The Wall – Immersion Edition
There is an oddly satisfying irony to releasing a version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall meant to please the work’s biggest fans. Roger Waters conceived the work as an exploration of isolation and cultural and societal repression, starting with a now famous incident in which he spit at a fan trying to crawl up on stage with Floyd during a show. Waters was disgusted with himself, and wondered how he’d gotten to the point where he had such disdain for the people who ostensibly supported his music.
Now, 33 years after the release of the original studio album that spawned a giant, theatrical tour and film, we get a box set stuffed with fan-pleasing goodies. A scarf with marching hammers, coasters with the band name, marbles that look like bricks, art prints, reproductions of a ticket stub and backstage pass, collectors cards, and a poster-sized print of the hand-written lyrics. If that guy Waters spit at more than three decades ago is still alive, he’ll probably be first in line to buy the most enduring and epic apology in rock and roll history.
The biggest fans probably already own several versions of The Wall. Those that bought the album as part of last year’s remasters might be a bit disappointed to buy it again here, especially if they have been fans long enough to have the original vinyl pressing and the first iteration of the CD. But aside from all of the fun goodies, the six-CD, one DVD Immersion Edition of The Wall offers a fascinating look at the work’s development, starting with Waters’s early demos.
The first two CDs are the original studio version, the second two CDs are the live version, previously released as Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980-81. The remasters sound fantastic, and bring a sharp edge to the production. Again fitting with the theme of isolation, The Wall sounds best sitting alone in a darkened room with a good pair of cans, bringing out all of the carefully considered effects and dynamics.
But it’s the third set that’s most interesting, and bond to be most revelatory for those who have hear the rest before. The twenty-two tracks that make up the first fourteen minutes of the Work In Progress Part I, 1979 disc are perhaps the most insightful. Waters originally presented the band with what producer James Guthrie calls “about three albums worth of material,” so much that they had a gargantuan task of reducing it to the length of a double album and streamlining the narrative in the process.
It would be amazing to hear the entire set of Waters’s original demos, but that might try the patience of all but the biggest Floyd geeks. The tracks included here are cross-faded, giving a glimpse of the first running order and the emerging structure and story. “Run Like Hell” is straightforward roots rock, sounding a bit like a demo from Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True. The demos necessarily stripped down, and Waters can be heard singing the drum parts on a couple of them, including the percussion for “Bring the Boys Back Home.” Most comically, he is heard in the background of “Hey You” making explosion sounds with mouth.
The basic DNA of The Wall is clear in Waters’s demos. Many of the melodies and arrangements made it to the final product. But listening to the discs in chronological order, from the Waters demos to the band demos to the studio album and then to the live presentation, it’s clear that The Wall endured an enormous amount of tinkering and rewriting. David Gilmour’s demos for “Run Like Hell” and “Comfortably Numb” are also included. Gilmour’s wallowing nonsense syllables in “Numb” sound a bit silly, but remove them from the band demo of “The Doctor,” and all you have is some second-rate dialogue from a bad movie. Similarly, it was Gilmour’s skittering guitar with all of the delay effects that added the punch and menace to “Run Like Hell.”
The only thing that the Immersion Edition is really missing is any extensive liner notes. The are a couple of paragraphs on the back of the Work In Progress packaging, but the main source of background information comes from the documentaries on the DVD. There is a short glimpse of The Wall live at Earl’s Court, a promo video for “Another Brick In the Wall, Part 2,” and then the documentary Behind The Wall and an interview with illustrator Gerald Scarfe, whose imagery is as much a part of how the public associates with The Wall as the actual music. The liner notes from the stand-alone release of Anybody Out There were particularly insightful, and it’s a shame they aren’t included here. But the Scarfe interview is revealing, and Behind The Wall gives a good sense of the dissolution of the band during the process of making and touring with the album. It should also be noted that the 1982 film is mentioned in the documentary, but it’s a separate entity and thus not included in this set.
This likely won’t be the last word on The Wall. Waters is still touring with it, and stories keep popping up about a possible Broadway version. It will keep changing, but then, it seems it has never stopped changing.