In an interview with illustrator Gerald Scarfe on the DVD of this mammoth project, the artist states that he and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters were very similar, as “beneath the façade they like to see the rot”. Nothing in pop music is more about shining facades and inner rot than Waters’ magnum opus, the 1979 concept double-album The Wall. Its 26 tracks, recounting the tale of the breakdown, alienation and possible redemption of semi-autobiographical, semi-fictitious rock star Pink, divided the Floyd fanbase then – and, to some extent, continues to today.
Putting aside the customary Immersion Edition scarf and marbles, the original album is supplemented with the 2011 remaster of the double-live 2000 release Is There Anybody Out There?. Though there were debates over just how much post-production fairy dust was sprinkled onto the final mixes, it’s an electrifying document, giving some idea of just how thrilling it was to be at the early 80s live shows. Though lacking in 5.1 mixes and extensive DVD content (there’s one solitary remnant of the Earls Court footage, The Happiest Days Of Our Lives; plus interviews and the first DVD release of the 2000 Behind The Wall documentary), the 55 tracks charting the – ahem – building of The Wall over two discs are arguably the most fascinating of all the Immersion outtakes.
The snippets from Waters’ original home demos (the cassette he played the group when they reconvened at Britannia Row in July 1978) are fascinating. With primitive synths and icy vocals, some of it sounds not unlike contemporary post-punk. Though the discs also enable you to chart the input of producers Bob Ezrin, James Guthrie and David Gilmour, it’s also undeniable just how much of the work arrived fully-formed.
Some of the best material is from the band’s production demo from January 1979, where they put together the initial proposed sequence. Waters’ distaste for sections of his audience is evident in the first version of Another Brick In The Wall, then known as Reminiscing. Full of picked guitar, it owes a debt, unbelievably, to the sound of Jolene by Dolly Parton. The interesting yet gauche Teacher, Teacher (which became The Hero’s Return from The Final Cut) sat in the sequence between Goodbye Blue Sky and Another Brick In The Wall Part II. Young Lust is a dirty, scabrous blues; to hear Gilmour singing about being “in front of the fleapit by the railway station” just seems too un-Pink Floyd. When the guitarist’s two home demos appear at the end of the sixth disc, the acoustic, instrumental Comfortably Numb is all Crosby, Stills & Nash, complete with the chorus being sung entirely in scat. It’s akin to a cleansing sorbet at the end of a heavy feast.
Again, as established in the work-in-progress extras to Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here, perfect decisions were made: Waters giving some of his vocal parts to Gilmour; astute lyric changes (“Mother’s gonna burn all your pornography” wasn’t quite world-class, nor was Waters singing a cod-Nazi accent for In The Flesh). We also get to hear Nick Mason struggling with the drum part on Mother, replaced on the album by Jeff Porcaro.
Though Waters’ lyrical themes had been in place for many years, sonically, it had all changed. Sounding at times like an operatic version of a Police record with its terse, clipped guitar, the original The Wall still startles: the second unavoidable masterwork in Pink Floyd’s canon and probably the most successful one to transfer to Lacklustreville, Idaho. Add in all the bonus material and it remains the album those of a certain age feel guilty for loving and yet need to listen to all the way through (or at least until Stop). This Immersion version does it justice. You might not want to hear it all in a single sitting, though.