Wednesday, 2 November 2016

"Atom Heart Mother" by PINK FLOYD (September 2011 EMI 'Discovery Edition' Remaster AND January 2016 'Pink Floyd Records' CD Reissue) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Funky Dung..."

Emerging from the Syd Barrett-led 60ts phase – PINK FLOYD started the new decade with the frankly bizarre "Atom Heart Mother" – a late 1970 album that signalled the new more Prog sound to come - but in "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" held onto the lunacy of old. And you have to give them credit for the name "Atom Heart Mother" and the wacky utterly unforgettable artwork – a lone moo-moo staring out at us from a field wondering what in God’s name is that man doing pointing a camera at my posterior when I’m just trying to graze some grass here? Curiouser and Curiouser...

Always a task trying to find a decent vinyl copy original – the length of the LP at just over 52 minutes did for its fidelity too. But all of that is thankfully part of the past because this 2011 James Guthrie and Joel Plante CD Remaster is a massive improvement on a dog’s ear of a recording (relaunched January 2016 on Pink Floyd Records). Here are the Holy Cows and the Funky Dung...

UK re-released 8 January 2016 – "Atom Heart Mother" by PINK FLOYD on Pink Floyd Records PFR5 (Barcode 5099902894027) is a straightforward 5-track reissue CD using the Remaster from 2011. It's once again housed in a gatefold card digipak, has a stickered sleeve (on the outer shrink-wrap) with the new catalogue number PFR5, a 12-page colour booklet with photos and lyrics and the same barcode as the 2011 issue (52:06 minutes). The original album gatefold is the centre pages of the booklet while the lyrics (never on the original) are now featured over new photographs of shovels and a pair of boots and other useless and pointless images. It looks nice for sure but informs you of nothing – no history – no liner notes – no updates or insights. It’s a damn shame that 2016 wasn’t used as a way to pump up the booklet into something special from their laughable 'discover nothing' from our 'discovery' editions of 2011. In fact you could argue that this 'Pink Floyd Records' 2016 reissue is in itself 'corporate' – the very thing they raged so much against on "Animals" and "The Wall" in 1977 and 1979. 

The original version of this Remaster was released 26 September 2011 as a 'Discovery Edition' single CD on EMI/Harvest 50999 028940 2 7 (Barcode 5099902894027) – this 2016 version on Pink Floyd Records uses that 2011 remaster and the same artwork. The 'Discovery Edition' sticker is gone as is the horrible 'green and blue Ds' reinvented CD artwork that came with the 2011 issue – that's thankfully been replaced on the CD with the front album cover artwork. 

1. Atom Heart Mother (Suite): 
(a) Father's Shout
(b) Breast Milky
(c) Mother Fore
(d) Funky Dung
(e) Mind Your Throats Please
(f) Remergence 
2. If [Side 2]
3. Summer '68
4. Fat Old Sun
5. Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast 
(a) Rise And Shine
(b) Sunny Side Up
(c) Morning Glory 
Tracks 1 to 5 are their 5th album "Atom Heart Mother" – released 10 October 1970 in the UK on Harvest SHVL 781 and in the USA on Harvest SKAO-382. Produced by PINK FLOYD and NORMAN SMITH – Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London in 1970 – it peaked at No. 1 in the UK and No. 55 in the USA. 

DAVID GILMOUR – Lead Guitar and Vocals
ROGER WATERS – Bass, Guitar and Vocals
RICHARD WRIGHT – Keyboards and Vocals

Guests: JOHN ALLDIS CHOIR on parts of "Atom Heart Mother"

Mastered by JAMES GUTHRIE and JOEL PLANTE at Das Boot Recording Studios in Tahoe in California in 2011 - the original 1st generation master tapes have been given a thorough going over (Guthrie is a Sound Engineer associated with the band since 1978). In fact - each song feels like these experts have spent a staggering amount of time worrying over every single nuance - because the audio result is truly impressive. That 2011 remaster has been reused for the January 2016 reissues. 

The entirely instrumental Side 1 six-part suite "Atom Heart Mother" runs to 23:42 minutes and typically fades in with mad brass and a droning synth note.  Avant Garde artist RON GEESIN being the fifth accredited writer along with the four boys in the band – gives us a cornucopia of sounds - cars starting up – engines turning over – until it all settles down into a "Meddle" like duo of Richard Wright on Organ and Gilmour on Guitar. The clarity as Gilmour solos over that brass and lone organ is impressive – and as the still unidentified leading lady of the John Aldiss Choir comes sailing in – you can so hear where Mike Oldfield got some of his more orchestral ideas for "Tubular Bells" and "Ommadawn" from. When they fade out and we’re in "Funky Dung" – the Remastered Wright/Gilmour combo of Organ and Guitar is superb and certainly more muscular than I’ve ever heard it - and I still can’t make out what the Kate Bush-mad chanting voices are saying (very cool though). 

After the indulgence of Side 1 - Side 2’s "If" comes as an Acoustic relief – Roger Water's delightfully upbeat "...if I go insane...please don't put your wires in my brain..." lyrics feeling like 1977 and not 1970. The audio on Gilmour's guitar is beautiful and even the background Richard Wright Organ/Piano playing is more evident. Richard Wright then stumps up "Summer '68" which feels like the kind of pretty song that would have not been out of place on 1972's "Obscured By Clouds" or even Kevin Ayers 1971 Harvest Records LP "Whatevershebringswesing". The brass and piano are loud and open for all the right reasons. Gilmour vocals his own "Fat Old Sun" but I've always felt it was not a great song. The album ends on the nutty 13-minutes of "Alan Psychedelic Breakfast" where someone babbles on about liking Marmalade and Porridge as they potter about in a kitchen before keyboards take over. After the musical interlude - it returns to our still unidentified hero warbling this time about 'breakfast in Los Angeles' with 'macrobiotic stuff'. It's fun but that's about all and you can't help thinking that they would have been better just allowing those lovely Acoustic Guitars in the centre passage simply play out the album (music boys - remember).

"Atom Heart Mother" is part genius, part knob and very much an example of an experimental time and a label prepared to let their artists go a bit bonkers for the sake of their art. But at least on this 2011/2016 CD Remaster - you can now hear it. And that faucet tap dripping that looped on the Side 2 run-out groove as your needle went over to the label can now be heard too. Moo moo indeed...

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