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Reviews

Dark Side of the Moon

Rupert Loydell

  RFloyd.jpg

The Dark Side Of The Moon
Pink Floyd
EMI Records

The Dark Side of the Moon is one of those records that have been rediscovered by each new wave of listeners since its release in 1973. Its iconic sleeve is as instantly recognisable to my students as it was to my schoolboy peers back in the 70s. Its seven songs take life, sex, death, war, money and religion as their subjects, and are ordered to map a vague journey through life. Declaimed cod philosophy is accompanied by stately guitar solos, sound effects and witty spoken interjections. 

The early mix, available for the first time in this new box set, offers us the same songs, but with different effects and vocals. It clearly needed tweaking, and it was, expertly so. Something is missing here; it doesn't flow, it isn't the album we know and love and I suspect wouldn't have become as iconic or succesful. The new reissue may sound stunning, but this album always has.

Prog rock (which seems to be undergoing some kind of revival) was/is often about excess and spectacle, but Dark Side has at its heart a collection of simple songs, many of them catchy and hummable. It may be miserable from the outset, it may digress through the sound collage of 'On the Run', but this is Floyd moving from psychedelic excess to short songs that have been carefully and thematically grouped together. Even the vocal shrieks, sighs and groans on 'The Great Gig in the Sky' have now become so ordinary that a window cleaning advert used it as a soundtrack, while the ecstatic tremelo guitar panning from side to side on 'Any Colour You Like' is carefully controlled and never becomes free or wild enough to upset even the most timid listener.

So what are these reissues about? I may have some middle-aged loss of hearing, but it doesn't sound very different to me; the live tracks have been illegally available and easy to download for a long time now, as have some of the demos of other projects included. The early mix version is interesting but not something I shall play very often. I may watch the normal DVD footage but the SACD, 8 track, quadrophonic, bluray and surround sound versions are of no use or interest to me. 

One thing the web seems to have offered us is a way to contextualise and revisit everything, and I suspect that truth be told, the excess of the Dark Side box set is really about Pink Floyd cashing in on the current trend for owning every rehearsal tape, demo, studio outtake and alternate version of everything. The glossy book is a lovely thing to own, but most of the texts are reruns, stuff we can find written or talked about in a hundred magazine articles and interviews over the last 40 years; it too will soon be back in its box.

Dark Side of the Moon is a great album. It appears to critique and discuss a number of important issues, but ultimately it offers no real depth or answers. There is no suggestion of spirituality or faith here. Church is just religion - bells heard in the distance on a Sunday morning, part of the English pastoral dream. This cultural vagueness is I suspect part of its charm. Every listener can buy into what the band offer without having to think very hard about it. The final track chants a list about us all and then concludes with the astonishing revelation that 'the sun is eclipsed by the moon' before the album fades into the heartbeat that started the album. I don't wish to knock it, but in many ways Dark Side is a great example of style over content, a concept album without a real concept, a non-threatening challenge to us all.

Pink Floyd would go on to produce two more great albums. Wish You Were Here (which is also about to be reissued as abox set) explores alienation and madness through the lengthy opening track, while Animals was a blunter more political beast that spat venom at Thatcher and her accomplices in political wickedness. Then the rot set in, with the ever-more paranoid Roger Waters assuming control, eventually leading to the band breaking up and not speaking to each other for many years. 

Back on the Dark Side of the Moon, however, there is only the slightest hint of paranoia, along with an amiable pastoral moroseness. The music chimes and sparkles, voices fade in and out, a synthesizer burbles in the background, a woman offers a wordless elegy for the dead, singers sing important-sounding words. We don't, of course, have to buy any of these or any other reissues, but I for one will 'see you on the dark side of the moon'  - the original LP version.