Two discs of previously unreleased demos show how Roger Waters’ opus of alienation became rock’s own “Catcher in the Rye”
Remember that triumphant moment when Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” won Album of the Year at the 1981 Grammys?
If so, you'd better get checked out for false memory syndrome, since Floyd lost that year to the then-unstoppable juggernaut that was Christopher Cross’ debut. Now there’s a seven-disc boxed set devoted to expanding upon the real best album of 1979-80 — and, needless to say, “Sailing” isn’t on it.
Priced at over $100, “The Wall – Immersion Edition” is practically a brick unto itself, and not necessarily for fair-weather Floydians just looking to sing along again with the disco children’s chorus that helped the prog-rockers earn their lone top 10 single. But it’s money well spent for “making of” geeks who like to hear demos where things were just a little off before some slight correction put everything on masterpiece course.
Or, also, if you’ve got a thing for commemorative marbles.
Ironies abound, in retrospect, since “The Wall” is certainly the most popular album ever to have been inspired by a singer/songwriter’s contempt for his own audience. As Roger Waters recalls in a nearly hour-long documentary that accompanies the set, he found himself spitting on one particularly rowdy crowd member during a late ‘70s tour, which led to fantasies of being able to perform from behind a wall.
Eventually, on tour, they did just that, although thankfully the concept expanded well beyond just a double-album’s worth of a bitter superstar’s hooligan baiting.
Waters did have other targets on his mind, after all, including cruel teachers, overbearing mothers, predatory wives and girlfriends, and neo-Nazis. (Oh, wait, that last group was still how he thought of his fan base.) No wonder the album became an eternal touchstone for just about every adolescent who ever felt alienated from, well, anything – the “Catcher in the Rye” for late-period baby boomers and Gen-X-ers, not to mention a template for Trent Reznor’s entire career.
The main lure for fans in this set is discs 5 and 6, comprising about 130 minutes’ worth of demos that show Waters’ opera of alienation taking shape. Unlike, say, the recent boxed set of “Quadrophenia,” which included a slew of Pete Townshend demos that never made the finished work, almost everything here did get incorporated.
The principal exceptions are the outtakes “Teacher, Teacher” and “Sexual Revolution” — although Floyd die-hards will know that these previously unheard tunes later got adapted for use on the “Final Cut” and “Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking” albums. (Don’t count on the very minimal liner notes for this sort of information, though.)
The fun comes in picking out the sometimes subtle differences between conception and final execution. The original version of “Another Brick in the Wall Part I” has Waters opening his opera with a more direct evocation of an aging rock band: “We don’t need your adulation … You should have seen them in the early days.”
Multiple demos of “Comfortably Numb,” then known as “The Doctor,” show how the song might’ve missed becoming a classic, as it originally ended with a lame verse where the title character urges the protagonist to “pull yourself together, go out and do the town” rather than David Gilmour’s majestic guitar solo.
There’s even a snippet of an early Waters demo of the classic-rock perennial “Run Like Hell” when it was conceived as a folkish sing-along with a completely different, even jaunty melody. “Young Lust” features a different set of lyrics and includes a pre-chorus bit sung by Waters that was dropped when the tune was sensibly streamlined.
The demos also include some distinctive piano and synth parts from Richard Wright, who was sacked from the band early in the recording process. His termination is openly addressed in the DVD documentary, “Behind the Wall” – which you can reasonably guess is not newly produced, since it includes interview footage of Wright, who died in 2008. (The revealing doc was originally commissioned by the BBC and aired on VH1’s “Behind the Music” in 2000.)
The box provides other bonuses besides the remastered original, including two discs dedicated to the “Is There Anybody Out There?” live album. Some fans have focused on what the set doesn’t include, like the Blu-ray and quad mixes found on the recently released “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here” boxed sets – or, more frustratingly, a video rendering of the legendarily epic-scale “Wall” tour, which only ran for 19 performances.
Nick Mason has said that no suitable video version of the tour exists, but that seems like a fallacy, since the documentary includes plentiful excerpts, and there’s one 1:20 snippet of newly cleaned up, boffo footage on the DVD that seems to exist as an unofficial trailer for whatever they might decide to put out at a later date. When you’re spending $125 or more for a completist package, you hate to think someone’s still holding out on you.
(Some fans are also upset that the box doesn’t include Alan Parker’s film version, but we’d consider that a blessing. Movie excerpts enough are included in the documentary, which gets into the quabble-filled shoot that Parker describes as “one of the most miserable experiences I’ve ever had in my creative life.”)
While the set feels incomplete at a mere seven discs, that's quite a testament to the opus's ongoing power and draw. If his mission with "The Wall" was to further alienate us, Waters couldn’t have failed any worse.