Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour dynasty started inauspiciously in 1981 when the singer and guitarist re-recorded every note of “Money” by himself, save the sax solo, for the compilation A Collection of Great Dance Songs. At the time, he just did what he needed to do; the band’s new record label couldn’t get the rights to the original Dark Side of the Moon hit so he recut it himself, no other Floyds necessary. Two years later, Roger Waters would resume control and oversee the group’s next LP, The Final Cut, and it wouldn’t be until after his departure and lawsuit over the Pink Floyd name that Gilmour would fully assert himself as head honcho.
A new box set, The Later Years, shines all its lasers on David Gilmour and how he shaped and supersized Pink Floyd for a new generation. Beginning with 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason — featured here in a remixed, somewhat more understated form — Pink Floyd became everything Waters never thought they would under Gilmour’s guidance: a living, breathing success, capable of touring the world while playing mostly new music.
Although none of Pink Floyd’s post–Waters albums were critical smashes — the most recent Rolling Stone Album Guide gave A Momentary Lapse two out of five stars and 1994’s The Division Bell only one star, which is less than the original review in the magazine — the band was packing arenas and stadiums filled with tens of thousands of fans. These concerts were documented on two films, 1988’s Delicate Sound of Thunder and 1995’s Pulse (one star each in the Album Guide), and all of this serves as the atom heart of The Later Years collection. Regardless of how you feel about these releases, the collection makes a case for the sheer scale of the Gilmour era and what it meant to the band’s fans.
The contents of The Later Years — which includes remixed and reedited versions of the concert films, unreleased footage from various tours, Division Bell outtakes, rehearsals, and more — show Gilmour’s determination to prove himself. Although none of the Momentary Lapse remixes will be dramatic enough to sway the band’s critics, they add clarity to what Gilmour was trying to achieve. The new Momentary Lapse doesn’t drown in Eighties reverb the way the original did (if anything, the music now sounds more tasteful with more real drumming by Nick Mason and restored Rick Wright analog synth lines) but the songs themselves aren’t any different.
You can still hear how difficult the album was to make. The tracks are still inspired in spots, drab in others. The arrangements, however, add depth. The album’s closing cut, “Sorrow,” now sounds more minimal — more like how Gilmour has been doing it live in recent years — and it aches more.
It’s not Dark Side, but “Learning to Fly,” “On the Turning Away,” and “The Dogs of War” have earned their places in the Floyd canon thanks to the band’s mega tours and MTV play. And while Roger Waters called the record an expert forgery of Pink Floyd’s sound and cynics said Gilmour ought to have just put his own name on the release given Mason’s and Wright’s minimal contributions, what’s evident now is that it’s no more a solo album than its predecessor, The Final Cut, was for Roger Waters. (The version of The Division Bell here is the same as the one in the 2014 reissue.)
The star of the box set, though, is the live performances. Although both Delicate Sound and Pulse have long been derided as overwrought fluff (“Welcome to the McFloyd,” went a line in Rolling Stone’s Delicate Sound review) they show just why Gilmour, Mason, and Wright were able to carry on with such aplomb, critics be damned, while Roger Waters struggled for recognition on his Radio K.A.O.S. tour. They had the circular screen, the lasers, the pig, and, perhaps most important, Gilmour’s voice and guitar. Some of the re-arrangements still sound anemic (the additions of “woo-woo” background vocals and a reggae breakdown to “Money” were and are costly) but the sheer grandiosity of it all was likely breathtaking for any of the gathered masses. They also had the Pink Floyd name. Waters, who devised the Pink Floyd Spectacle in the first place, has only recently started getting the name recognition to be able to stage stadium eye-poppers, as he has done with his The Wall and Us + Them tours.
The Delicate Sound film was shot on 35 millimeter, and it now looks and sounds stunning on Blu-ray. Gilmour’s solos soar, and you can see how gracefully he and everyone could move between the lasers in the baggy clothing of the era, and saxophonist Scott Page’s uber-mullet looks positively unreal as he juggles saxes. It’s the jewel of the collection. Pulse doesn’t translate nearly as well — its 4:3 aspect ratio and grainy look somehow makes it feel more nostalgic than Delicate Sound despite coming later — but it’s still a document of what turned out to be the band’s final world tour. The bonus video content is where things get really interesting, though.
A Venice concert from 1989 looks better than Pulse despite the old-school aspect ratio, and the band’s Silver Clef Award Winners Concert in Knebworth, England, features one of only two live performances ever of Dark Side of the Moon’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” to feature original wailer Clare Torry (about 14 years before she sued them for a songwriting credit on the song). There’s also footage of Gilmour and Wright playing “Wish You Were Here” with added guitar by Billy Corgan at the group’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, one of the band’s final performances, and they’ve included the group’s final gig at a tribute to their founding member, Syd Barrett, in 2007.
Curiously absent, of course, is remastered footage of the band’s glorious 2005 reunion with Roger Waters at the Live 8 concert in London. In fact, the thing that seems to hold the box set back is a lack of extra material.
The group’s most recent box set, The Early Years, was a treasure trove of never-before-released Barrett-era artifacts and films showing how the band got its footing as conceptualists (such as a ballet they scored). But for this collection, which documents works by the band members when they were at the peaks of their musicianship, there aren’t many behind-the-scenes outtakes, only a few demos and jams from around The Division Bell, including a stripped-down more dour-sounding “High Hopes.” “Slippery Guitar” with its long, stretched out solos and “David’s Blues,” which Gilmour hums, over will satisfy diehards, but you can figure Gilmour mined the best material from those sessions for The Endless River, the band’s mostly instrumental final album, from 2014.
The box set attempts to make up for this with odds and ends like interviews, standalone reels of the projections they cast on the circular screen, replica tour programs and a lyric book. The accouterments are all well considered and, like the concert films and albums, feel very “Pink Floyd” (it’s always nice to see the band’s trippy, Hipgnosis art printed well). But it only makes you want more, and not just from the “Later Years.” The concert footage makes you long for quality film of the band in the Seventies, a time when they were averse to such things, for another box set that could focus on The Middle Years.
But since Pink Floyd have already released expanded versions of Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall, it’s hard to imagine they have much more in the archives. That’s why The Later Years is valuable — it’s not the perfect, most definitive Pink Floyd document, but it’s enough to make you wish you were there.