11 April, 2012

The Bonus Discs - The Wall

The third and final volume of the expanded editions of The Best Pink Floyd Albums Ever is, I’m sorry to say, a bit of a letdown.  It pains me to say this because The Wall was one of the first albums that made me realise that someone else gets it.  The remastering job is superb with beautiful clarity but in contrast to the other Immersion editions, this feels hastily put together to meet a release schedule.

Discs three and four in the boxed edition are Is There Anybody Out There – the live version of The Wall recorded from performances in 1980 and 1981, which has been available on CD since 2000.  It’s hard to imagine anyone considering this edition not having that album already.  What’s missing from this version are the excellent sleeve notes from the original 2000 edition, even though there was plenty of room in this package for them.

And so to the previously unavailable material which makes up discs five and six.  These are the demo version of The Wall, including Roger Waters’ original home demos.  The demo discs are broken up into seven “programmes.”  James Guthrie’s sleeve notes (printed on the cardboard disc sleeves – seriously people, you couldn’t spare one page in the two picture books for some sleeve notes?) explain that this sequencing is to represent both the separate sessions and the different track sequences that were experimented with during recording.

The first programme Roger’s initial demos which Nick Mason once described as “unlistenable.”  (One can only assume he hadn’t heard Ummagumma recently.)  They have been edited down to highlights, which does make sense but some of the songs are so heavily edited that you start to think you’re listening to The Wall megamix.  There are then five programmes of band demos, sometimes interspersed with Waters’ demos and disc six concludes with David Gilmour’s home demos of Comfortably Numb and Run Like Hell

Although fascinating in places, the demo discs don’t reward repeated listening.  Not that they ought to or course – they were never intended for public consumption.  Some of the highlights include,

The first band demo of Another Brick in the Wall, (disc 5, track 24) which baits the audience with lines like, “We don’t need your adulation,” and, “you should have seen them in the early days.”

Teacher Teacher – a song that would eventually evolve into The Hero’s Return on The Final Cut, and presents a much more sympathetic view of the teacher character.  Both this early version and the one that was eventually released are written from the point of view of a returned soldier suffering what would now be called post traumatic stress disorder, who falls into teaching as a way of making ends meet. 

Young Lust – same basic tune but effectively a completely different song to what was eventually used on the album.

Sexual Revolution – eventually included on Waters’ solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, which was written at the same time as The Wall.

The Doctor (Comfortably Numb) (disc 6, track 5) – There was clearly work to do on Comfortably Numb, and every change they made was the right decision, but this does reveal that The World’s Greatest Guitar Solo (it just is, okay?) was well on the way to being fully formed even in the first rehearsals.

The single disc of demos included on the “experience edition” is culled from the best of these two discs, so that makes the medium-sized version far more attractive to those who want to hear how The Wall took shape but don’t fancy spending $100 or more.

That just leaves us with the DVD, the main portion of which is the documentary Behind The Wall, which was made in 2000 around the same time as the release of Is There Anybody Out There?  Although not new, it is previously unavailable on DVD.  Also included on the DVD are a previously unreleased interview with designer Gerald Scarfe from 1982, a restored version of the video clip for Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2, and a live version of The Happiest Days of Our Lives from Earls Court in 1980 which lasts all of 82 seconds.

The problem with this box set is that there’s so much that we know is missing.  For a start, there’s the film.  It’s been available on DVD since 1999 and again, while it’s fair to assume that anyone who wants this box set already has the DVD, but if this is the Immersion Edition, then let’s do it properly.  Hi-def Blu-ray perhaps?  Nup!  The documentary reminds us that The Wall was devised as an album, a show and a film all at the same time, yet while we know there is complete film of The Wall concerts, only an insultingly small amount of it is included.  Many have already complained about the lack of a 5.1 mix.  Engineer James Guthrie has said that a surround mix is in the pipeline and its eventual SACD release will immediately make this edition less than definitive.  Even so, the music for the film was remixed in 5.1.  And what about the album of music from the film that was mooted in 1982 but never eventuated?

In fairness, there are probably various legal reasons why some of these could not have been added.  For a start, the film of The Wall is owned by Sony, not EMI and many of the copyrights relating to The Wall are owned by Roger Waters personally rather than Pink Floyd as a group.  Be that as it may, the release should have been held over until they could have made it a true immersion edition.  The cover is bloody awful too.  Storm Thorgerson is brilliant and Gerald Scarfe is brilliant but they do not exactly share a creative vision.  They should have stuck with Scarfe’s minimalist original, but if they couldn’t do that, any page of the Thorgerson-designed book would have made a better cover than this pointless collage.

It contains all the trinkets that are included in the other Immersion editions but in terms of actual content, what we get for paying anywhere between three and five times the price of the experience edition is a second disc of demos and an hour long documentary.  Not even close to the magnificent standard set by the Dark Side of the Moon box.

Worth paying extra for?
Sadly, no.

Comfortably Numb - initial 1985 CD release 

Comfortably Numb - from the Shine On box set, 1992

Comfortably Numb - 1994 remaster 

Comfortably Numb - 2011 remaster

Comfortably Numb - from Is There Anybody Out There? 2000 remaster

Comfortably Numb - from Is There Anybody Out There? 2011 remaster

Another Brick in the Wall - from Pink Floyd The Wall DVD, 1999

Another Brick in the Wall - 2011 restoration

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