PINK FLOYD – DELICATE SOUND OF THUNDER TURNS 25 (A “LOOKING BACK” REVIEW)…

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On Thursday, the 25th anniversary of one of the best known live albums of the 80s will come and go probably unnoticed. Delicate Sound Of Thunder was the band’s first live album since their greatest successes happened in the 70s. It also marked a triumph for David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright following a very public feud with original lyricist and bassist Roger Waters. Both had put out albums in 1987 within months of each other. Roger’s album, Radio K.A.O.S. was heavy on the lyrical concept, but on the musical side resembled the classic Floyd sound very little. A concept about a mute young Welsh man in a wheelchair experiencing L.A. for the first time, receiving radio waves telepathically, befriending a DJ via speech communicator, then teaching the world a lesson via a faked nuclear war scare (big breath) was all buried under drum machines (or at least drum pads) and the woo-woos of backing singers and poppy dance beats. Not to mention the same synth sound from the opening of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” that became overused for a year or two. (I looked this one up in case anyone cares – the sound is a synthesized shakuhachi flute generated with an Emu Emulator II sampler.) So when the new Gilmour-led Floyd put out A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and much of the music had that very dreamlike feel of some of Floyd’s classic songs, many people jumped ship or chose to side with the band still called Pink Floyd. Floyd went on to tour their biggest show to that date to bigger audiences than ever. Roger then went public about his distaste for large shows, but quipped every chance he got that this Floyd was a forgery because the lyrics had been created by Gilmour and co-writers. To be fair, the album made liberal use of guest musicians and co-writers. But to the unknowing, Floyd version 1987 *sounded* more like Pink Floyd.
The debate still enrages die-hards from both sides to this day. A plus side to this tour was that it brought keyboardist and co-vocalist Rick Wright back into the light. He was barely present on the studio album, but was thrust back out to perform during the tour. Rick cited later that the arguments between him and Roger Waters that led to a blackmail-style firing after The Wall left him with no self confidence in his musical abilities.  This was regained by him again as the tour went on. The live lineup was expanded greatly. Stepping in for the departed Roger, and playing bass parts that Tony Levin (of Peter Gabriel fame) had played on AMLoR was Guy Pratt, a then little-know session musician who had worked with The Dream Academy and Bryan Ferry. Both acts are friends of Gilmour so this is no doubt how he was recommended. The sound was fleshed out with the addition of Tim Renwick on second guitar, Gary Wallis on percussion, and John Carin on keyboards. Carin has gone on to be the keyboardist of choice for the ’94 tour, Gilmour’s solo tour and also Roger Waters’ recent tours, due to his status as quick learning understudy to Rick Wright. There was also Scott Page on sax. You may remember him from the live video clips as the guy with the teased monster mullet. He is also the guy that in between notes went “UHHHHH! AWWW!” into his sax. This fit on the newer songs sometimes but was something to bear on the older songs. The vocals were then complete with three backing singers and swayers, who I have affectionately always called “the Woo Woo girls”. These were Rachel Fury, Durga McBroom, and Margaret Taylor.
So what makes this album the bastard child of the Pink Floyd collection? To date the album has not been remastered since its 1988 release. It is all but ignored in their discography. Especially since 1995’s P.U.L.S.E. came out, which has become the go-to definitive later-era Floyd live album. It covers more songs making full use of the CD time constraints and contains a full Dark Side of The Moon. It also had original sax player Dick Parry. The difference in sound mix is night and day. DSoT is heavy on the reverb, an artifact of 80s production. It comes off sounding somewhat cold, as many 80s live albums do. But here’s the breakdown of what you get in the double disc set…
For starters, many songs from the setlist were cut from the live show setlist for the live album. This leaves the remaining selection a bit disjointed. The first set highlighted AMLoR, and the second set emphasized the big hits. Early on in the tour, the band was opening with 1971’s “Echoes”. At the time Gilmour just wasn’t feeling it, and as evidenced on bootlegs had also forgotten some of the words. So the band opted to open with a shortened version of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. The shortcomings are apparent right off. The cannon shot sound of the drums just isn’t right and the sax solo is..well being nice here it’s.. different. Otherwise the band still does a great job here. In the shows, the fade out gives way to the AMLoR opener “Signs of Life” which sets the tone for the new songs. However it was cut, so we jump head first into “Learning To Fly”. This song sounds a lot different live. It has lots of percussion going on as to where the album version is very much based on a drum machine. After an energetic version of that we go straight to “side two” of AMLoR. We start with “Yet Another Movie”, which is not an overly catchy song but one that requires patience. The guitar work here is brilliant especially and the performance is close to the album with some additional life. Tracked separately for god knows what reason is “Round and Around”, the fading section of the previous song. But then inexplicably DSoT cuts one of my favorite parts, the medley of “A New Machine Pt. 1 / Terminal Frost / A New Machine Pt. 2” which is one of the more reflective parts of the album and was a nice part of the show. The album cuts right to “Sorrow”. “Sorrow” is a track that has grown on me over time. The AMLoR version fades out at the end when the solo catches fire, which is a crime. The live version not only completes the solo, but ends with the same menacing guitar section as the opening of the song, making it far more complete. I do prefer the P*U*L*S*E version to this, but this was much better than the studio version. Then we come back to what was once voted the most hated Pink Floyd song, “The Dogs of War”. And to that I raise two middle fingers, as I have always quite liked this song. It was a return of Gilmour to his gruff voice he used on “Money” and while the production may sound a bit dated, the lyrics are still topical. The band has some fun here and gives the live version more oomph than the studio version. My only real complaint here is that having two drummers playing the same beat can be a little annoying and unnecessary. I’m sure Nick Mason could do just fine with only one set. But the theme of the show seemed to be “BIGGER! BETTER! MORE!!”. This is followed just like on the studio album by “On The Turning Away”, which I think is one of Gilmour’s finer moments in songcraft.

