there’s been a similar enjoyment; I never realised how passionate I was about this music until I heard the songs played differently and it made me consider what I thought was fundamental to each track and what could be played with. Whether it’s Mel Collins substituting a keyboard solo with a sax solo or Rudess adding a few of his signature flourishes, there were some changes that I felt had a positive effect on the song or took it in an interesting new direction. And, as we saw with Sheep, there were times when the changes took away from the song or it simply didn’t gel.
All the while, it was immense fun to imagine these diverse and talented musicians all collaborating on songs that shaped my musical tastes. And, while the quest to find interesting new music is a never-ending one, it’s been an utter joy to have an excuse to revisit these classic albums that I haven’t taken the time to put on in a while and rediscover just how wonderful they are.
TRACK LISTING & MUSICIANS
01. One of These Days (5:41)
– Steve Stevens: Guitars
– Geoff Downes: Keyboards
– Jyrki 69: Spoken Word Vocal
– Bootsy Collins: Spacebass
– Carmine Appice: Drums
02. A Pillow of Winds (5:05)
– James LaBrie: Lead & Background Vocals
– Martin Barre: Guitars
– Derek Sherinian: Keyboards
– Alan Davey Bass
03. Fearless (5:52)
– Mark Stein: Lead & Backing Vocals, Hammond Organ, Korg Synthesiser
– Helios Creed: Guitars
– Bob Daisley: Bass
– Rat Scabies: Drums
04. San Tropez (3:27)
– Graham Bonnet: Vocals
– Chris Poland: Lead Guitar
– Rick Wakeman: Piano
– Joe Bouchard: Bass
– Dave Lombardo: Drums
05. Seamus (4:04)
– Terry Reid: Vocals, Guitars
– Brian Auger: Piano
06. Echoes (23:25)
– Frank DiMino: Lead, Backing Vocals
– Dweezil Zappa: Lead Guitar
– Jordan Rudess: Keyboards
– David J: Bass
– Pat Mastelotto: Drums
Total Time – 47:37
Record Label: Cleopatra Records
Catalogue #: CLO4336
Date of Release: 1st September 2023
Cleopatra Records – Bandcamp