Friday, April 7, 2017

Pink Floyd 20: The Early Years

As they’d promised, each of the volumes (save the bonus mop-up set) in Pink Floyd’s massive The Early Years 1967-1972 box set were made available individually, making it a little easier for fans on a budget to not only acquire the sets, but make time to ingest them. In addition to the music, the DVD and Blu-ray portions of each provide tons of audio-visual material, performance footage and the like, as well as some rare quad mixes and (supposedly) a 5.1 surround mix of Meddle. As we’re all about audio here, that’s what interests us most.
1965-1967: Cambridge St/ation: This is the set for Syd Barrett fanatics, as most of the tunes began in his head. Opening with six tracks recorded at the start of 1965, we can hear the early R&B influence not very well translated by the players, Syd’s voice sounding more like intentional parody. (Roger Waters’ songwriting contribution is certainly intended to be humorous.) All the non-LP single sides are here, along with the alternate of “Matilda Mother”, “Jugband Blues”, the previously unreleased “In The Beechwoods”, and (finally) “Vegetable Man” and “Scream Thy Last Scream”. The second disc is devoted to a live performance in Sweden (historic for hearing Syd in concert; demerits for nearly inaudible vocals) and a half-hour of experimental noodling for an avant-garde film project.
1968: Germin/ation: This transitional period, breaking in David Gilmour, is somewhat limited in unheard music, except to put the two singles and their B-sides in context. There are two incomplete tracks from a mid-summer session, one of which sounds like a prototype for “Cymbaline” but for the wacky time changes, the other a Waters piece that seems to have a nativity influence. The bulk of the disc is made up of two BBC radio appearances, including an early take of “Embryo” and one of six live performances of “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” scattered throughout the audio portions of the volumes.
1969: Dramatis/ation: The band still finding their way, we get some outtakes from the More soundtrack, including a piece called “Hollywood” that bridges the gap from the untitled piece on the 1968 set with “Cymbaline”. The lone studio take of “Embryo” leads to a BBC session featuring a three-minute “Eugene” and songs that would end up on Ummagumma, followed by four tracks recorded live in Amsterdam, heavy on the slow jamming (“Eugene” now ten minutes), light on vocals. A slightly later performance in Amsterdam makes up the second disc; this is the much-bootlegged performance of two suites, The Man and The Journey, that dominated that summer’s tour. Most of the songs were from already-released albums, and bridged with further jamming and sound effects. It’s more historic than groundbreaking, particularly considering David’s failure to hit the high notes on “The Narrow Way”.
1970: Devi/ation: The “Atom Heart Mother” suite took over the sets at this time, and it appears here in three lengthy but discrete versions in reverse chronological order spaced throughout: a band-only live performance in Switzerland; a BBC performance with orchestra and choir; and a “studio runthrough” from before the orchestra and voices had been added. The balance of the first disc is dedicated to the rest of that radio appearance, with another long “Embryo”, another long “Eugene”, another “Green Is The Colour”, and two songs from side two of Atom Heart Mother. Most of the second disc is devoted to outtakes from their work on the Zabriskie Point soundtrack. Predominantly instrumental, a little spacey, the standouts are the Laurel Canyon folkie pastiche “Crumbling Land” and “The Riot Scene”, which is more familiar now as the chords to “Us And Them”.
1971: Reverber/ation: While only five songs, this isn’t the shortest audio installment in the set, but it could be the most solid. Following the “Nothing” work-in-progress excerpt is a full hour-long BBC concert, with lengthy versions of “Embryo” (again, but no kiddie effects) and “Fat Old Sun”, faithful reproductions of “One Of These Days” and “Echoes”, and those wonderful John Peel intros. The band was tight, having shed much of the meandering that dominated the preceding years.
1972: Obfusc/ation: The CD portion of the announced package was to consist solely of the remixed Obscured By Clouds, but thanks to a “mistake”, the audio from the Pompeii performance was included as well. That’s a nice surprise bonus, particularly if you don’t mind two more versions of “Eugene”. In addition to sounding great, it shows how earlier “freeform” jams like “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” and “Saucerful Of Secrets” still made sense among the newer explorations from Meddle.
In theory, fans could benefit from the piecemeal availability depending on how they feel about certain phases of the band, e.g. pro- or anti-Syd, or a strong preference or hatred for a particular album. Between sound quality and performance, some volumes are simply more palatable than others. Chances are, for most Floyd heads, if they’re in for one, they’re in for all.

Pink Floyd The Early Years 1965-1967: Cambridge St/ation (2017)—3
Pink Floyd
The Early Years 1968: Germin/ation (2017)—3
Pink Floyd
The Early Years 1969: Dramatis/ation (2017)—3
Pink Floyd
The Early Years 1970: Devi/ation (2017)—
Pink Floyd
The Early Years 1971: Reverber/ation (2017)—4
Pink Floyd
The Early Years 1972: Obfusc/ation (2017)—4

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