fuzmeister: The Trend of New Mixes - A Lapse of Reason?
Love it or hate it, I can safely say I've heard Pink Floyd's "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" hundreds of times since I first heard it a little over 20 years ago. I know it's maybe the most-divisive album of "their" catalog hot off the very public departure of previous songsmith Roger Waters, but I've always really enjoyed it for what it was and felt it recaptured the vibe of earlier PF fairly well following the Waters-dominated "Final Cut."

In 2019, the group's remaining members, label, and management decided to reissue the album with a "new mix" as part of the "later years" box set. In 2021, that reissue has received a standalone release and I've finally sat down with a critical set of ears to listen to what's presented to us here. However, this post is less of a critique of this rerelease specifically and more a broader attempt to convey a trend we really haven't seen before in the music industry. I'm curious if it's a fad in the way SACDs, dual-disc, etc. were or if this is really something here to stay.

Since the 50th anniversary reissue of the Beatles' landmark Sgt. Pepper album in 2017, they've been reissuing subsequent albums with "modern" mixes spearheaded by original producer George Martin's son Giles. Now, I cannot truly say any of the new mixes of these classic albums have been objectively bad - in many cases, the new mixes have brought out elements of the recordings previously quite subtle or even unheard. The purist in me though, it seems, will never see these modern mixes as the definitive versions - however, I recognize that having heard the original releases for decades of my life, I'm quite biased in my personal preference. Still, I would never fight against the existence of these mixes - even during their initial heyday, there were tons of differences between the mono and stereo mixes of Beatles projects being released. Over the years, some have stood firm in one camp or another, whereas most have just rolled with whatever was commonly accepted as the canonical mix. There's like three or four official versions of the Let It Be guitar solo between the various releases by the way - that's a different story for a different post though.

Back to 1987's Momentary Lapse of Reason album - if ever there was objectively an era that was candidate for cleaning up songs with new mixes, many would argue the mid-to-late 80s would be it. Notoriously drenched in reverb and early digital effects, the thirteenth album from Pink Floyd certainly falls victim to many of the popular trends of the time. However, whether because I've heard it hundreds of times or it objectively is the truth, I can safely say only about half the songs on Momentary Lapse truly benefited from a new mix done with 21st century ears. That isn't to say all of the original mixes have aged well and don't sound dated - quite the opposite in many cases, but this seems to be what gives some of the record its intangible sense of charm.

So let's just run through a few quick thoughts I had after hearing the 2019 mix of this album. Firstly, the drums have almost entirely been re-recorded by drummer Nick Mason who was absent from many of the original studio tracks. He played these songs many, many times during the supporting tour and I had no concerns about his performance itself. The new recordings rarely clash at all with the original tracks recorded 30+ years earlier and, in many cases, I think his playing brings a sense of cohesion not found on the earlier release. With all that being said however, there are still songs that appear to be using original takes from the album - Learning To Fly (possibly the biggest single from this LP) in particular seems to use the original drum machine parts from the song (perhaps to preserve the original's approach to production) - this decision leaves the song feeling disjointed and strange - the absence of many 80s production choices here clashes with the original drum machine part still prominently being featured.

Keyboard parts from Mr. Richard Wright have been included on these new mixes as well - allegedly pulled from live multitracks recorded during the supporting tour, I liked hearing some different key parts, but nothing on this album is being lifted up to new heights because of their inclusion here. Some synthesizer parts that sounded quite cheesy and dated on the original release are also still firmly in-place on this reissue as well. However, the lack of excessive reverb on the new mix makes them stand out even more and sound frankly quite worse in some cases.

David Gilmour's guitar parts wisely remain unchanged. Those and his vocals were always the centerpiece of excellence on the original release and they continue to be here. Songs like the closer Sorrow arguably feature some of his most-celebrated solos and, generally speaking, his vocal delivery remains confident and composed even following the departure of Roger Waters and his lyricism. One curious head-scratcher is the vocal take on the new mix of On The Turning Away - I can't tell if it's pulled from a live version or just an alternate studio take, but it is definitely different. The original vocal was excellent and I'm left confused by why they felt the need to change it. On The Dogs of War, they wisely preserved the original delay present on Gilmour's vocal to still convey the original mix's atmosphere and vibe. I can safely say that was one of the songs better off in the 2019 mix.

All in all, yeah - it's an interesting trend. As with the Beatles' reissues, I don't think this new mix of Momentary Lapse is going to be my preferred version. I may just be set in my ways. It's an interesting exercise for the groups to go through releasing mixes updated for 21st century listeners, but the cynic in me can't help but think it's just another way to attempt to revive dying music industry sales. A few of the new mixes on this reissue certainly demand a second listen, but I think I'll continue to enjoy this somewhat controversial Pink Floyd album in its original format - cheesiness and all.

Mood: Intrigued

Tags (beta): music, pink floyd

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