Pink Floyd: Remastered

By Richard Kolke

On September 26, EMI Music launched “Why Pink Floyd?”, a new advertising campaign surrounding both studio album re-releases and distribution of previously unreleased audio and video footage. However, a more apt question than “Why Pink Floyd?” may be “Is it worth it?”– especially when one considers the slew of Pink Floyd releases that have trickled out over the years, some less worthy than others.

First, it is worth considering the context of both the recording industry and Pink Floyd’s catalogue.

“Double-dipping” is common in the home entertainment business, as the exercise is certain to generate cash from a proven money-maker for music publishers (and movie studios) with a minimum of expense and effort compared to the development and promotion of new artists. In the early ’90s, this was welcomed as the first generation of CDs released in the ’80s were generally taken from existing LP masters, which did little to take advantage of the dynamic range of the new medium. However, as the trend continued, this process began to be perceived as a cynical cash grab by greedy record companies.

So, how should we view the new spate of Pink Floyd releases? During a recent interview Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason stated his belief that EMI (who lost £1.75 billion in 2009 and is currently up for sale) is releasing the Floyd catalogue one last time before all manufactured entertainment media goes the way of the 8-track tape and wax cylinders. Also noteworthy is that earlier this year Pink Floyd successfully sued EMI to prevent them from releasing album tracks as individual downloads.

The Pink Floyd catalogue was originally released on CD in the mid-1980s with the aforementioned dire sound quality and shabby artwork. In 1992, the massive Shine On box set was released, which contained remastered editions of seven titles in custom jet-black jewel cases with a bonus CD of singles and a hardcover book. Despite the lavish package, this release met with a fair bit of criticism at the time because of the omission of Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the band’s debut album and founder Syd Barrett’s masterpiece, the two film soundtracks, More and Obscured by Clouds, the live/studio album Ummagumma, the band’s orchestral experiment Atom Heart Mother and the appropriately-titled The Final Cut. Also missing were the outtakes, rehearsals and alternative takes which were de rigueur for box sets at the time.

In 1993, a 20th-anniversary edition of Dark Side of the Moon was released in a box with new artwork but containing the same remastered CD released just a few months earlier. The remastered Piper at the Gates of Dawn made its appearance a year later, and in 1995 the final remastered titles missing from the Shine On box were released. The original mono version of Piper was released in a limited-edition box in 1997, along with a CD containing six singles previously included in Shine On.

In 2003, a 30th-anniversary edition of Dark Side of the Moon was released on a hybrid-SACD with a new 5.1 mix, but again no new material was included. In 2004, The Final Cut was reissued, including the single “When the Tigers Broke Free,” the first title to contain a bonus track. Finally, in 2007 a 40th-anniversary release of Piper was issued in a cloth-bound book containing one disc each of the mono and stereo versions in new (and improved) mixes, with a third disc containing the ubiquitous six singles and four recently-unearthed outtakes.

Any goodwill accumulated at this point was quickly undone later in the year by the release of the Oh, By the Way box set issued just in time for Christmas, which contained releases of all 14 studio albums in mini-LP sleeves in a limited edition box of 10,000 copies. Not only were the LP sleeves shoddily made, including off-kilter artwork and typographical errors, it was apparent that in some instances the discs were the inferior 1980 masters and not the improved 1990 editions.

This brings us to the present-day project, which can be purchased either as individual titles or in a box set, this time with the unwieldy title of The Discovery Studio Album Boxed Set. There are also “Immersion Editions” of Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall, said to (according to EMI) “present the complete artistic experience.” All titles have new 2011 mixes by long time Floyd stalwart James Guthrie. Still absent are the two non-Waters live albums A Delicate Sound of Thunder and Pulse, but the live Wall release Is There Anybody Out There? will be included as part of the Wall Immersion Edition.

So, is it all worth it? Well, the Immersion Edition of Dark Side of the Moon is certainly a Floyd collector’s dream, with three CDs, two DVDs and a Blu-Ray disc containing the 2011 remaster, a live performance from 1974, an early 1972 mix, outtakes, the 2003 5.1 mix, the 1973 quadraphonic mix, the original stereo mix, a documentary, concert footage and screen films– all contained in a handsome box loaded with booklets and trinkets. Wish You Were Here is scheduled for a November release, and The Wall will be unveiled in February of 2012. The same three titles will also be available as “Experience Editions,” which will contain only the 2011 remaster and the live performances.

Also, in comparing the 2011 remasters to previous releases, it is apparent that there is a significant improvement in sound, containing a warmth reminiscent of vinyl while still enhancing the outer reaches of the dynamic range of the original recordings. Older releases such as A Saucerful of Secrets and Atom Heart Mother benefit the most from this process. but later releases such as Animals and The Final Cut are also greatly improved. All contain booklets with lyrics, but for some reason a few, such as Animals, lack the complete artwork from the original LP releases, although the mini-LP covers are superior to the 2007 box.

The bottom line is that these recordings have never sounded better. If you prefer ear buds and MP3s and already own all the Pink Floyd titles you desire, then you are probably not the target audience here. But if you are an audiophile with a taste for Pink Floyd, these are essential listening and the definitive statement on the band’s substantial recorded legacy. Whether you choose to purchase a few favourites individually or go all-out for the Discovery box and Immersion Editions, you should be satisfied that your money will be well-spent.