“Why don’t we re-record Dark Side?” asks Roger Waters rhetorically at the start of his new version of Brain Damage before laughing and adding, “He’s gone mad!” Maybe he’s not actually been, to quote the opening line of the original 1973 album, “mad for fucking years,” but to record a new version of one of the best-known and best-selling albums of all time is one strange undertaking.
But The Flaming Lips covered the album and Easy Star All-Stars recorded a reggae version, Dub Side Of The Moon, so just looking at it as a bunch of songs, why shouldn’t Waters, the lyricist and writer of most of them, have a go as well?
The Dark Side Of The Moon was a watershed album for Pink Floyd. After Syd Barrett’s departure in 1968 they became established as the UK’s premier art-house rock band, recording music for film soundtracks and the BBC coverage of the 1969 Moon landing. They set their controls for the heart of the sun, soaked up its rays in Grantchester Meadows, took the avant-garde into the album charts with Ummagumma and scored a No.1 in 1970 with Atom Heart Mother.
But despite its title The Dark Side Of The Moon found them exploring inner space. Gone for good were any vague or whimsical poetics. Instead Waters’ lyrics explored what could go wrong in a person’s life until they die. Pink Floyd’s experimentation with sound effects continued, but these now included recorded interviews on the subjects of madness, violence and death.
It still feels slightly unreal that something so utterly pessimistic could have been such a spectacular commercial success. This surprised everyone, the band included, and Dark Side charted in the US Billboard Top 200 for an incredible 981 weeks. Waters’ lyrics have been criticised as sixth-form poetry, even by the author himself, but the music’s longevity has proved that they convey a universal message.
Waters has recently been somewhat dismissive of his fellow band members’ contributions, claiming it as his project. But their compositional input, singing and playing, and Chris Thomas’ immersive production, were crucial to Dark Side’s success. On this version all of that has gone and what remains are often sparsely arranged, ghostly outlines of songs over which Waters delivers newly written narrations that expand the role of the original spoken commentaries.
Over the heartbeat of Speak To Me, he sets the agenda by drolly reciting his lyrics from Free Four, “The memories of an old man in his old age are the deeds of a man in his prime.”And at 80, Waters is still with us and keen to offer new perspectives on his work as that young man.
Beginning with that old Floydian signature, recorded birdsong, Breathe is similar to the original, with Waters’ weathered voice rising over organ swirls and drummer Lenny Waronker playing a stiffer version of the Floyd plod. David Gilmour’s sighing slide guitar and lead vocals, and Nick Mason’s basic but elegant stickwork are sorely missed.
On The Run rides out on familiar sequencers but is transformed into a “Standard bullshit fight between good and evil” with Waters reciting a list of mishaps and accidents, like images from an anxiety dream. Theremin and eastern-flavoured strings embellish what sound like the fossilised remains of Time, with Waters now rather sardonically re-evaluating the effects of the process.
The Great Gig In The Sky is more successful. Over Rick Wright’s lovely piano-chord sequence, Waters recites a detailed and moving account of his friend Donald Hall losing his battle with cancer. Waters also takes liberties with Money. In place of the guitar and sax solos he acts out the role of a miser who feels that there really are pockets in a shroud and enters into a Faustian pact, which provides a wry counterpart to the sung lyrics.
Both Brain Damage and Eclipse are played fairly straight, albeit without the redemptive gospel vocals. The 1973 album ends with the cryptic pay-off line, “There is no dark side of the Moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark,” which undermines the seriousness of what has gone before – or maybe magnifies it. Here, the heartbeat simply fades out into silence.
There have been suggestions that Waters had intended to rain on any official TDSOTM anniversary parade and/or was seeking to rewrite history, but in revisiting The Dark Side Of The Moon he offers new slants and incisive observations with a refreshing lack of reverence. This modern reinterpretation of a prog classic is audacious, affecting yet annoying. It’s dull in places, inspired in others and certainly won’t be spending 981 weeks in the charts. However, Waters has delivered a unique reimagining, and one that’s certainly worth investigating.
The Dark Side Of The Moon Redux is available now via SGB Music in multiple formats.