Pink Floyd • Wish You Were Here

Analogue Productions CAPP 33453 SA
Hybrid Multichannel SACD
1975/2011

Music

Sound

by Roy Gregory | November 1, 2011

ou’d have to have been stranded on some desert island, lodged in a Tibetan monastery or abandoned somewhere in the furthest reaches of the outback to be unaware of the hoo-hah surrounding the re-release of Pink Floyd’s 1975 masterpiece Wish You Were Here. Appearing two and a half years after The Dark Side of the Moon, this was a far more developed and polished product, in both musical and production terms, taking familiar forms and themes to a dramatically higher plane. It might not have had the revolutionary impact of the earlier album, but it was a better record by every other (albeit self-indulgent) measure. Touching down a mere year before the angry, snarling emergence of punk, all spikey hair, safety pins and attitude, Wish You Were Here took aural navel-gazing to new and glorious heights.

It's ironic, then, that punk’s favorite bÍte noir, EMI records, should be wheeling out the old classics for one last hurrah -- and milking them for all they’re worth. Perhaps appropriately, that exercise reaches new levels of pomposity in the case of Wish You Were Here, with a choice of 180-gram LP, the double-CD Experience version and even-more-over-the-top Immersion box set, the latter offering no fewer than five discs in various formats along with a bunch of booklets, "goodies" and memorabilia. From the top, that constitutes: a remastered CD of the original album; a CD of rarities and unreleased material; an all-audio DVD offering original stereo, quad and 5.1 mixes, the latter each in two different resolutions (448 and 640 kbps); a DVD of various video clips; a Blu-ray Disc with 24-bit/96kHz versions of the original stereo album, the recent James Guthrie 5.1 surround remix and some of the same video material featured on the DVD. That makes for no fewer than eight slightly different versions of the same album. In fact, let’s make that very slightly. No wonder they called it the Immersion box set -- it’s a wonder they didn’t subtitle it "Not Waving But Drowning." And the cost for this all-consuming Floydtastic experience? Somewhere around the $120 mark!

The vinyl verdict is in

Pink Floyd • Wish You Were Here
EMI SHVL 814
180-gram LP
1975, 2011

Music

Sound

by Roy Gregory | November 14, 2011

Now that the official release date has come and gone I’m finally in a position to purchase, listen to and report back on the EMI LP reissue of Wish You Were Here.

First things first: mastered by Doug Sax, the 180-gram slab is beautifully clean, flat and the surfaces are wonderfully quiet. The record also includes a download code, allowing you to access a free 320 kpbs MP3 version of the album. The packaging is first-rate, although you need to be cautious when first removing that familiar white card sleeve proper from the black plastic bag in which it is delivered. The self-adhesive flap on the poly bag can easily drop on and adhere to the sleeve as you remove it. Yes, you’ll get it off with a little care without damaging the surface of the card, but why take the risk? Fold it well out of the way and keep it there while you remove the goodies inside. You’ll also need a decent inner sleeve to protect the record itself from the plain, unlined card inner provided, although in this regard the re-release only mirrors the original.

How does it sound? Not nearly as good as it should. Yes, it’s the same James Guthrie Floyd-approved remix as used for the SACD and Immersion box set, meaning that there are subtle musical distinctions from the original, but sonically it simply doesn’t measure up to either my early original pressing or the several secondhand copies I searched out (without difficulty) in preparation for this review. I went to great lengths to ensure that the new release had every chance: I optimized VTA for each disc, cleaned, demagged and destatted before play. Even so, it came up well short.

If you want specifics, the reissue lacked transparency and depth, texture and detail on the keyboard chords, space and separation around the small percussion touches. Gilmour’s guitar is strangely muted and distant in comparison with the stark attack of my UK-pressed original, while Mason’s drumming lacks the pile-driver weight and impact that so effectively underpins that first release. But ultimately, what’s more worrying is that there’s a softening and slowing of the music, a slightly disjointed, almost mechanical feel that robs it of fluidity, momentum and drama. Now think about those familiar guitar lines and their effortless articulation and flow; well, you ain’t getting them here! And that’s what’s so disappointing about this re-release. You can argue about the remix or the intrinsic value of the music, but this LP actually undermines the playing and production subtleties that contributed so much to this record in the first place. Its heavy, turgid and hesitant presentation simply doesn’t pull you in or carry you along in the way this music has to if it’s to connect on any kind of emotional level. Instead, it sounds sluggish and sprawling, lackluster and ultimately tedious, just adding weight to all those accusations that the music is nothing more than self-indulgent navel gazing.

If you don’t own already own the original but do want the music, you should consider buying secondhand -- or ordering the SACD. If you already have the record and were thinking of treating yourself to a nice new audiophile pressing, just be glad that I wasted my money and you don’t have to waste yours.

