Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Heavy Meddle

Like a lot of males, I was fascinated with Pink Floyd throughout middle school and high school. The Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall and Wish You Were Here were all beautiful and profound to me. But listening now, they sound thoroughly adolescent, and not in a cool, AC/DC-like way. It's more like a high budget version of the kind of well-meaning but self-serious art that you'd see in a high school talent show.

When people compare Pink Floyd to bands like Radiohead or Tool, I can only think that it's because they're both weird and arena-famous at the same time. When people compare Floyd to Porcupine Tree or Dream Theater, I can only think that it's because they're both boring. For lack of a better term, most of their songs leave me comfortably numb.

But listening to Dub Side of the Moon, the audacious Pink Floyd reggae tribute album that's somehow more enjoyable than most Pink Floyd or reggae, I was reminded that Floyd have some lovely songs. It's not really their music that I have a problem with--it's their heavy-handed delivery. Roger Waters compared himself to Picasso in Rolling Stone a few years ago, but anyone who'd ever made it to side four of The Wall could already tell he had an astronomical ego that his talents didn't quite live up to. Yet when removed of his band's self-importance and wankery, Pink Floyd's songs lend themselves well to interpretation. 

1. Voivod, "Astronomy Domine"

Pink Floyd got bigger without Syd Barrett, but they never released anything better than Piper at the Gates of Dawn, their 1967 garage-psych debut. The world was still catching up to it in 1989, when Voivod dropped Nothingface and crashed Headbanger's Ball with their version of "Astronomy Domine." I think Voivod's is more haunting than the original--playing the chorus melody on guitar instead of keyboards was a good idea, as was getting rid of the space rock sound effects. Had it not been for this song, Elektra Records might have never taken a chance on Kyuss.

2. Alice Cooper, "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" 

I'll take Alice Cooper's anti-school anthem over Pink Floyd's any day of the week--it's easier make the case that you don't like school when you don't sound like a child pretending to be an adult. But on his recent tours, Cooper's been slyly acknowledging his own influence on Floyd by quoting "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" at the end of "School's Out." It's amazing how much a little verve and humor transforms that song. There's not an HD version online, but the thrill of Alice's show could even come through on a shaky cell phone video.


3. Guns N' Roses, "Mother"

Like "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)," "Mother" is best heard in a small dose, out of context. I usually can't sit through it's overwrought lyrics, or David Gilmour's schmaltzy solo, but the melody is actually quite sweet, proven by the sparse, minute-long reading that Axl and Slash gave it near the end of their Use Your Illusion II video from the Tokyo Dome. Subtlety is not something that one usually equates with Guns N' Roses, but "Mother" proves that when called to the task, they delivered.


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