Friday, September 14, 2007

Piper at the Gates of Dawn 40th Anniversary Edition

Just a few quick words about the new Pink Floyd/Piper at the Gates of Dawn re-release, in time for the anniversary of '67.

Personally, I consider this to be one of the most treasured albums in my collection, alongside the best of the Beatles, the Zombies, etc. Those who dismiss Pink Floyd after having heard some of their prog-rock era material--or even just a fleeting listen to the earlier material--need to pay more attention to Syd Barrett and what he was doing: not just with his scorching guitar, but in terms of songwriting, which was completely original. Whether or not it was mental imbalance behind it, the creativity in the earliest Pink Floyd material is astonishing, as well as inspiring. Listen to "Bike" and you have the best example. Barrett died last year, and left us with very few recordings to appreciate his genius, but Piper has always been the treasure chest.

The band has always been reluctant to release special editions of their albums, although it's become standard for any other 60's band. (Even the Beatles eventually came through.) An anniversary edition of this album at first seemed like an answer to my long-held prayers. The result is a little disappointing, but with enough pluses to recommend it. There are two anniversary editions: first up, and released a week earlier, is a 2-disc version in a jewel case, which features the much-sought-after mono version of the album on the 2nd disc. No bonus tracks, although the mono is a revelation, as new details are revealed in the remixing. Some of the songs merely sound flatter, but others have a distinctly different texture from the originals, with plenty of little sonic surprises for long-time fans of the album. You'll have to discover them on your own. It's the same album, but viewed through a different shade of cellophane.

A third, bonus disc is available if you spring for the more expensive edition, which packages everything in a cloth-cover book, with glossy, full-color pages featuring lyrics, photos, and even a removable reproduction of a notebook of Syd Barrett's from 1965, replete with poetry, prose, drawings and collage. (One page is left out, due to rights issues.) All of this is nice, but a most valuable feature would be liner notes detailing the production of the album--again, standard for most 60's album reissues. The third CD features the early singles: cross-dressing "Arnold Layne," "Candy and a Currant Bun," "See Emily Play" (one of my big favorites, although I doubt the band feels the same), "Apples and Oranges," "Paint Box," plus alternate versions of "Interstellar Overdrive" (two) and "Matilda Mother." That last track has almost completely different lyrics.

Missing are "Vegetable Man" and "Scream Thy Last Scream," which is a little strange, as they're among the most important unreleased tracks in the band's history from a music archivist's point of view. We can hold out (dim) hope that they'll be released on a reissue of Saucerful of Secrets. But the bonus CD is barely over half an hour, leaving plenty of room. In the meantime, what the box set does offer is a closer look at one of the most important albums of 1967, allowing you to unfold its layers panel by panel, scrutinizing the ornate details. If you're a fan, take the plunge and buy it--it sounds spectacular on uncompressed CD.

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