Pink Floyd: PULSE Review
Coming from Region 3, this doesn't bear the familiar Exemption certificate that the BBFC might have awarded it but comes instead with an M for, it would appear, infrequent moderate coarse language. Dwelling upon the point, the far flung censors, via a second sticker, inform us that P*U*L*S*E is, "Recommended for mature audiences". Mature audiences...oh, but it's easy to sneer!
For far too long, Pink Floyd have been cast as an awfully dreary counterpart to the likes of Eric Clapton, Sting and Rod Stewart, jobbing rock stars whose creative flame has been long snuffed out. Years passed and yet they continued to drag their enormous stage show around the world armed only with their middle-brow rock, sixth-form lyrics and their preoccupations with isolation, the loss of family and friends and the futility of war and of violence. Emblematic of this was their big round screen onto which they projected meaningful films produced by their longtime friend Storm Thorgerson of Hignosis, himself responsible for such covers as the refracting prism of Dark Side of the Moon, the burning man of Wish You Were Here and the hospital-beds-on-the-beach of A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Thorgerson's touch is evident here with bowler-hatted city gents on stilts, acoustic guitars floating down river, spinning clocks and the life-passing-by-a-hospital-bed of On The Run. There does not, amongst all of this, appear to be much humour and nor does anyone on the stage look to be enjoying any of it.
That, amongst everything else, is the real pity with the post-Waters era Floyd. Despite how bleak they're thought to be, there's much to laugh at and to admire with Dark Side Of The Moon, Animals, The Wall and, yes, even The Final Cut. This is a band, after all, who recorded Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast (Atom Heart Mother), which mixed space rock with the sound of a breakfast being prepared. There's One Of These Days, which has but one line to it being, "One of these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces!" and that led to a long instrumental passage that has, at times, toyed with the Dr Who theme. There was the sight of enormous teachers pushing pupils into equally enormous mincing machines in The Wall and no one else, I believe, would have flown a giant inflatable sow above the towers of Battersea Power Station for an album cover.
But in the post-Waters era, all that vanished to be replaced by something that looks like Pink Floyd and even sounds like Pink Floyd but is no more remarkable than, one imagines, a bootleg band like The Australian Pink Floyd to be. P*U*L*S*E sounds alright and is a good recording of a band who were, by then, somewhat comfortable in their place as elder statesmen of rock but that's surely not what Pink Floyd is about. When the band and backing singers mimic the fascists of The Wall by marching on the spot during Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2), there's the sense of them ill-advisedly listening to a drama coach or perhaps the wife of a member of the band. Surely, you think, Pink Floyd, if they're about anything, are not about that?
Well, by the time P*U*L*S*E was being recorded at Earl's Court in 1994, the howls of rage of The Wall and The Final Cut had departed alongside Roger Waters. Waters also seemed to have taken the sense of ambition with him, as well as the English humour that one could mine out of Pink Floyd. Looking back at the band he just left, he described them as being a pretty fair forgery of Pink Floyd and that's what we have here...except this is the real Pink Floyd, which is what's most disappointing. I realise that I'm most likely falling into the same trap as those who thought the band finished with the retirement of Syd Barrett. The difference, though, would seem to be that in the late-sixties, Waters, Mason, Wright and Gilmour fought for creative control of the band and, album by album, made impressive leaps forward. However, with Waters' departure, Pink Floyd settled into a cosy routine with both A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell being all that one might expect of Pink Floyd. All, that is, but the restless creativity that Roger Waters brought to the band.
And that's largely what we have here, a Pink Floyd that's largely without ambition, content to play the hits, loose though that word may be applied to Pink Floyd, in between new material, evidence that Gilmour, Wright and Mason put up a stronger fight in the law courts than they did in the recording studio. Such a lack of passion extends throughout the two-disc set, with the band playing versions of the songs that differ little from how they sounded on their original albums. The opening solo, for example, to Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a little different to that on Wish You Were Here whilst both Run Like Hell and Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) lose some of their urgency. Of course, the later material doesn't compare well to such classic material as Comfortably Numb and Wish You Were Here but Learning To Fly isn't at all bad and High Hopes is actually pretty good. Sorrow, on the other hand, does begin with the kind of solo that would have you thrown out onto the street if you tried it in a guitar shop.
But I can't help but feel that Mason, Wright and Gilmour are let down by the session musicians that they've surrounded themselves with. Bassist Guy Pratt has always struck me as rather cheesy and ill-suited to Pink Floyd - that he once advertised bass guitar strings seems like a very un-Pink Floyd thing to do and the Steinberg bass doesn't help - whilst Jon Carin (Additional Keyboards) and Gary Wallis (Percussion) are distracting, one for wearing a waistcoat - an item of clothing that ought not to be allowed within five miles of a rock concert - and the other for bobbing around in a manner ill-suited to Comfortably Numb. Worse, though, is the three backing singers, Sam Brown, Claudia Fontaine and Durga McBroom, all of whom have a stab at Clare Torry's vocal on The Great Gig In The Sky without ever really getting close.