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Disc two starts off the trail down memory lane. First we have the 1988 version of “One Of These Days”. This is where Guy Pratt proves he is very capable of stepping into his role as bassist. The doubled 80s drums again are a bit distracting, but the song is a lot of fun and give Gilmour a chance to show off his slide guitar skills. Then we get to the Dark Side of The Moon and Wish You Were Here material, presented befuddlingly out of sequence. “Time” is of course exciting to hear again. Rick’s voice is a bit uneasy here when compared to P*U*L*S*E, but it is nice to hear again. Way too much extra drumming though. One major drawback that shows up is that we are used to hearing the way these songs segue together. Instead “Time” stops before “Breathe Reprise”. In the shows it was followed by “On The Run”, then “The Great Gig In The Sky” which is just jarring, like when you realize you’ve accidentally left a playlist of shuffle. Both are skipped on the album, going for “Wish You Were Here”. This was before the band and Gilmour solo used the opening sound effects religiously, so it has a dry guitar opening. This is where the guy mixing should be fired, as the audience is completely mixed out of the recording except to cheer, then we don’t know why they cheered. As evidenced on P*U*L*S*E, “Wish You Were Here” becomes a very spirited singalong for the entire crowd. I was kind of floored by how this sounded when I saw the band on the 1994 tour. The performance is still a very nice one regardless. DSoT skips the next surprise in the show, “Welcome To The Machine”, which was handled in my opinion far better than the changed and rearranged Waters solo live version. So we go next to “Us and Them”. No effects. Just a beautiful guitar opening. The sax solo is good until you get to the first “AWWWWW!”. Then I can’t stop hearing only that, despite the sax solo being pretty good otherwise.
This brings us to the glorious “love it or reeeeally hate it” performance of “Money”. While I think the goal of it was to stretch out, solo a lot and have some fun, it gets to the point of ridiculousness. First, “Money… WOOO WOOO!!!!”. No. But then we even have a reggae breakdown and a woo-woo solo. The double drums get really annoying here. And Scott… stop going “AWWWW!!!!”… for the love of all that is Floydly! So after MONAAAAAAYYYYY WOOOWOOO we get a chunk of songs from The Wall. First we get “Another Brick In The Wall Part II”, which starts with an opening like the single version rather than “The Happiest Days of Our Lives”. Then it stops. Then Gilmour sounds like he’s just bored with the song when he starts cold with “We don’t need no education”. The double drums are annoying as hell on this one. The slap bass solo is unnecessary. But this song has always gone way overboard into rock show cliché territory when played by either camp.
Next is another dividing line. This is not the “Comfortably Numb” you know and love. Replacing Roger’s almost spoken parts is a group melody vocal over a very slowed down beat. To be fair, neither camp has gotten it right without the other since Waters’ departure. The song needs both Roger and David. In later years Rick Wright learned to approximate the part better. But then the solo happens and makes the earlier missteps forgivable. Unlike the album version, the live version of the second solo seemed to get longer and more elaborate with each tour, much to my delight.
The show took its first bow here and broke before the encore. On the actual shows, the band came back with “One Slip”, which during part of the tour was their latest single. It’s upbeat, more pop than many other songs on their album, and brought what I’m sure they felt was some upbeat energy to the finale. However it was not featured on the live album, so they must have had a change of heart.
The final song of the night was a revved up high-powered bouncy version of “Run Like Hell”. I’ve always had mixed feeling about this. The song in context of The Wall was dark and menacing. here is was just fun. Instead of singing “run!” they are *shouting* “RUN!”. Again, it’s a fun closer but a far cry from the original version. But I still love the teaser opening that was expanded in the later shows.
The verdict? Guilty. This is the bastard child of my Pink Floyd collection. It is unfortunately affected by some of the problems the band would overcome, namely being in the 80s. The 80s were a time where many things that were natural were being ditched in favor of the computerized and automated and synthetic. But it’s still a fun listen. However if you are a big fan of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, there are shows out there that are better representative of their sound. Especially the DVD A Venezia, their Venice show from the end of the tour on a floating stage. It can be found on the Pink Floyd fan torrent site YEESKHUL! for free. As always I highly recommend joining this community of some of the most knowledgeable fans around. If anything, the album did provide some great artwork by Storm Thorgerson.

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If like me, you still *have* to have Delicate Sound of Thunder because it is part of the rich history of Pink Floyd (and currently out-of-print!), it can be found here…

CD | MP3 | VINYL!

FUN FACT: Delicate Sound of Thunder became the first rock album to be played in space, as Soviet cosmonauts took it aboard Soyuz TM-7. They left the cassette box on Earth to save weight. The members of Pink Floyd were present at the launch. The double LP was also the band’s only album to be officially released in the Soviet Union by the state-owned label Melodiya.

Check out the Venice show I mentioned above from 1989:

And from Atlanta, GA in 1987, The full “Calhoun Tapes” show from which the promo live videos were extracted:

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