I’ve just come from reviewing the 2011 remaster of Pink Floyd's "Obscured By Clouds" (the album that followed “Meddle” in June 1972) - which is sonically amazing - but is also disappointingly skimpy on the packaging front (a miniscule 8-page booklet). It’s pretty much an identical story here. But to the details first...
Released 30 October 1971 on Harvest Records SMAS-832 in the USA and 13 November 1971 in the UK on Harvest Records SHVL 795 - original UK copies of the vinyl LP came in an untitled textured gatefold sleeve. American issues were titled and featured reversed artwork on a hard-card sleeve – the back of the UK cover put on the front. This 26 September 2011 version (27 Sep 2011 in the USA) on EMI 50999 028942 2 5 is a straightforward 6-track remaster of that studio album and comes in a gatefold card sleeve (using UK artwork) with a 12-page colour inlay inside (total playing time 48:51 minutes).
Like all the other albums in this 14-title reissue series - "Meddle" has been mastered by JAMES GUTHRIE and JOEL PLANTE at the Das Boot Recording Studios in Tahoe in California (Guthrie is a Sound Engineer associated with the band since 1978). The original 1st generation master tapes have obviously been given a thorough going over because it truly feels like each song has had a staggering amount of time spent on them worrying out every single nuance possible. The audio result is truly impressive.
On the 1995 remaster the six-minute opener "One Of These Days" took ages to arrive and even when it did it was somehow dull and lacklustre. How things have changed – when the huge synth riff kicks in about 2:50 on this 2011 version – the sound is incredibly clear - allowing you to hear crashes and bangs going on in the background that I’ve never heard before. Then the sort of Piltdown Man voice says "One Of These Days I'm Gonna Cut You Into Little Pieces…" and all Hell breaks loose – Gilmour's guitar indeed sounding like a musical chainsaw. It's revelatory genius and in that uniquely peculiar Pink Floyd kind of a way.
But even that is trumped by the awesome clarity of the forgotten and hugely underrated "A Pillow Of Winds". Put simply - it sounds 'beautiful'. The jaunty "San Tropez" and the rather pointless ditty that is "Seamus" are both the same – so clear and renewed. The 23:25 minute Side 2 opus "Echoes" has hiss as it opens on sonar pings – but luckily Guthrie and Plante have allowed it to breath instead of using some no-noise dampening technique. So when the funky break takes place at about seven minutes (now being used by Dance DJs in the UK as a mix in sets) it sounds just HUGE. It’s impressive stuff, it really is.
But on this album my heart has always been with "Fearless"(issued as a B-side to "One Of These Days" in the USA and other European territories. It seems like I've waited literally 40 whole years to hear this fabulous song in such clarity. It's a genuine wow – and reminds me of a club I used to go to in Dublin called The Grove in the Seventies when they actually used this song as a 'lurch' (a slow tune). As it fades out to the Liverpool Football Club fans singing "You'll Never Walk Alone"” (a no.1 UK hit for Gerry & The Pacemakers in 1963) – I'm in floods (lyrics above).
I wish I could say the same for the staggeringly unimaginative packaging. The 'Pink Floyd' logo you see in all the photos advertising these new reissues turns out to be a sticker on the outer shrink-wrap that gets lost the second you unpeel it. The card sleeves are like The Beatles 09/09/09 EMI reissues - glossy and flimsy - so they smudge with finger prints the second you open them and are easy to bend and crease. The CD itself has new generic artwork that's repeated in different colour variations throughout the series - a sort of Turquoise and Pale Green for "Meddle", a garish Red and Pink for "Obscured By Clouds" etc. It has no relevance to the original albums whatsoever (where's the original Harvest label they've used on other reissues or the colourful inner bag?) but also has no protective gauze sleeve so it will scuff on repeated plays.
But the skimpy booklet is the biggest disappointment. Although it has the lyrics (like this is a major improvement) it seems little different to the 1995 issue. It has no history on the album, pictures of European and Worldwide 7” sleeves. Ok - it does look nice and does the job adequately - but that's all. It's a lazy-assed approach on behalf of EMI and undermines the sterling work done on the sound front. I hate to come across like some nick-picking fan boy here, but it would have been nice to actually 'discover' something on this so-called 'Discovery' version (docked a star for that). And there are no outtakes either...and man would they have worth a listen.
To sum up - five-star sound with 3-star presentation - but with an opening salvo price of less than a tenner in most stores - and the truly beautiful sonic upgrade thrown in - the casual listener is advised to dig in, rediscover and enjoy.
Die-hard fans however might want to wait for the Japanese Editions that will inevitably arrive in 2012 on the far superior SHM-CD format (a better make of CD playable on all players). With their faithfully reproduced artwork and audiophile reproduction - they may give your bank manager a cold sweat - but they will absolutely be the ones to get if the best is all you'll accept.
"Meddle" is a gem in the Pink Floyd canon and on the strength of the remaster alone - I'm going to have to buy the new "Dark Side Of The Moon " and "Wish You Were Here" versions too. I suspect many will feel exactly the same...