The story of Pink Floyd is one of the more fascinating in the history of rock music. The foursome of Syd Barrett (g), Nick Mason (d), Roger Waters (b), and Richard Wright, (k) came out of the London underground music scene of the mid-'60s. They recorded psychedelic classic The Piper at the Gates of Dawn with Barrett as the band's lead singer and predominant songwriter. Barrett's extremely erratic behavior, blamed on his abundant use of LSD by Wright, led to guitarist David Gilmour joining the band and ultimately replacing him during the recording of their follow-up A Saucerful of Secrets, though Barrett appears on three tracks.
As this version of the band continued, they had moderate success with their albums and soundtrack work. Then they became overnight superstars after the release of Dark Side of the Moon (1973), which went on to become one of the most successful albums of all time. Waters came up with its theme and wrote all the lyrics. He gained more creative control over the band with each successive album, culminating in The Final Cut (1983), essentially a Waters solo album where he wrote all the music and lyrics, and sang all the lead vocals except for one he shared with Gilmour. Relationships frayed between band members during those years. Wright either quit or was kicked out of the band during the recording of The Wall (1979), though was hired to play on the tour. The four worked on solo projects during the early '80s.
In 1985, Waters quit the band and eventually went to court to stop the others from using the band name, but he lost. Gilmour continued under the Pink Floyd banner with Mason and Wright, though they contributed little, creating two studio albums, Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994), both of which came off more like Gilmour solo projects than anything that resembled Pink Floyd's past work, and two successful world tours documented on Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988) and Pulse (1995).
'The Story of Wish You Were Here' begins oddly enough in 2005, 10 years after the final release of new Pink Floyd material, at the Live 8 concert in London. It was the first time in 24 years Waters had played on stage with his three former bandmates, and since Wright passed away in 2008, it will unfortunately be the last. They played six songs that day and "Wish You Were Here" was one of them.
The structure of 'The Story of…' is essentially the same as the highly regarded Classic Album series, which previously covered Pink Floyd in 2003 as they looked at Dark Side of the Moon. The band members sit for individual interviews, including Wright appearing through archival footage, and they discuss the ideas behind the songs and the music. The album's main theme is absence, which Waters experienced through his disillusionment with the music business ("Have A Cigar" and "Welcome to the Machine") and missing his friend Barrett (“Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and the title track). Though Waters and Gilmour fought about what tracks to include and over Roy Harper singing lead vocal on "Have A Cigar," which they still disagree about, it's impressive that they can separate whatever animosity might still be lingering between them and praise the work of the other.
The story of the album is not just told through the band members. Those who made indelible contributions to its creation also get to speak, like singer Venetta Fields; engineer Brian Humphries; artist Storm Thorgerson, who continued the album's theme by wrapping it in black opaque shrinkwrap to make the cover absent; and even Ronnie Rondell, whose name might not be recognizable, but fans will know him as the man on fire on the album's cover. "Nothing to it," he says, though after about 15 shots a gust of wind blew flame in his face and he was done.
Aside from learning about the album, the program also offers the delight of seeing Gilmour and Waters play. Gilmour, alone in the studio strumming glorious sounds out of his guitars, is bittersweet as his talent remains awe-inspiring but there's a tinge of sadness over all the wasted years they've been apart. This is brought home towards the end with a duet of the two playing "Wish You Were Here" created through editing. Gilmour finds it one of the band's best because of “its resonance and emotional weight it carries” and confesses though not directly about Barrett like "Shine On" he “can't sing it without thinking about Syd.” After watching this program, it will be hard to listen to the album and not think about him either.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Eagle Rock Entertainment brings 'Pink Floyd The Story of Wish You Were Here' to high-definition on a BD-25 Region A Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. The liner notes list credits for the program, the songs, and a few pictures. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. The Blu-ray does not appear to be region locked.
The video has been given a 1080i/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.78:1 and also 1.33:1 for the archival material. The modern-day interview footage looks pristine and free from artifacts. Colors are strong and consistent. Black levels are more than adequate. Objects are sharp and reveal textures, like the grooves on the control panel faders.
The older material is understandably ragged. The black and white footage of Barrett-led Floyd shows obvious wear. Taken from a 1972 performance of “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” the band is bathed in blue light and there's such a soft focus that the objects have no edges and bleed into each other. During "Jugband Blues," the image has faded and exhibits serious damage seen in white specks throughout. There's even some 8mm or Super8 footage of Barrett in a park or garden.
The audio is available in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0. The voices, interviews and singing, are clearly understood. The album tracks fill the surrounds, and the different instruments and effects are presented with great clarity and separation. Both the source material and this disc demonstrate good balance of their mixes and wide dynamic ranges. Waters' strong bass work comes through the subwoofer with power.
The audio footage on the archival material reveals wear similar to the image its paired with. Most notably, a hiss can be heard during of “Set the Controls…”
Once again, Eagle Rock Entertainment delivers a disc with strong A/V specs and shows why they are one of the leaders in music Blu-rays.
Though I would list this as "Highly Recommended" for Pink Floyd fans, even those who aren't into the band should find a lot of interest from this particular chapter in their history. Plus, it doesn't get too technical, which could limit its appeal solely to serious musicians. It's also a poignant tribute to their friend.