This boxset represents what so many historical bands need to do: gather everything they could find, no matter the quality, and just release it in a nice looking box. Live concerts, videos, demos, all things of huge interest for the avid fan, which usually could be found on bootlegs, but it's always nice to have them in better quality and better packaging. So, when this box was announced and then released, it was the Holy Grail for the Pink Floyd fan, and in a way still is, but is it perfect? Let's dive in and find out!
The Boxset is divided in 7 volumes, 6 of them also released individually while the seventh still exclusive to the boxset. Each one of them contains both audio and video content, on CD, DVD and Blu-Ray, along with a plethora of memorabilia, all covering everything the band did up to, but not including, The Dark Side Of The Moon. Since it might be redundant to go and list everything that's in it, let's just say that there are full concerts, BBC sessions, demos, never heard before outtakes, filmed performance both from TV appearances and concerts, and so on. Hours upon hours of gems, albeit of varying quality (more on that later), so it is very hard to find something to complain about, or is it?
The Dark Side of the Boxset
At first glance, it might have seemed strange to have a remixed version of Obscured By Cloud (soundtrack from the film La Vallèe, 1972), since it's the only remixed album in the set (and God knows that's not the one that needed a remix), and in fact, many of those who got the box on day 1 got Live At Pompeii remixed in its place, leaving the CD of Obscured By Clouds flying around in the box in a paper sleeve. Obviously a mistake, especially since the Pompeii remix apparently shouldn't have been released and it's nowhere to be seen on the sleeves, but still nice to have... Well, actually, all the remixed tracks in this boxset sound almost painful to the ears, with too much emphasis on the high frequencies, with Pompeii being the worst offender, having any kind of reverb removed and the drum cymbals pushing the sound into pure distortion most of the time. Fortunately, the other remixes aren't that extreme, but still... This thing of "updating the sound" isn't always a good idea.
At least nothing bad can be said about the videos, being very interesting, sometimes rare, but they certainly look great. Trust me, you've never seen these kind of videos in this quality; I mean, the Belgium videos from early '68, although in black and white, seem filmed yesterday! All of the videos we knew and already loved from bootlegs are here in better quality, so nothing bad to say video-wise.
It's also great to have a full audio concert from Stockholm '67, with Syd Barret, even if we can't hear the voices, a full The Man & The Journey recording from Amsterdam, Vegetable Man and Scream Thy Last Scream... so much to enjoy.
So what can we complain about? Well... As I said, most of these things, both audio and video, have been available as bootlegs for decades, and as some of you may or may not know, in the bootleg world, especially in recent years thanks to new technologies, many talented people manage to make some old crappy recording sound a lot better, and there are countless examples around. Add to that the constant discovery of better sources (like lower generation tapes) of these recordings and you may guess where I'm going...
Even at the time of release, things like the BBC Sessions from 1970-71 and some of the '67 and '68 ones were all available as bootlegs in better quality than what is in the boxset. The '70-71 BBC recording have been available in stereo for years, but for some reason on the boxset we have the mono version, and while it is sometimes better to have the mono mix instead of the stereo one, this is not the case, since we are not in the mid-sixties anymore (a time in which much more care usually went into the making of the mono mix). A similar thing can be said about some of the videos, where sometimes the wonderful visuals are in total contrast with the very lo-fi sound. Take the immensely historically important video with Frank Zappa from 1969 for example, something we never knew it even existed, it's awesome to have of course, but the audio is widely available as a bootleg in better quality than what is presented in the boxset. Same with the San Tropez 1970 video.
One cannot help but wonder why they didn't consider asking the fans, since they usually seem to know better then those who were inolved in the making of this boxset. I know that keeping things secret and mysterious is a Pink Floyd signature thing, and therefore involving fans in something like this is almost unimaginable, but still, having someone there to say "oh hey wait, I have a better recording of this concert in my hard drive" or something like that, might have made this boxset much closer to perfection.
As it is, it's still a wonderful celebration of the early Pink Floyd, and probably the best way to get much of this material all in one place. Then you can go and look for better versions of this or that on bootleg, sure, but to know that some of these better versions are free and the boxset is fairly expensive, might leave you with a sour taste in the end...