Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Echoes, a Review

EchoesThis "best of" Pink Floyd compilation" is slightly tricky to review considering that two discs is nowhere near enough medium to begin to cover what one ought to have. That aside, I'll begin with my conclusion: this set is a good overview for those who do not have any Floyd and would like to know what they're about. It also does a good job of giving the Floyd fanboy something new and cool for their collection.

The first-timer gets most of the hits ("Another Brick Part 2", "Money", "Comfortably Numb") plus more than the average share of what makes the band unique ("Echoes", "One of These Days", "Shine...Crazy Diamond"). There are a few glaring omissions, ("Run Like Hell", "Mother", anything from Atom Heart Mother), but I chalk this up to "How the hell were we going to include everything on two discs?" syndrome. Certain fans could argue that less of the Syd Barrett and post Roger Waters stuff would've solved that problem and strengthened the quality of the set. I contend, however, that you have to have these eras included to give a new listener an accurate portrayal of the band's output.

The fanboy gets outstanding packaging done by longtime Floyd collaborator Storm Thorgerson, one song that was previously unreleased ("When the Tigers Broke Free"), and excellent mixing and mastering by engineer James Guthrie. The nifty song ordering and well executed segues make this album well worth listening to if you're a fan of the feel and flow of a Floyd album. Who would've thought that "Us and Them" merging into "Learning to Fly" would be so cool? And Guthrie was particular inspired when doing the end of the second disc:
  • "Arnold Layne", by Syd Barrett, flows into:
  • "Wish You Were", a song and album about Syd (no longer in the band). This is bookended at the other side by:
  • "Jugland Blues", Syd's song which appears to be about how he knew he was being kicked out of the band, to:
  • "High Hopes", an autobiographical song for David Gilmour, thus no doubt including references to Syd. It ends with the sounds of bells, no doubt referring to the division bell in the British House of Commons. This leads to:
  • "Bike", which kicks off with a newly added sound sample of a bicycle.
Much has been made of the edited versions of some of the songs. Most of them aren't worth mentioning, but the smaller "Echoes" and newly recompiled, yet shrunken, "Shine" are.

"Echoes", the monstrosity that takes up nearly 24 minutes and the entire second side of Meddle, has been sliced to just under 17 minutes. I've always been of the opinion that this song is a bit exasperating, and I think Guthrie did a pretty good job of nipping and tucking the tune in the places it goes on for a just a few measures too long. The incredibly surreal "whale" and "seagull" bit does somehow lose something in its shortened state (art this weird gets its point across better when it batters the listener with no foreseeable end), but it isn't a humongous loss in the grand scheme of the work.

"Shine On You Crazy Diamond", however, doesn't work too well in its new form. Sadly, a great guitar solo has been removed from Part 3, and Parts 8 and 9 have been completely eliminated.

The other experiment, making the song an entire whole rather than split into two halves, makes the song ponderous. On the album version, revisiting musical themes after breaking from them for about 18 minutes, works well. The listener says, "Wow, I did like those passages, and hearing them again now, after I forgot all about them, is like a childhood friend paying a much needed visit."

But with the newly fused version, it just makes one realize that there's no need to hear the end of Part 6 and all of Part 7 because we just heard them a couple of minutes ago during Parts 4 and 5. In this situation, your old friend has come over, and not only refuses to leave, but has set up a shantytown in your living room. Did I neglect to tell you about the Stouffer's French bread pizza boxes and half-empty plastic gallons of milk he's left strewn all over the sofa and floor?

In the final analysis, however, one shouldn't make too much of these shortcomings. After all, the fanboy will own the original albums, and the newcomer will hopefully be enthralled enough to go buy them. What we have here is a package that is a lot better thought out and executed than your normal "best of" collection, which is just what the music of Pink Floyd deserves.


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