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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Pink Floyd: Delicate Sound Of Thunder

PINK FLOYD: DELICATE SOUND OF THUNDER (1988)

1) Shine On You Crazy Diamond; 2) Learning To Fly; 3) Yet Another Movie; 4) Round And Around; 5) Sorrow; 6) The Dogs Of War; 7) On The Turning Away; 8) One Of These Days; 9) Time; 10) Wish You Were Here; 11) Us And Them; 12) Money; 13) Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2; 14) Comfortably Numb; 15) Run Like Hell.

General verdict: Passable live album — great songs, bad decisions, questionable atmosphere.

I certainly cannot be sure, but I think there must have been an uneasy vibe about Dave Floyd's 1987-89 tour in support of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. Not only because it was their first tour in seven years, but also because without Roger they had to make a fresh start — with Gilmour, Wright, and Mason now having to take upon themselves all the creative, visual, choreo­graphic, presentational decisions, and managing to stay true to the Floyd spirit as well as take into account the (not so precious) popular tastes of the mid-to-late Eighties.

Ironically, at their peak Pink Floyd did not even bother to think about live albums — or, if they did, nobody ever pushed strong enough to make it come true. Arguably the main reason behind this was that a Pink Floyd live show had to be seen, not heard: and, indeed, Delicate Sound Of Thunder was both recorded and filmed, although, unlike the album, the film has long since been out of print. But it may also be true that, at their peak, the band simply regarded the perspective of a live album as an excess, a sign of artistic weakness — and so, Delicate Sound Of Thunder may have easily become a nice weapon in the hands of Gilmour detractors. Like, what is the point of releasing (inferior) versions of classics like ʽMoneyʼ or ʽComfortably Numbʼ, if not to simply re-establish your claim on them, showing the world that the current lineup of Pink Floyd is the true, genuine item even without its primary creative driver?

It may have been just like that, yes. But in retrospect, Delicate Sound Of Thunder stands out as Floyd's (including Gilmour solo) weakest live album not because it had some inferior-ulterior motives behind its production, but because of two other things: an unbalanced and rather banal setlist, and an inability to think of any great ways to rejuvenate and re-embellish their legacy. This new Floyd was clearly still getting its bearings, and perhaps the late Eighties were not the best time for getting them.

The setlist is particularly telling. After a nice opening teaser with the first part of ʽShine Onʼ (probably the single best performance on the album, largely because it stays true to the original without any serious changes in tones or arrangements), the first part is essentially a complete re-run of Momentary Lapse, while the second part is a crudely put together mix of Big Classic Hits and nothing else. The implied feeling is clear: "If you are patient enough to sit through all of our new shit, we will be nice and play ʽTimeʼ and ʽMoneyʼ and ʽwe don't need no educationʼ for you, because this is what you came for, is it not?" And while they were all perfectly in their own right to adopt this attitude, we are perfectly in our own right to say that, because of this, Delicate Sound Of Thunder at times feels stiff, at times unsecure, at times give-the-people-what-they-want-ish: not the kind of record that you make when you have to prove the usefulness and relevance of your continued existence.

I would be perfectly willing to forget them all the theoretical transgressions if the Big Classic Hits were played well, but I have at least three unsurmountable problems here. Number one: what the hell are they doing with ʽMoneyʼ — who was the genius that told David to include a lax, slippery reggae section in the middle? Number two: what's up with the «experimental» twiddling of the guitar solo in ʽTimeʼ, replacing the harmonically perfect flow of the original with poorly improvised ugliness? Number three: is there anybody out there who actually likes what they did with the lead vocals on the verses to ʽComfortably Numbʼ? That part is not supposed to be a duet, and it is not supposed to be sung in that particular key: it is a doctor speaking to his patient, not a drowning sinner calling from the deep.

These are just some of the most glaring examples of things that went wrong here — things that, admittedly, would all be corrected by the time of the next tour, but since Pink Floyd concerts are not like Who concerts or even like Fleetwood Mac concerts and the songs generally stay the same, it makes misguided decisions such as the ones taken on this album stand out in a particu­larly unfavorable light. Most likely, there will rarely be a time when you are going to be in the mood for a live Floyd album, but once that time does arrive, the probability that you will pull out Delicate Sound Of Thunder instead of Pulse or the archival Wall Live seems quite low to me. Pulse, in particular, obliterates the need for Thunder completely — it has all the Big Classic Hits in superior versions, removes some of the biggest Lapse Of Reason stinkers like ʽDogs Of Warʼ, and generally feels more cohesive and purposeful.

Of course, one cannot take away the historical importance: visually, «live Pink Floyd» is almost certainly going to be the 1987–1995 Pink Floyd, since the band never liked filming their shows in the classic days — and the record does introduce the by-now familiar extended Floyd lineup, with regulars such as Guy Pratt on bass, Tim Renwick on second guitar, and Jon Carin on additional keyboards (the guy who went on to play with both Gilmour and Waters). Plus, on the whole the album is certainly listenable: Gilmour will have to be totally disintegrated before he can do a bad ʽComfortably Numbʼ solo (he does quite intentionally botch the one on ʽTimeʼ, as I said), and there was never a time when Wright did not sound adorable and cathartic when singing on ʽUs And Themʼ. It's just that the only reason to listen to it may have been when you were faced with the uneasy choice of paying top dollar for a brand new blinking copy of Pulse or fishing out a used copy of Thunder from the two-dollar bin. And now, in this brand new streaming age, you might never be faced with such a choice again.

2 comments:

  1. "But in retrospect, Delicate Sound Of Thunder stands out as Floyd's weakest live album not because it had some inferior-ulterior motives..."

    I wouldn't be so generous. But I see how including such a provision frees you up to torpedo a commercial rip-off on purely artistic grounds. This marked the beginning of Pink Floyd on Ice.

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  2. Wright didn't sing "Us And Them" (aside of the chorus). It's Gilmour, both in the original and here.

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