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Old music made new

The Endless River by Pink Floyd and Queen’s Forever raise questions about how fans are supposed to regard such retooled archival work.

By: New York Times |
Updated: November 9, 2014 12:25:59 am
music Pink Floyd’s Gilmour, Wright and Mason in 1988; album cover of Queen Forever.

They say that dead men tell no tales. That does not, however, mean that they stop releasing new records.

Posthumous albums have been an inevitable and often tragic staple throughout pop music history. Sessions that weren’t initially released because of legal complications, live albums and rehearsal takes have long been considered fair game for fans who continually crave more music from their favourite artists after they have died. The advent of CDs, and then of deluxe reissues and box sets, led to a widespread cleaning of the vaults from countless artists who weren’t still around to offer their own opinions.

A different tradition, though, has also emerged over the years, which involves the estates or the surviving members of a band opting to add overdubs to incomplete tracks. Next week, two of the biggest-selling groups in rock history — Pink Floyd and Queen — will release albums that are being presented as their first new material in decades.

The public’s interest hasn’t waned: In Britain, Amazon announced that Pink Floyd’s The Endless River is on track to become the most pre-ordered album of all time, potentially surpassing One Direction’s 2013 Midnight Memories. Queen Forever is coming out in the middle of the band’s wildly successful world tour, with Adam Lambert taking Freddie Mercury’s spot as lead vocalist, in front of guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor.

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But these albums raise the question of how exactly listeners are supposed to approach such retooled archival work.

The Endless River bears the additional burden of representing a version of Floyd that many feel is already compromised. Keyboardist Rick Wright left the band in 1979, followed by an acrimonious break with Roger Waters, the singer-lyricist-bassist, in 1985. Guitarist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason continued; Wright rejoined them, and the three produced A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994).

Wright died in 2008, and a few years later, Gilmour excavated the tapes from the trio’s final 1993 jam sessions. He and Mason began overdubbing new parts to the old tracks and have described the new album as a tribute to Wright.

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The results are almost entirely instrumental, an effort that Gilmour insists will be the final music released under the name Pink Floyd. Parts of The Endless River evoke some of the band’s much-loved instrumental freak-outs, like Echoes or Shine On You Crazy Diamond, but the new songs can’t match the urgency and intensity of those space odysseys.

Queen Forever is primarily an anthology of the band’s work. Many would question the need for another retrospective; Greatest Hits is the best-selling record ever in Britain, with Greatest Hits II not far behind. Of the four members of its classic lineup, one is dead (Mercury died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991), and one is no longer working with them (bassist John Deacon retired in 1997). So the headlines for this set are the three opening songs, billed as the first material to feature them since 1995’s Made in Heaven album. Mercury’s long-rumoured duet with Michael Jackson, There Must Be More to Life Than This, was initially recorded for Queen’s 1982 album Hot Space but never completed till now.

May’s Let Me in Your Heart Again was also attempted but not finished; the Forever version has newly recorded guitar parts. The third new track, Love Kills, was released as a disco-flavoured Mercury solo recording on the soundtrack that producer Giorgio Moroder assembled for the 1984 re-release of Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent movie Metropolis. The full band, however, played on a slower take of the original track, and this release resurrects that power-ballad rendition.

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So exactly what are these recordings? New or old, fresh or recycled?

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First published on: 09-11-2014 at 12:21:45 am
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