I grant you, however, that most of the reasons that I've given here are, to be perfectly honest, quite pathetic ones. P*U*L*S*E is alright but at Live 8, Pink Floyd showed that they could still be a remarkable live band. There was the sense then of a magic between them, an understanding of one another and of the songs that only comes with a great rock band. But not here. Yes it's a decent rock gig and an equally decent rock concert but a world away from the band that recorded Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Meddle, Dark Side Of The Moon, The Wall and The Final Cut. With session musicians you get session playing and although everything, even the snippets of background chatter on Dark Side Of The Moon, is present and correct, the blood in the music is sadly altogether absent.
Compared to the old video release, this is, of course, a great improvement. Gone is the fuzzy, indistinct colours of the stage lighting, which tended to bleed into a rather indistinct blob of lights, to be replaced by a clean, clear picture that full of detail and is as bright and as colourful as one might imaging. It does appear to have been shot on broadcast-quality video so it's still not as sharp as 35mm film might have been but it's really not at all bad. However, it's really the soundtrack that matters and Pink Floyd have included three - two Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks (448kbit/s and 640kbit/s) and a DD2.0 Stereo track.
I wish I could comment on the differences between the two DD5.1 tracks but I'm afraid that my A/V amp rather let me down in that respect. The one that I could play, however, did sound excellent with the effects mixed in all five speakers and the subwoofer handling the low bass and keyboard parts with ease. The background chatter on the Dark Side Of The Moon material stands out as it shifts between speakers as do the chiming and ticking clocks of Time. The effects notwithstanding, the music sounds excellent throughout with the vocals rising clear of the instruments as well as being clear enough to pick out individual contributions in each song. I would imagine, though, that the 640kbit/s track would sound even better.
There is a lot here and were you to view it all, it would occupy a couple of hours of your time but it all falls neatly into several categories. Both discs contain the films that play out behind the band, which, despite being an obvious choice, still surprised me on seeing that they were matted into a circular shape. Disc One contains three (Shine On..., High Hopes and Learning To Fly) whilst Disc Two contains the films for all of the Dark Side Of The Moon material as well as alternate versions for Speak To Me, Time, The Great Gig In The Sky, Money and Us And Them.
Also on Disc One are the promotional videos for Learning To Fly and Take It Back as well as something called Bootlegging The Bootleggers, which appears to be scrappily shot footage of songs that didn't make the final cut of P*U*L*S*E. Included here are What Do You Want From Me?, On The Turning Away, Poles Apart and Marooned complete with the sound of the crowd around those who were taping them. Finally, as well as a television advert for the original release of P*U*L*S*E, there is also a section entitled Tour Stuff, which contains Maps, a Tour Itinerary and a photo gallery of Stage Plans.
On to Disc Two and after the Screen Films, there is a Photo Gallery, a selection of still images of six examples of the striking Pink Floyd cover art and additional credits. Had it ended there, it would have been fine but there's an unnecessary behind-the-scenes look at the preparation for the tour as well as the tour itself, Say Goodbye To Life As We Know It (15m38s) as well as Billy Corgan inducting Pink Floyd into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame (10m31s) that ends with a performance of Wish You Were Here with Corgan.
I do seem to have spent most of this review criticising P*U*L*S*E without mentioning many of its better moments. Shine On You Crazy Diamond is quite wonderful and it's great to hear Dark Side Of The Moon in its entirety even in the one-two of Brain Damage and Eclipse don't quite have the aplomb that I always imagined they might have done. Comfortably Numb isn't bad - it's clear that they're missing Waters on vocals - but Wish You Were Here is, as it always is, quite beautiful. But as a long-time fan of the band, it's just a bit of a disappointment, coming after I'd long played out Pink Floyd concerts in my head whilst listening to the records. Perhaps it's that I had imagined Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) to be a more audibly crushing experience, The Great Gig In The Sky to scrape the sky and Shine On You Crazy Diamond to soar in its choruses but I was rather let down by P*U*L*S*E. However, I am prepared to admit that most of my complaints with P*U*L*S*E are quite useless and that many will enjoy it a good deal more than I did. Perhaps Live 8 spoiled me somewhat as did the re-release of Live At Pompeii a couple of years ago but P*U*L*S*E is not quite the Pink Floyd experience that I'd hoped it would be.