The Piper at The Gates of Dawn, Pink Floyd

05/10/2016

Sony/Legacy recently announced that Pink Floyd’s catalog would be reissued on vinyl for the first time in twenty years.

Sony/Columbia Records is Pink Floyd’s American label. Warner Music will manufacture and distribute in the U.K. and Europe; Sony for the rest of the world.

Long time Pink Floyd curator and engineer James Guthrie (that description sells him short, but that will have to suffice for a record review) along with Joel Plante and Bernie Grundman mastered this and the others in the series from “the original analogue master tapes”. Bernie Grundman’s “BG” scribe mark is on the inner groove area of the 180g LPs, which I believe were pressed at RTI (the other three albums are soundtrack from the film More, A Saucer Full of Secrets and the double LP Ummagumma.

I was sent three of the four (not sent A Saucerful of Secrets). The packaging, including the artwork reproduction, is outstanding. While the jackets (where appropriate) are not “fold-over”, the image of the folds is there, and look so real you will need to run your finger over them to be sure they are just images.

Pink Floyd’s startling 1967 debut was a Syd Barrett extravaganza—the workings of a brilliant, but soon to be unhinged mind (if he wasn’t already) who wrote all but two of the album’s eleven tracks of gliding, swooning, off-kilter psychedelia. One tune, “POW R. TOCH H” is credited to the group and one (“Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk”) is by Roger Waters.

Norman Smith, best known for engineering early Beatles albums, produced this one, engineer by Peter Brown. The opening Joe Meek and the Tornadoes meets LSD- twang-bar guitar-drenched “Astonomy Dominé” sets the stage for the album and for Pink Floyd’s long career. It hasn’t lost its ability to excite the senses and drop you through the worm hole of time into a magnificent cosmic space. Listening now to “Flaming” you can hear Robyn Hitchcock say to himself “I must make a record!”.

Much of the “stereo” is panned hard-left/hard-right but with good center vocal fill as in 4 track recording with desperate aspirations for more tracks that would arrive later at EMI.

However, the recording quality is still vibrant, electric and exciting. If, after the first two tunes, your heart isn’t racing and the adrenalin isn’t flowing even without a laser light show check your heart and then your audio system.

I compared this reissue to a second U.K. Columbia pressing (second lacquer, second mother, fifty fourth stamper) (for those who don’t know, Columbia UK was an EMI imprint back then, that was not related to American Columbia ), and to an American pressing that was one record of A Nice Pair (Harvest SABB-11257). Two things of interest to some: the U.K. pressing has The Pink Floyd on the spine, while the American jacket has a completely incorrect description of what’s inside!

In any case, the American “twofer” mastered by Wally Traugott sounds absolutely dreadful, as if it was mastered from a cassette with the machine’s azimuth improperly set. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but not that far off. If that’s your experience with this record, you haven’t heard this record!

The second press U.K. is a vibrant, top-end emphasis driven, highly transparent and pleasantly in your face edition, that despite the top end “push” demands that you turn it up for maximum effect.

This reissue will blow the minds of those used to the original American release, while those familiar with the U.K. version might have mixed feelings though mostly good ones. The pushed top end quality of the original gives way here to a better tonal balance, with a more impactful drum sound and definitely greater dynamics but it sounds as if the original’s balance was what Smith wanted. Guthrie and company have “modernized” to produce a better tonal balance, but perhaps at the expense of the original producer’s intent.

But was this cut from the tape? Or from a high resolution file made from the original tape? I”m talking out of my butt here, but my ears tell me the latter. Why? There’s a “modern” quality to the reissue, particularly on the very top, which instead of sailing into the “netherworld”, hits a ceiling and stops. You especially hear it on vocal sibilants but on high frequency transients in general. The people who say digital is transparent to the source are talking out of their arses! (Or I am, and this was cut from tape).

Still, considering the improvement in dynamics, bass response and the overall improved tonal balance (whether or not that was the original producer’s intent), plus great packaging, this is an easy to recommend reissue unless you are willing to pay a great deal for a clean U.K. original (if I’m wrong about the cutting source, I will eat public digital crow!) but why couldn’t it have been cut from tape, if in fact it wasn’t. Not to bitch too much, but can we have, (ala The Beatles catalog) the mono mix cut from tape if this wasn’t?

Michael Fremer, analogplanet.com

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