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Pink Floyd - Delicate Sound of Thunder CD (album) cover


Pink Floyd


Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.41 | 617 ratings

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2 stars The double-disc live release from Pink Floyd's 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' tour in 1988 marked the prog rock band's first official live release since the four-song 'Ummagumma' twenty years previously. Since then, the band escalated to international fame, helped innovate a whole new style of music and released a string of incredible and successful albums (it's estimated that 1 in every 14 American citizens own a copy of the band's magnum opus, 'Dark Side of the Moon.') As the first live album since 'Meddle,' 'Dark Side.,' 'Wish You Were Here,' 'Animals' and 'The Wall,' 'The Delicate Sound of Thunder' has a lot to live up to.

The 1980s were a turbulent and stressful time for Pink Floyd, a rock band whose popularity was dwindling from year to year. Jealous ex-bass player and totalitarian songwriter Roger Waters tried his hardest to destroy the band through courts, for the treacherous decision of its two official remaining members not to disband, and to continue using the successful Pink Floyd name. Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way, and Waters eventually came out of court a loser, grumpier and ready to embark on a disappointing string of solo projects. Meanwhile, guitarist (and now full-time vocalist) David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason brought back keyboard player Rick Wright once again, and created 'Momentary Lapse of Reason' with the aid of a host of session musicians. Wright was originally fired from the band in 1979 by Waters and not officially reinstated by Gilmour until 1994. for some reason.

The 1987 album the tour promoted was fairly bland and disappointing. Could the live album fare better? Could the mixture of old and new material prove that the band still had what it takes? Have you seen the star-rating I've given to this thing?

Disc 1

It's difficult to decide whether the plethora of new material in the first half of the album demonstrates admirable confidence by Gilmour and associates (a.k.a. Pink Floyd) in their creations, or a desperate attempt at promoting a studio album with mediocre sales. Regardless of motive, this results in a largely unimpressive first disc, offerings such as 'Dogs of War' and 'Yet Another Movie'/'Round and Round' sounding entirely dispensable, and even a little insulting in light of all the excellent songs of the Pink Floyd back catalogue that fail to appear here. The tour sought to promote the new stuff, and as such the poppy and catchy 'Learning to Fly,' the epic 'Sorrow' and the reflective and sombre 'On the Turning Away' represent the highlights of the previous album.

Opinion differs on whether these official live versions improve upon the studio originals, but it's my opinion that they don't. They stand out a little more when isolated from the filler tracks on the studio release, but the mixing of instruments just isn't right on this release. We get to hear Gilmour's nice solo for 'Sorrow' in full, rather than the canonical rubbish fade-out, but the trademark Floyd sax can barely be heard, it's so low in the mix. Gilmour's gruff vocals are more grating than ever through this live show, even affecting the best song on disc one, the spacey prog classic 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V).' The perfectionist attitude to studio production of the band's 70s albums means that live versions will always seem somewhat inferior.

Disc 2

Put simply, and correctly (excluding 'Shine On'), disc one represents 'new stuff' and disc two features 'the classics.' All of these songs stem from the band's creative and successful peak throughout the 70s, showcasing every album from this classic period apart from the always overlooked 'Animals.' As I suggested above, none of these versions improve on the studio originals, but the collection is rendered collectable and valid for the band's rare 'improvisations' (however tried-and-tested that 'Money' jam may be) and departures from the rigid format of the original songs.

As with disc one, there are issues with production which affect the vocals and subsidiary instruments, including whatever the sound effects are projected from, as the iconic chimes and cash registers are so comparatively quiet against the instruments, it takes some time to notice that 'Time' has even started. Mason's rolling drum intro to that song also sounds much weaker than in the studio and other live versions, yet Gilmour's guitar always emerges from the mix unscathed. Conspiracy theorists could suggest an agenda behind emphasising the band's new 'leader' figure in Gilmour, but such people also claim that 'Dark Side of the Moon' was secretly created to synchronise flawlessly as the soundtrack to 'The Wizard of Oz,' despite the fact that the band clearly didn't intend this, and that it doesn't, even, anyway.

The rocky instrumental 'One of These Days' is perhaps the best cut here and, as something of a jam piece, benefits from the full band live presence. Even so, the volume levelling spoils the 'twist' half-way through as the song breaks into a faster, louder piece, as the difference between the two sections isn't as pronounced as it needs to be. Everything that follows is by-the-numbers Floyd live favourites: the afore-mentioned 'Time' is joined by its studio counterparts 'Money' and 'Us & Them,' the former extended to ten minutes by extending the sax solo and then simply repeating the infamous 7/4 riff for longer than necessary.

The mellow, semi-ballad offerings come in the form of the acoustic title track from 'Wish You Were Here' and Wall drugs classic, 'Comfortably Numb.' Both are excellent songs, and are played perfectly, but their necessity at live shows such as this robs them of the beauty present in the studio originals. The same can't be said of 'Another Brick in the Wall II,' one of the band's most well-known songs and also one of the most annoying in their discography ("we down't need now fort controw"). This live version falls flat, especially in the unsuccessful attempt to extend it at the end with backing vocals, but it was going to be on here regardless. Finally, 'Run Like Hell' is something of a surprise from 'The Wall,' played without embellishment and comparable to the original, but I've never really enjoyed the disco drum beat of this one.

'The Delicate Sound of Thunder' is an acceptable live album of the 'Momentary Lapse of Reason' tour, and probably surpasses bootlegs, but it falls short as the first Floyd live album of the decade. Granted, the new material must be played, as must some of the more grating overplayed classics, and there's hardly enough space to include much else. But still, the band could have attempted more coverage of their legacy, especially pre-1973. The slight mix of styles works well here, comparing 'Learning to Fly' to 'Us & Them' and 'Run Like Hell' for example, and this could have continued by backtracking to the band's psychedelic and epic days. This is the band that won the rights to use the Pink Floyd name and play all the Pink Floyd songs, yet apart from Gilmour's licks it sounds more like a crowd-pleasing cover band.

This album would soon be usurped by 1995's 'P-U-L-S-E,' commemorating the tour of the follow-up album 'Division Bell' and including all the good songs from 'Delicate' (yes, every single one) as well as more impressive gems such as 'High Hopes,' 'Astronomy Domine' and the entire 'Dark Side of the Moon' album played from start to finish, just because the band can. It's alleged that 'P-U-L-S-E' was released partly as a sort of apology for the poor quality of 'Delicate,' and it certainly renders this earlier effort obsolete and unnecessary.

Its only real notable feat is that it was the first rock music played in space, as an advance cassette tape of the album was taken into orbit by Russian cosmonauts, leading to some handy 'First in Space' T-shirt merchandising by the band's promoters. Even with this historical significance, 'The Delicate Sound of Thunder' is a flimsy and temporary phenomena that makes a bit of noise and then goes forgotten, a companion piece to an equally dispensable come-back record.

Frankingsteins | 2/5 |


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