By my quick count, this is at least the fourth time The Dark Side of the Moon has been remastered since it was first mastered for CD in 1986, so the first question is, Have they got it right yet? As the documentary on the second DVD points out, the original version included many third-generation takes. In other words, all the tracks on the tape had been used up, so these were mixed down to another tape so more parts could be added. The 30th anniversary remaster fixed this by going back to the original takes and synching them all together, meaning that each individual part is of the highest possible quality. This latest remaster isn’t quite as loud as the 2003 version but you have to listen very carefully to hear any major difference.
Beyond that, there isn’t much more to say about the main album. I mean, it’s The Dark Side of the flippin’ Moon, mate! If you don’t know what to expect, then I’ll let you get back to figuring out how to get off the desert island you’ve been stuck on for the last 40 years.
So, to the other discs, and they really have got it right with this set. Six discs, six versions and roughly six hours of content may seem like overkill for a 42 minute album but the reality is that any fan who wants one of these versions is going to want all of them so it makes sense to collect every version that’s been available over the years in the one place. Although some of the versions have been previously available, the multi-channel mixes haven’t exactly been easy to play.
Disc 2, the live performance from 1974 (also available on the “experience edition”) is probably the most expendable disc in the set. Don’t expect anything like Pulse. It’s interesting to hear Dark Side performed live by all the people who made it, without an 11-piece band and all the production values of modern concerts, but it’s more of an historical curio than something that will reward continued listening.
On Disc 3, things start to get really interesting. This DVD contains three different versions of the album in 5 different streams. There’s the original mix of the album in 48kHz LPCM stereo and two multi-channel versions. The 5.1 surround version is the mix that was created for the 30th anniversary edition in 2003. Unfortunately, it was only ever available on SACD which made it difficult for most of us to hear the surround version. Releasing it on DVD means many more will be able to hear it. What’s even more interesting is the original quadraphonic version. Dark Side was originally mixed for quad but since quadraphonic equipment did about as well in the 70s as SACD did in the in the noughties, few got to hear the album as intended. For well over ten years the technology has been available to make original quad mixes available in a format that anyone with a surround system can play. There are several ’blogs around that do digital decodings of original quad LPs that are often better than many CD remasters. I don’t understand why more artists and/or record companies haven’t taken advantage of this niche market. Personally, I prefer the quad mix, but it’s all a matter of taste of course.
The 5.1 and quad versions are in Dolby format at the regular bitrate of 448kbps and also the higher quality 640kbps bitrate. Higher quality DTS or DVD-A options are not available, but all versions are on the Blu-Ray disc in 24-bit 96kHz high resolution.
The fourth disc contains the audio/visual material, which comes in three parts. It starts with live performances of Careful With That Axe, Eugene and Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, filmed live in Brighton in 1972. It’s hard to see why they included this. The only way it relates to Dark Side is that it appears to be the same show that some of the tracks in Disc 6 were recorded at. Other than that, these spacey jam pieces from earlier days seem completely out of place here. There is also a 25-minute documentary made for the 30th anniversary edition, previously only available to the media, but the real highlight of the disc is the concert screen films. Some parts have been seen before on Pulse but this features restored film in full screen, not circular as was shown at the concerts. The full films from the British, French and US tours are included and it’s all very interesting experimental filmmaking in its own right. The music comes mostly from the studio mixes, with some tweaking, especially in the extended Speak to Me. There is also an additional section in the films from the French tour called Assorted Lunatics which has only the spoken-word parts without music. The audio is PCM stereo or Dolby 5.1 (not quad, which would be more authentic as the band toured with a quad PA) but this is something of a side-issue as the music fades out as soon as each film clip ends.
The Blu-ray disc contains everything on both DVDs, but in high definition and with high resolution audio. This means that if you have a Blu-ray player, the DVDs are basically redundant but they have done well to supply the multi-channel and video content in formats that suit everyone’s systems and don’t force people to upgrade just to access content that is exclusive to the Blu-ray.
Many of the “wow!” moments are saved for the last disc. The main part of the disc is a complete early mix of the album from 1972. Although clearly unfinished compared to what we are familiar with now, even if the album were released in this form, it would still have become a classic. The most notable differences are in Richard Wright’s two pieces. The Great Gig In The Sky does not yet have the vocals of Clare Torry (who is now credited with Vocal Composition) and Us And Them is a very sparse arrangement without the guitar arpeggio. Eclipse features some lovely guitar lines that ended up buried in the final mix.
The remainder of the final disc is a collection of alternate versions and out-takes. Two pieces from a 1972 live performance (when the suite was called Eclipse) indicate that they knew exactly what they wanted to do. The Travel Sequence and the Mortality Sequence would eventually become On The Run and The Great Gig In The Sky, respectively. There is also a studio version of The Travel Sequence which is less of a bluesy jam than the live version and more like an unused theme for Top Gear.
The Hard Way is taken from the Household Objects project, which would later become Wish You Were Here, which makes one wonder why it was included here. It doesn’t immediately sound like Pink Floyd, which was the point of course. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you’d think the track was much newer than it really is. Finally, there are two demo tracks. Richard Wright’s solo demo of Us And Them is beautiful just on its own, and Roger Waters’ demo of Money sounds like a demo.
Worth paying extra for?
For the music, absolutely! However, whether it’s worth buying a 12-inch box, two photo books, replica concert tickets and backstage passes, a facsimile of Roger Waters’ hand-written interview questions, a cheap looking cotton scarf, nine cardboard coasters and (I am not making this up) three marbles in a bag, plus a new coffee table to store the whole lot on, will depend on the individual.