Review – The Dark Side of the Moon Immersion Box Set

“The Dark Side of the Moon” spent an incredible 15 years straight in the Billboard Top 200 album chart and another two when it was re-released in 1994. It has sold over 50 million copies worldwide. It’s hard to explain it’s significance, hard to explain it’s huge appeal.

For such a massively popular album it must have been written quite quickly. Roger Waters put the concept of an album that dealt with things that “make people mad”, a topic close to the band given the illness of former member Syd Barrett, when they assembled in December 1971 prior to touring and they first performed the material at the end of January 1972. The band continued to refine the material through rehearsal and tour performance before first recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios from 24 May to 25 June, setting out on the road again and completing the album in January 1973. The album was engineered by engineer/musician Alan Parsons, the band give him a great deal of credit for the eventual album.

If you are one of the many people who has spent far too much time with your consciousness altered in some way listening to “The Dark Side of the Moon” (DSotM) then it may be time for you to take strong hold on your wallet. This is because the most expensive boxed set version of the album has now been released. The good news is that this set offers the most amazing quality and most comprehensive collection ever assembled for a Pink Floyd album.

At the core of the set is 6 discs; 3 Compact Discs, 2 DVDs and a single Blu-Ray disc. Disc 1 is a CD of the 2011 remaster of the album. Disc 2 is a CD of the live performance at the Empire Pool Wembley in 1974. Disc 3 is an Audio only DVD containing the 5.1 surround mix from 2003 in two sampling rates, the 1973 LPCM stereo mix and the 1973 4.0 Quad mix from 1973 also in two different sampling rates. Disc 4 is an Audio-Visual DVD of the Pink Floyd concert in Brighton in 1972, The Dark Side Of The Moon documentary from 2003 and the Concert screen films in the original LPCM stereo mix and a 5.1 surround mix. Disc 5 is a Blu-Ray containing all the material from discs 3 and 4. Disc 6 is a CD of previously unreleased tracks including demo versions of ‘Us And Them’ and ‘Money’ and an entire early mix of the album. Obviously if you have a Blu-Ray player you can consider this a 4 disc set as the two DVDs are replaced by the single Blu-Ray.

Along with those disks you get a bunch of memorabilia and stuff including a facsimile concert ticket and back stage pass, a book of photos from the DSotM tour, some marbles, art cards, drink coasters and a scarf.

Make no mistake if you have a good stereo system and Blu-Ray player then there is no better way to hear this album than popping disc 5 in and spending a day trying to decide if you prefer the 1973 quad mix or the 2011 5.1 surround mix, personally I prefer the surround one. The 2011 remaster has in my opinion taken some of the sound out of the bottom, making the softer passages clearer, and added better channel separation and some top end clarity. You will need a good sound system, good speakers and patience to hear the difference. I tried hard to tell the difference between the Blu-Ray and DVD versions and convinced myself I could, but failed on a blind test given by a friend.

When you have done that then glorying in all the other material such as the live performances and concert films is another joy. Make no mistake, it is entirely possible to lose more than one entire weekend on the extra material. One of the joys of this material is the way you can follow the progress of the album from the original ‘demo’ recorded by Waters in his garden shed studio through the live material to the eventual album.

This boxed set is a total essential for the dedicated Pink Floyd fan.

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CD Review “Aretha Franklin Complete On Columbia”

Might Not Be The Aretha You Know And Love

First, let me start with a few admissions. I believe that Aretha Franklin is among the half dozen finest voices of the second half of the 20th century. I also believe Jerry Wexler taking her to Muscle Shoals is a seminal moment in post war music history.

I also have to admit that her Columbia recordings, all made before the big hits of her time at Atlantic reveal a young voice of great quality and power.

That’s what really causes the pain. As I listen to these recordings I revel in the voice and cringe at the continual bad song choices, bad orchestrations and bad backing.

Let’s cover the physical. This collection of 11 CDs booklet and DVD, each housed in a facsimile of the original album art, contains the songs off each album and a few extras. The remastering performed this year is excellent. It lifts the quality of the recording without losing any of the original. Included in cardboard case is an excellent booklet. I also appreciated the extra takes and outtakes on each CD. My count is around 200 tracks if we include all the extras but not a couple of “advertising” tracks.

There are some good tracks and some real gems among it all. “Maybe I’m a Fool”, for example, stands out on the first album and two tracks later “By Myself” shows the young Aretha can sing Jazz. On the second album, “The Electrifying Aretha Franklin” you can almost forgive the terrible “I Told You So” and “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody” due to the quality of “Nobody Like You” where the band gets out of Aretha’s way and the jazzy “Exactly  Like You” that follows it. On the other hand both the albums produced, arranged and conducted by Robert Mersey are an over produced wash of sickly strings and total over the top kitsch, I’m sure even in the sixties producers knew better.

My personal take. I was given it for my birthday, ripped it to my computer and put 150 tracks on my car iPod – I’ll now see how many of those don’t get skipped but I’m thinking I’ll end up with about half the tracks worth keeping. As I write this “Bill Bailey” from “Tiny Sparrow: The Bobby Scott Sessions” is playing and getting me tapping my feet.

This then becomes a truly essential collection for the lover of Aretha’s voice. The problem is that I will, for one, never forgive Columbia for the wasting of that young voice. Listening to these recordings it seems clear that they never really knew what to do with Aretha. They seemed to be treating her as a new Ella Fitzgerald, a jazzy chanteuse or perhaps replicate the success the label has with Billie Holiday. Even when they gave her a gospel song they did it without choir and backed by a jazz orchestra; throwing in a tambourine doesn’t make it gospel. Don’t mistake my intent here, there are some hits and some great recordings in the five years she spent with Columbia and Aretha is capable of great jazz and blues singing. I also don’t want to discourage anyone from buying this collection. Just realize that it is not a collection by the woman that finally found her voice and her musical home in 1966 at Muscle Shoals, Alabama. If you are after more of the sound she quickly developed at Atlantic this is not it. However it is an excellent collection of songs by a superb woman. I wish I could give it five stars but it really only deserves the four.

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