The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
40th Anniversary Edition
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MP3 Music, September 11, 2007
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2007 marks the 40th Anniversary of Pink Floyd's first album Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and kicks off a long term Pink Floyd Catalog Campaign. In commemoration of the Anniversary, Capitol / EMI will release Piper as a deluxe 3 CD Limited Edition and a 2 CD stereo / mono version.
At the time The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was originally released in 1967, it was one among many aurally ripped, acid-tripped albums including Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced, Cream's Disraeli Gears, Jefferson Airplane's After Bathing at Baxter's, and, of course, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which the Beatles were recording down the hall from Pink Floyd at Abbey Road. But as those albums have gracefully slipped into the mainstream of our music consciousness, Piper, along with The Velvet Underground and Nico, still sounds like it broke through from another dimension. Pink Floyd were employing musique concrete techniques, inventing glissando guitar, and exploring areas of trance with tunes like "Interstellar Overdrive," actually two takes of an extended rave-up laid on top of each other. Mixing sci-fi imagery with swinging London metaphors and pastoral fantasies (the title is lifted from The Wind in the Willows), Pink Floyd's music was even more dappled, swirled, and surreal than the light shows that accompanied their performances. Piper represented Syd Barrett's vision as the sole composer of all but three songs. He was yet to have his acid-induced meltdowns, and all things were possible and beautiful. Barrett mixed whimsy on "Bike" with cynicism on the wordless but ominous "Pow R. Toc H."; goofy innocence on "The Gnome" and mysticism on "Chapter 24." But there's no doubting the contributions of Richard Wright with his swirling, reverb-drenched organ fugues and jazz ellipses and Roger Waters's earth-rooted bass. Nick Mason's underrated drumming, time-shifting polyrhythms, and colorful flourishes pushed Barrett's elliptical pop even further over the edge, especially on the space-music opus "Astronomy Domine." The original album was recorded on only four tracks, making stereo effects and panning somewhat rudimentary and often annoying. But this expanded release includes a full mono mix of the album which provides a more coherent sound and, surprisingly, a bit more depth. Some of the songs are just wacky, some of the technology and tape edits rough-hewn, but The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is one of those albums that actually appears more radical in retrospect. --John Diliberto
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This is, of course, an essential album for the Floyd completist, and also will be of interest to those with a strong interest in the band, especially in how it sounded before Barrett blew his mind in a haze of drugs, most notably LSD. Barrett already seemed prone to depressive episodes -- and when a person like that starts gobbling acid, the results tend not to be good.
Barrett performs on a few songs on the follow-up to this album, "A Saucerful of Secrets," but by that time, guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour was also on board. For a brief time, the Floyd was a five-piece band, but the idea of having Barrett mostly stay home and write songs -- a la Brian Wilson's situation with the Beach Boys at one time -- didn't work out. Bassist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright were all, to varying degrees, frustrated with Barrett's erratic behavior.
But those troubles all came to the fore AFTER "Piper" was written and recorded. Barrett did make a couple of solo albums after his PF days, but they are rambling, disjointed affairs, very much an acquired taste, if the taste for them can be acquired at all. "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" is his masterpiece.
Barrett's "Astronomy Domine" kicks off the album, and it's a small masterpiece of its own -- a fairly concise slice of "space rock" complete with trippy interplanetary lyrics and some very fine vocals by Barrett and Wright. Also strong (all of these songs composed by Barrett): "Lucifer Sam," "Chapter 24," "The Scarecrow" and "Bike." The two band-composed pieces are "Pow R. Toc H." and "Interstellar Overdrive." I've never been able to make much sense of the former, but the latter is a long, driving instrumental that goes on for too long but definitely has its moments. Roger Waters would come to dominate PF's songwriting in later years; his only solo composition here is "Take Up They Stethoscope and Walk," and next to Barrett's songs, it sounds very pedestrian.
A note on the above: The discussion is relevant only to the UK version of the album, which is now the standard release. The original US version was annoying in the extreme -- it omitted "Astronomy Domine," "Flaming" and "Bike" altogether; added the single "See Emily Play"; and shuffled the running order of the other nine songs to no apparent purpose.
A note on the 40th-anniversary, 3-CD limited edition: It contains stereo and mono mixes of the album, for one thing -- and some people strongly prefer the mono mix, without the oh-that's-so-Sixties panning of the stereo mix. Until recently, the stereo mix was always my preference, but spending time with this deluxe edition finally made me change my mind -- the single-channel mix is just so up and in your face that it has an energy level untouched by any other version. The third CD features all of the Floyd's singles from 1967, including the excellent "See Emily Play" and "Arnold Layne," plus a few alternate takes.
Buy this album if you think you'll enjoy hearing a truly different Pink Floyd. Don't buy it if you're so attached to the way the band sounded later on that you can't make room for something else. I do have some very knowledgeable musical friends who say they simply can't listen to this. But my personal view is there is some very strong music here -- and Barrett's lyrics were in a class by themselves.