Alternatively, you can just buy this hybrid SACD from Analogue Productions for less than a third of that figure. Released on the same day (November 8th) and featuring the same James Guthrie-remastered versions of the original album on the CD layer and the 5.1 version on the SACD, it’s everything you actually want -- and none of the bollocks (to quote the Sex Pistols) that you don’t. Well, okay, it wouldn’t be a Floyd album if you didn’t get a few extraneous pictures, postcards or the like, but at least here it’s kept to a minimum -- just enough to respect the tradition, not so much as to denude the Amazon rain forests.

So much for the packaging. What about the product? If ever an album was made for surround replay, Wish You Were Here was it. Originally conceived with a Quad mix in mind, the massive scale and bandwidth demands of the album reinforce the benefits of the multichannel format. If ever a record should have been labeled "PLAY LOUD," this was it, and five channels of amplification, five speakers and the underpinning of a serious subwoofer might not be essential, but they certainly add to the effect. Regular Floyd producer Guthrie has created a tasteful and effective 5.1 mix that actually succeeds in adding to the music, the spatial embellishments and immersive quality simply extending the sense and impact of the event. But even in stereo, whether from CD or SACD, this latest remix adds clarity, poise and presence to an album that feeds on those very qualities. The stark contrast of heavily layered backgrounds and Gilmour’s searing guitar lines, Mason’s stolid drumming and Rick Wright’s perfectly measured, fugue-like keyboards have never been so startlingly realized. The dark cynicism of Waters’ lyrics is heightened, the almost nihilistic desolation taking on a retrospective ring of impending doom, precursor to not just The Wall but the barbarian hordes waiting in the wings.

Compared to my original UK LP, the SACD offers a slightly leaner and more crisply defined bottom end, not so much a case of less weight but bass that is more linear and runs deeper -- mind you, you’ll need seriously full-range speakers to appreciate that fact. In turn, that results in greater separation, a starker presentation across the rest of the range. The LP sounds fuller and more rounded, but the intricate structures, the multiple layers and studio drop-ins, are clearer and more effective on the remixed disc. In part, whilst that reflects the differing characters of the source components (in my case, Wadia and dCS for digital, VPI for vinyl) there’s a definite sense of precision and crisper edges on the digital disc, a snap that certainly suits the music -- and arguably updates it for ears accustomed to sequencers, samples and the hard-edged slabs of bass that typify modern electronic tracks.

I haven’t heard the reissued LP, but the SACD, whether playing the high-res layer or the Red Book version, handily betters those previous digital incarnations I have access to, including a Sony Mastersound Super Bit Mapped "Special Edition." There’s much greater clarity and separation, more detail and better low-level resolution. Take the title track as an example: Not only does the remix add extra material to the "radio" intro, the arrival of Gilmour center stage and the subsequent sudden, stark presence of his guitar opening are more focused -- and more dramatic as a result. As the band add their weight to the track, the original CD allows the slightly recessed vocal to recede even further into the mix, whereas the SACD version keeps not just the vocal but the drums and keyboards more separate and identifiable. This increase in clarity and intelligibility runs across the board, making the SACD a clear winner. This sonic superiority isn’t just cosmetic; the areas in which this disc excels are peculiarly appropriate to the material, resulting in musical benefits that are actually greater than the sum of the sonic improvements would suggest.

The other pertinent question with any reissue is the opportunity of picking up original copies, especially if it’s the vinyl version that interests you. With an album like this, early pressings are not hard to find, although the predominantly white sleeve means that pristine examples are a bit few and far between. The record itself is, of course, another matter, and I found several mint copies without any problem -- including the obligatory grass crumbs, just to set the scene with that extra whiff of nostalgia. How they compare to the reissue we’ll have to wait and see, but expect an answer once the repressed vinyl becomes available. Of two things you can be sure: originals are going to be cheaper, and based on the drab sound of the Dark Side anniversary LP, I’m not exactly holding my breath!

So, whether Wish You Were Here represents a nostalgic trip down memory lane or an opportunity to discover just what your parents were getting so excited about, the Analogue Productions SACD should be the weapon of choice. At less than a third of the price of the Immersion box set and in musical terms shorn only of multiple (less interesting) versions of the same thing, it clearly offers the best two-channel value out there. Those with really high-quality multichannel playback (not just a Blu-ray player and 5.1 setup with the TV) can make their choice based on format, but having heard the discrete five-channel playback from this disc, I can assure you that you’ll not be disappointed. In fact, the only disappointing thing is just how few people will actually get to hear it the way it can sound. For once we have a reissue that stands up to the hype.

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