Wish You Were Here
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2011, Volume 18, #9
Written by John Metzger
Tue December 20, 2011, 05:30 AM CST
Syd Barrett’s tenure with Pink Floyd was relatively short, but the impact that he had upon the ensemble lingered for the duration of its career. When he was ousted from Pink Floyd after the release of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Barrett was largely considered to be the creative force behind the group. Arguably, this perception — while certainly true at the time — provided the spark that drove Pink Floyd to prove that its brightest moments were yet to come.
The post-Barrett era of Pink Floyd began with the completion of A Saucerful of Secrets, and it continued through the group’s reunion on stage at the Live 8 concert in 2005. Its future remains murky, though the tentative reconciliation of Roger Waters and David Gilmour in recent months has improved the odds, however slightly, that there might yet be more music from Pink Floyd lurking on the horizon. Even so, it is difficult to imagine that the outfit will ever enjoy a creative surge quite like the one that crested between 1972 and 1975.
For several years, Pink Floyd had appeared to be on the verge of sculpting its grand statement. Even so, in the annals of rock history, the success of The Dark Side of the Moon was unprecedented. Recorded in 1972 and issued the following spring, the album was conceptual in nature. Over the course of the affair, Pink Floyd philosophically pondered the meaning of life and death as well as the politicization of human behavior and the definition of sanity. Many of its songs had been developed on stage before they were captured on tape. Instantaneously embraced by the record-buying public, the effort further bolstered Pink Floyd’s determination to mine material from Barrett’s mental collapse and subsequent departure.
While on tour in support of The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd began to formulate ideas for its future projects, which not only included its 1975 outing Wish You Were Here but also its 1977 endeavor Animals. Several moments from a concert at The Empire Pool at Wembley in London are included as bonus material on Wish You Were Here: Experience Edition. Taken together, they highlight the long-range objectives of Pink Floyd. Shine on You Crazy Diamond is fully intact, and although Raving and Drooling and You’ve Got to Be Crazy remained works-in-progress, they easily are identifiable as the foundations of Sheep and Dogs, respectively. The other unveiled treasure on Wish You Were Here: Experience Edition is an alternate rendition of the title track — one that features a gracefully mournful violin accompaniment from Stéphane Grappelli.
Nevertheless, as remarkable as its bonus selections are, Wish You Were Here doesn’t need any extra material to justify its existence. Although it often is overlooked in favor of its predecessor, the album is just as stellar as The Dark Side of the Moon. In some ways, Wish You Were Here provides further clarity on the impact Barrett’s breakdown had upon the ensemble. Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Pink Floyd’s ode to its fallen leader, is split into pieces that envelop the set. Looping washes of synthesizer paint a churchly glow over the affair, while Gilmour’s blues-inflected guitar screams with sadness over the band’s loss.
The middle section of Wish You Were Here is devoted to illuminating how difficult it was for Pink Floyd to overcome Barrett’s mental collapse. With its throbbing, mechanical accompaniment, Welcome to the Machine is a scathing indictment of modern society’s tendency to gravitate toward conformity rather than creativity, while the sleazy funk of Have a Cigar takes direct aim at the music business. Both songs are filled with disillusion, disconnection, and dread. As preludes to the title track, they bring to light the notion that, once they were left to shoulder the burden, the members of Pink Floyd had a better understanding of the pressures that tore Barrett apart.
Over the years, Wish You Were Here has been remastered on multiple occasions, but the latest version by James Guthrie might be the best yet. Even in stereo, the listener is carried into the center of Abbey Road Studios in London, where Pink Floyd recorded the album. Only the 5.1 surround sound mix that is included with the expansive Immersion Edition is likely to get fans any closer to the heart of the endeavor.
Of Further Interest...
Wish You Were Here: Experience Edition is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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