Exploring the catacombs of this overdue sonic monument to the post Roger Waters era
By any standard, Pink Floyd’s The Later Years box set, covering the years 1987 to 2014, is a veritable feast for the eyes and ears.
There’s a wealth of material to dig into: five CDs, five DVDs, and six Blu-rays serving up hours of music and film, including over 13 hours of previously unreleased sights and sounds. Where to start? Here’s a quick listing of some of the notable features of the behemoth that is The Later Years:
The King-Sized Box
All of The Later Years goods are packed in a 13” x 13” x 3” inch box, so you’ll need a lot of shelf space if you want to display it. Though you can just as easily extract the discs and put the rest of the set in storage. The full box weighs in at over 10 pounds, so you can also use it for a little weight training.
The Non-Audio/Visual Offerings
Large-scale box sets include various “extras” of variable worth for the purpose of justifying the hefty price tag. The Later Years extras are a bit of a mixed bag. The best items are the three replica tour programs and a new lyric booklet, all very nicely put together. There’s also a 60-page hardback photo book (but no liner notes; the set’s text is limited to production information about the recordings). And there’s an album-sized envelope of what’s billed as “Memorabilia,” said to include two 7-inch vinyl singles, and replica items like tickets, backstage passes, stickers, posters and other ephemera. Though a true collector will never know for sure, because they’ll never open the sealed envelope.
VIDEO: David Gilmour discusses A Momentary Lapse of Reason
A Momentary Lapse of Reason hasn’t just been remixed for the set; it’s also been substantially “updated,” in the interest of achieving a better “creative balance between the three Pink Floyd members” than existed on the original album. Nick Mason recorded new drum parts; Rick Wright’s new keyboard lines were taken from live recordings (Wright died in 2008). The more processed/80s-era sound of the album has also thankfully been diluted. It all makes Reason a warmer, more organic, listening experience. If you’ve overlooked this album, the remix may make you change your mind.
O’er the Waves
There’s no telling how many treasures lurk in Pink Floyd’s archives, but among the most eagerly anticipated footage was from the band’s July 18, 1989, concert on a floating barge in Venice. It’s a scaled down show from the end of the Momentary Lapse of Reason tour, and the shorter length works to the performance’s advantage; it’s happily devoid of hyperactive editing as well. Pretty evenly split between the new album and classic Floyd, there’s a killer run of songs at the end: “Wish You Were Here,” “Money,” “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2,” “Comfortably Numb,” and “Run Like Hell.” And then fireworks. What more do you need?
Claire Torry Makes the “Gig”
One of the most dramatic moments on Dark Side of the Moon is when Claire Torry lets fly vocally on “The Great Gig in the Sky,” sounding like she’s in either ecstatic agony or agonized ecstasy (or a combination of the two). You’ll find one of the few times she performed the song live with the band included on this set, at a benefit concert on June 30, 1990, at Knebworth House. She’s not introduced, but when she opens her mouth there’s no doubt who it is at the microphone. A spine-tingling moment.
The Rough Draft
“High Hopes” brought The Division Bell to an elegiac conclusion. It’s Dave Gilmour’s wistful, melancholy look back at his early days (co-written with his future wife, Polly Samson): “The grass was greener/The light was brighter/When friends surrounded/The nights of wonder.” The Later Years has few outtakes or demos, but there is an early version of “High Hopes,” a solo rendition by Gilmour. Shorn of its orchestration and additional instrumentation, it has a delicacy that makes it even more bittersweet.
VIDEO: Pink Floyd performs “Us and Them / Any Colour You Like”
The Dark Side of the Moon, live
The Gilmour/Wright/Mason lineup of Pink Floyd had considered performing their landmark album live, in its entirety, since 1987, but wouldn’t manage to do so until The Division Bell tour in 1994. Pulse was the subsequent album/concert film release of an October 20, 1994 London show, and makes the case that Dark Side is best experienced as a complete work. The Pulse film has also been beautifully restored and re-edited.
The Last Stand
The last time Roger Waters, Dave Gilmour, Rick Wright, and Nick Mason were under the same roof was when they performed at The Madcap’s Last Laugh, a Syd Barrett tribute show held at the Barbican theater in London on May 10, 2007. But they didn’t perform all together. Waters closed the show’s first half, though oddly, he didn’t choose to perform a Barrett song, but instead one of his own compositions, “Flickering Flame.” In the second half, Gilmour, Wright, and Mason performed “Arnold Layne,” Pink Floyd’s first single, and it’s this performance that’s included in the set. It’s a bit on the rough side, but it’s endearing to see the three men honor their band mate and friend (who had died the year before) with this delightfully eccentric slice of psychedelic pop.
VIDEO: Pink Floyd The Later Years unboxing video via SuperDeluxeEdition