It’s hard not to wonder, sifting through the treasure chest – or toy chest, perhaps – that’s the Immersion Box Set of Pink Floyd’s landmark 1973 rock opus The Dark Side of the Moon (EMI 50999 029431 2, 2011). It’s not hard to imagine many Floyd devotees finding themselves over the rainbow with this package, and of course that famous rainbow is everywhere in this box set. It’s emblazoned on the glass marbles, housed in a compact pouch; on the Roy Lichtenstein-styled art print; on a lyric booklet; and on a natty black scarf! That’s not all. The 29 cm box (which sets it apart from the traditional LP-sized Super Deluxe packages of late) also includes a set of nine coasters, two more books (one of tour photographs and another of credits) and three simple black envelopes of assorted shapes and sizes. One offers replicas of a concert ticket to February 18’s Rainbow Theatre performance, another contains four “anti-cigarette cards” from a set of 57, and the third offers a print of the handwritten “Questions for Assorted Lunatics.” For those keeping score, I haven’t even yet mentioned the ostensible raison d’être for this collection of odds and ends: six discs, each illuminating a different aspect of the complete Dark Side mythos.
This set, by its very nature, is designed for those who already know and love the album itself. For a generation waiting to discover it, comparatively simple one- and two-disc Discovery and Experience Editions are also available. The band-produced album, with lyrics by bassist/vocalist Roger Waters and music by Waters, vocalist/guitarist David Gilmour, percussionist Nick Mason and keyboardist/vocalist Richard Wright, remains as singular an entity as it was upon its initial release. Heartbeats, sprinkled dialogue, ringing bells, the clinking of coins, the layers of VCS3 synthesizer lines and roaring guitars add up to a hypnotic barrage of sounds that vie for the listener’s attention.
The six compact discs of the Immersion Box Set are tidily organized. On the first disc is, of course, the original Dark Side, which needs no introduction. James Guthrie and Joel Plante have subtly remastered the album which crystallized the ambition and studio prowess of the ever-evolving unit. Compared to previous albums, Dark Side offered more focused songs, with fewer lengthy psychedelic “trips.” Its seamless flow of one song into the next, sans any pauses save for the original LP’s side break, is a model of construction and argument for the power of an album as a cohesive single thought, or whole, rather than a mere collection of disparate songs. (That said, “Money” was extracted to become a Top 20 single.) The album’s power is heightened by its tight, roughly 43-minute running time. Whereas so many artists today are unfortunately compelled to fill a CD’s nearly 80-minute capacity, Waters, Gilmour, Wright and Mason had no place for filler in their cerebral vision,. A lysergic fusion of tape effects and anthemic rock songs, it’s not hard to see why Dark Side of the Moon spellbound so many listeners. In fact, it remained in the charts for a mind-blowing 741 weeks between 1973 and 1988! Its human journey, touching on themes of greed, time, mortality and insanity, is still relevant today. Though the album sometimes sounds as if it’s speaking to a disaffected generation, those themes have continued to resonate on a wider level.
The first verse of joint band composition “Time” could describe the album’s effects on its listeners, with its vocals flowing from pained screams to disaffected acceptance: “Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day/Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way/Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town/Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.” Dark Side of the Moon undoubtedly showed many the way.
To immerse yourself in the other discs, hit the jump!
Disc 2 is dedicated to a live run-through of the entire album from The Empire Pool in Wembley, London, circa November, 1974. Though the band made an effort to replicate the album onstage, complete with sound effects, the performance is far from identical, with differing instrumental excursions and a less precious, more rough-hewn sound appropriate for a live rock band at the height of its powers. Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams joined the band for the backing vocals. (The original studio album is available as a stand-alone Discovery Edition disc, and a two-disc Experience Edition also containing this concert as its second disc.)
The original studio recording of Dark Side is presented in multiple mixes over three discs in the Immersion Box. Disc 3 is an audio DVD containing James Guthrie’s 2003 mix in 5.1 surround (originally created for SACD) in both 448 kbps and 640 kbps quality; the original stereo mix in LPCM stereo; and engineer Alan Parsons’ original 4.0-channel quadraphonic mix in both 448 and 640 kbps. Disc 5, a Blu-Ray, includes all three mixes in full, superior 96 kHz/24-bit sound. (Unfortunately the audio DVD’s mixes are not in true advanced resolution but rather inferior Dolby Digital.) Finally, Disc 6 leads off with Parsons’ original 1972 early mix of the album.
These numerous options truly make for the “Immersion” part of the box. Each is different enough to make multiple listens warranted. Whether in Guthrie’s 5.1 or Parsons’ 4.0 (eliminating the front center channel and subwoofer), Dark Side is immeasurably enhanced by the effects that only surround sound can offer. While the soundstage of Parsons’ mix was more captivating to these ears, the Guthrie mix far from disappoints. Both expand the stereo soundscape both with ear-opening effects (the cash registers and clinking change of “Money”, the famous heartbeats) and comparatively simple separation of instruments, allowing for each musical contribution to be heard with a revelatory clarity. From the wails of “The Great Gig in the Sky” to the alternately dreamy and nightmarish lounge of “Us and Them,” each song can be heard anew unfolding around you in a surround setting. The sound positively washes over you in “Any Colour You Like,” and each color is more vivid than before. You’ll certainly savor the crystal-clear backing vocals from luminaries Doris Troy and Lesley Duncan, who joined Liza Strike and Barry St. John. Though the optimal audio experience is the 96/24 Blu-Ray, those solely with DVD capabilities shouldn’t be disappointed. Dark Side in surround is a sensory assault of the best kind, no mind-altering substances required!
