Sunday , March 29 2020

Music Reviews: Pink Floyd – ‘The Later Years,’ Plus Seamus Egan, Big Mike & the R&B Kings

If you’re looking for an anthology with enough heft to do double duty as a doorstop, look no further: like Pink Floyd’s The Early Years, its just-released follow-up, The Later Years, fits in a ton of material, including five CDs, six Blu-rays, five DVDs, and two vinyl singles. Also featured are two hardcover books (one containing photos, another holding the CDs and a guide to the content); a lyrics book; posters; and reproductions of concert programs, passes, and tickets.

The box isn’t quite as weighty as it might seem, though, because, like The Early Years, this package inexplicably delivers the same content on its Blu-rays and DVDs, rather than offering separate (and presumably a bit less pricey) versions of the box for each format. Still, there’s enough here to keep fans busy for months.

The outfit featured on The Later Years is not exactly the one that produced megahits like 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon and 1979’s The Wall. On the latter album, the group sing, “We don’t need no education.” Here, they seem to be chanting, “We don’t need no Roger Waters,” as all of the featured material was performed after he left the band at the end of 1985. (That’s not to say he’s totally unrepresented: the box includes some songs that he solely wrote as well as over a dozen numbers that he cowrote with other members of the band.)

Some critics were not kind to this post-Waters period, which resulted in music that often sounds redolent of work the group did prior to Dark Side of the Moon. Rolling Stone’s Album Guide, for example, awarded just one star to 1988’s Delicate Sound of Thunder—a rating the book defines as “Disastrous…Albums in the range of one star or less are wastes of vital resources. Only masochists and completists need apply.”

To this listener, such criticism seems much too harsh. True, you could argue that Pink Floyd is a lesser band without Waters, and particularly without his lyrical skills. You could also argue that most of the live material in this box sticks disappointingly close to the studio versions, with too little improvisation. That said, guitarist David Gilmour had a whole lot to do with Pink Floyd’s sound from day one, as did Nick Mason and the late Richard Wright. And there’s lots to like here, Waters’s absence notwithstanding.

The package includes a remixed CD of 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason—the album best known for the hit single “Learning to Fly”—that restores some of Wright’s keyboard parts and incorporates new drum work by Mason. This first post-Waters album, which was produced by Bob Ezrin (who also produced The Wall), is essentially a Gilmour project; Wright—who at this point was on salary and not an official band member—and Mason are on board, but Gilmour wrote or cowrote all the songs, and his signature guitar sound is all over this project. Is it a big step forward? No, but it has more than a few high points, including the aforementioned “Learning to Fly.”

Also presented on CDs is a remixed version of the aforementioned Delicate Sound of Thunder, a nearly two-and-a-half-hour, 23-song concert album that features an exhilarating “One of These Days” (from Meddle) as well as material from The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon. Included, too, is a remixed, previously unreleased 1990 Knebworth, U.K., concert. It’s considerably shorter than Thunder—just seven songs and 56 minutes—because the band were headlining a charity program that featured several other major artists. But it incorporates such Pink Floyd faves as “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” “Sorrow,” “Money,” and “Comfortably Numb.”

A final CD contains assorted live recordings from 1987 and 1994 and unreleased studio tracks from the latter year. This disc showcases some obscurities, as well as another excellent reading of “One of These Days” and a version of group cofounder Syd Barrett’s “Astronomy Domine” that’s faithful to and at least as propulsive as the one that opened the group’s 1967 debut album.

The Blu-rays—which have a total playing time of 14 hours—are this box’s biggest attraction. They deliver hi-res surround-sound mixes of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, 1994’s The Division Bell, some previously unreleased studio recordings, Delicate Sound of Thunder, and 1995’s Pulse live album. They also include remastered, previously unavailable concert films, such as of the Knebworth show and a 1989 Venice concert, and music videos and documentaries, including the movie that resulted from 2014’s The Endless River. (Unfortunately, the anthology omits CD versions of The Division Bell, Pulse, and The Endless River.)

You’ll find all sorts of treasures throughout the Blu-rays—everything from a rather wild video about the cover-photo shoot for A Momentary Lapse of Reason to the last live performance by Gilmour, Mason, and Wright (at a 2007 Barrett tribute show where they performed 1967’s “Arnold Layne,” complete with light show).

Needless to say, The Later Years isn’t for casual fans (though a one-CD edition containing highlights of the box might be). But if you’re a serious Floyd follower and can afford this not-exactly-inexpensive anthology, it’s probably time to hand over your credit card.

BRIEFLY NOTED

Seamus Egan, Early Bright. Multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan, who was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in Ireland, spent more than two decades leading a group called Solas, which had roots in traditional Celtic folk but also delved into pop and new-age music and covered artists ranging from Tom Waits to Bob Dylan. Now, on his first solo album in 23 years, Egan continues to innovate and straddle musical boundaries.

The album’s 10 mostly instrumental tracks, all self-penned (two with cowriters), employ banjo, low whistles, violin, cello, bouzouki, piano accordion, lap steel, and penny whistle. These intricately woven soundscapes are melodic, calming, and consistently engrossing.

Big Mike & the R&B Kings, This Song’s for You. Big Mike Perez delivers a big sound on This Song’s for You, his debut album, which features lots of hot guitar work and emphasizes rock- and funk-tinged Chicago-style R&B and blues. (Electric Flag would be a pretty good reference point.) The program-opening “Last Night” sets the tone for an album that consists largely of upbeat party-ready music, but there are a few notable side trips. Among them: the title cut, a love ballad written for Perez’s wife; and “Are You Serious,” a jazzy, nearly-nine-minute instrumental cover of a 1982 R&B hit by the late Tyrone Davis.

About Jeff Burger

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.

Check Also

Music Review: Jeff Richman – ‘Sizzle’

In a climate where the next release always needs to outdo the last. Jeff Richman is a beacon for the next generation of guitar fusion enthusiasts.