Is it even possible to divorce this album from its source? Well, probably not, given the all pervading ubiquitous nature of that now half-a-century old rock classic. Come to think of it, would – or should – we even want to approach Roger Waters’ reimagining of his band’s musical high water mark with a clean slate? From a purely journalistic point of view, of course we should, but us scribblers know that 100% objectivity is rarely attainable, and in this instance, quite impossible unless you have been living in a cultural vacuum for the last 50 years.
Right, here endeth today’s ethical musings, and on to the task in hand. Given that opening paragraph, it might be an idea to give y’all some perspective on my relationship with Pink Floyd, and Dark Side of the Moon in particular. I have a peculiar love/hate thang going on with Cambridge’s finest, post-Syd. For most of the time I find them dreary and one dimensional, but very occasionally I will play an album and be struck at how good they were at what they did, up to Animals at least, limited as it was. After that it first got silly, when Waters’ megalomania got the better of him, and latterly just very very dull, after he left. Boy, that version of the band could plod for England! As for Dark Side of the Moon, it is simply a timeless classic, ’nuff said. I can go a year and more without playing Pink Floyd, but when I do, it’s almost certainly going to be that album.
And now, Roger Waters, daily doing a more than passable impersonation of that old geezer who sits in the same corner seat in the pub every day, muttering unintelligibly into his three hour old half drunk pint of now lifeless bitter, the bloke everyone else gives a wide berth to, has decided in his octogenarian wisdom to reclaim this iconic work as his own. Why? Because he can, and as he wrote the vast majority of the original, he has every right to as well.
Waters has always had a morbid streak, and now, he’s reached the age where it is at least appropriate. Speak to Me takes on the stark realities of impending death, courtesy of the grim lyrics to Free Four woven into the original, Free Four being a tune he wrote in his mid-twenties. I bet he was fun at parties. Breathe plays it straight, and is the closest Waters gets to his normal singing voice throughout.
On the Run is a good old railing at the modern world, in the form of a spoken story/poem, another subject now commensurate with our protagonist’s grand age. The backing is very filmic, the whole gives off a jaundiced dystopian air, concluding with “open saloon cars full of bad guys”. It works. Time goes back to a straight interpretation, with Jonathan Wilson’s organ, and Azniv Korkejian understated wordless vocals leading the instrumental section into minimalist orchestration. Makes you realise you’re not even missing those over familiar guitar lines at all. Waters melodies have enough inherent strength to carry this. By now, it’s even becoming easy to forget where the instrumental breaks are on the original, perhaps proving Waters’ implied point that fabulous as they were, maybe Dave’s guitar breaks and all the other instrumental cake icing back in the day were in fact mere embellishments.
One thing Waters is definitely correct about in recent interviews is that he was the only songwriter in the band, as this album has proved thus far, and this is probably where his grudge comes from. He knows how to bear a grudge, does Rog.
Great Gig in the Sky is introduced by “Dear Mr Waters” being told by letter, or maybe email, that a friend has been admitted to hospital with cancer, which leads into Claire Torry’s famous vocal part being replaced by what I assume is Korkejian’s heavily treated and highly restrained version. This is maybe the only part of the album that didn’t quite work for me, as nothing could really live up to the impact of hearing the original for the first time.
Money veers outwards into pacts with the Devil, as the unholy draw of filthy lucre was ever thus. The main lyric is delivered in a sub-Tom Waits style that suits the dark sleaze of the song to a tee. And no, I don’t miss the sax solo. Instead we get swooping strings and cascading organ chords delivering a seasick lurch in fine queasy style. Marvellous!
Us and Them goes straight, and languidly shuffles across the lawn of the metaphorical nursing home provided by the cover of the lyrics. Somehow, all these words seem more fitting being grumbled by an old man. Maybe Waters always was 80 years old? And no, I don’t miss the sax solo, replaced here by the organ, in the by now accepted low-key manner of the rest of the music here. Any Colour You Like may well be an abstraction on the ludicrous nature of flags (geddit?), and by extension presumably the dangers they represent, with the conclusion that our man appears to quite like “rainbow”.
The pay off starts with Brain Damage, which naturally comes across as less unhinged in this re-reading, and the madness is just accepted with a world-weary shrug of the shoulders, the new normal, it seems. Eclipse takes it over the horizon in almost familiar fashion, minus Ms Torry of course.
As you might imagine, the reactions to this album by the majority of Pink Floyd fans, who are a conservative bunch at the best of times, contain every negative adjective imaginable, but kudos to the few who actually possess some critical faculty and are able to leave their one-eyed prejudices at the door. Yes, they do exist!
Heads up – it’s not “bad”, just “different”.
01. Speak to Me (1:54)
02. Breathe (3:22)
03. On the Run (3:47)
04. Time (7:19)
05. Great Gig in the Sky (5:47)
06. Money (7:33)
07. Us and Them (7:36)
08. Any Colour You Like (3:18)
09. Brain Damage (4:55)
10. Eclipse (2:20)
Total Time – 47:51
Roger Waters – Vocals, Bass (track 8), VCS3
Gus Seyffert – Bass, Guitar, Percussion, Keyboards, Synthesisers, Backing Vocals
Joey Waronker – Drums & Percussion
Jonathan Wilson – Guitars, synthesiser, Organ
Johnny Shepherd – Organ, Piano
Via Mardot – Theremin
Azniv Korkejian – Vocals
Gabe Noel – String Arrangements, Strings, Sarangi
Jon Carin – Keyboards, Lap Steel, Synthesiser, Organ
Robert Walter – Piano (track 5)
Record Label: SGB / Cooking Vinyl
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 6th October 2023