The early Alan Parsons stereo mix on Disc 6 will appeal mostly, of course, to those who know each and every note of the original album. But for the casual Dark Side fan coming into contact with the disc, there are still pleasures to be found. Though the structure of the album was already set by the time Parsons created the mix in 1972, opening track “Speak to Me” was not yet in place, so this version of the album begins with “Breathe (In the Air).” Another shock to the system is the unfinished “The Great Gig in the Sky,” sans Clare Torry’s wordless vocals which eventually won her a songwriting credit for the track. (In the place of the vocal part, you’ll hear NASA transmissions; one of the song’s earlier permutation sampled Biblical verse.) Needless to say, the song takes on a wholly different character without Torry’s imitable stylings. On “Us and Them,” the saxophone and piano seem more prominent, which has the effect of making the song’s quiet/loud dynamics (“up and down,” as the song’s lyrics go) even more startlingly fresh. There’s not as much “flash” in Parsons’ early mix, as the album isn’t fully developed. But it’s a fascinating window into the creative process to see what was kept, and what was discarded, in shaping the eventual finished song cycle.
The same goes for the additional tracks that round out Disc 6. Best of all are the two demos. Richard Wright’s solo piano demo of “Us and Them” is spare and gorgeous, while Waters’ stark 2-1/2 minute demo of “Money” reveals that he already envisioned the finished song, with the cash register sound effects already in place. A long-coveted track making its official debut here is the instrumental “The Hard Way” from the experimental Household Objects, a shelved album in which the band members would literally play household objects such as mixers, rubber bands and wine glasses. (Another track, literally entitled “Wine Glasses,” will appear on the upcoming Wish You Were Here expansion.)
The Gilmour/Wright/Mason “Any Colour You Like” is one of only two songs on Dark Side with no Roger Waters involvement (the other is Wright’s “Great Gig”). It’s heard along with “The Travel Sequence” (which morphed into “On the Run”) and “The Mortality Sequence” (later “The Great Gig in the Sky”) in embryonic versions. All three come from a June 1972 performance in Brighton; “The Travel Sequence” also appears in a studio take. “The Mortality Sequence” may be the most striking of these, with its eerie organ chords interspersed with spoken word.
Disc 4, a DVD, offers a dazzling array of video material, which is also presented in upgraded quality on the Blu-Ray. A relatively brief 25-minute documentary from 2003 joins two performances from the Brighton Dome recorded on June 29, 1972 and sixty minutes of impressionistic “Concert Screen Films” from the British and French tours of 1974 and the North American tour of 1975. These mini-music videos, some of which are animated, are far from a main attraction, but they certainly are unique time capsules! There are two audio options for these, too: LPCM Stereo and Dolby Digital (448 kbps) surround on the DVD; LPCM Stereo and 48/24 surround on the Blu-Ray. The video quality of the recent documentary is sharp, of course; the archival footage shows its age but looks about as good as could possibly be expected.
With a steep price tag and even steeper expectations, the Immersion Box Set can be viewed as an art object as well as a functional box set. It succeeds more on the former level than on the latter, thanks to the beautiful design of longtime Pink Floyd associate Storm Thorgerson. The interior is classy, attractive and the physical box is sturdy. What makes the box cumbersome is the distressing placement of the first four discs, unprotected, on the bottom interior of the box itself. They’re held in place only via slots with small spindles. Not only is it too easy for the discs to become loose, but the entire contents of the box must be emptied to access them. The remaining two discs are housed in simple sleeves, free to fly around the box at will. (Many have reported scratched discs on arrival, which is far from surprising.) One might have reasonably expected at least book-style or folder format for the discs in such an altogether lavish set.
Three books are included with the Immersion Box Set: Jill Furmanovsky and Hipgnosis’ Pink Floyd on Tour 1972-1974, a general companion book filled with lyrics, photos and memorabilia, and a smaller book with full credits and track listings. This is all well and good. But for all these many pages, the only prose comes from Thorgerson, who reminisces on one page of the main book. Any liner notes putting the album into historical perspective or offering insight into the vast added content are completely absent. While the desire to allow the music of the original album to speak for itself is understandable, additional information would have immeasurably enhanced the overall immersive experience. The lack of liner notes may be the set’s major disappointment. (An amusing inclusion is a mandated designation on the removable back cover sheet designating the product for “14+,” stating “THIS IS NOT A TOY. The contents of this box set are collectible products intended only for persons aged 14 years and older.”)
The Dark Side of the Moon: Immersion Box Set marks an auspicious entry in both the “Why Pink Floyd?” campaign and the major labels’ mega-box sweepstakes. Like the album itself, it’s bold, larger than life, provocative and controversial. I don’t know about you, but I know where you’ll find me. I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.