Welcome To The Duplication Machine

We scratch our heads over Still Wish You Were Here, an efficient but entirely pointless recreation of Pink Floyd’s masterpiece Wish You Were Here.

I’m a big fan of cover versions – not in total, obviously, but for the possibilities that can come with a reinterpretation of a song, an artist making it their own and perhaps finding something there that the original performer didn’t. I’m reasonably okay with the idea of the tribute album, which is essentially a series of cover versions – at best, it allows a collection of artists to do their own thing with a band’s songs, creating an alternative ‘best of’ compilation. Admittedly, most ‘tribute albums’ feel like desperate recreations, lacking in any sense of originality and instead banking on a fan base of a certain age and possessed of enough disposable income and lust for new product ‘by’ their favourite old bands that they will happily shell out for these collections.

But a cover album? An entire LP recreated from start to finish? That feels a little odd. More so than the tribute album, it seems an exercise in pointlessness, unless the acts involved are going to take things in a radically new direction, effectively reinventing the familiar in ways that feel new and different. Otherwise, why not just listen to the original LP, which is probably going to have better versions of all these songs?

That seems especially true of Wish You Were Here, one of Pink Floyd’s most personal and artistic albums, perhaps the final gasp of the band as a band, a confrontation of their past and the music industry pressures that were tearing them apart in the wake of Dark Side of the Moon‘s success. Wish You Were Here feels like a near-flawless work, a deeply personal study that drips with melancholy and regret for innocence lost. It seems folly to try and recreate that, especially with a collection of artists from (mostly) the prog-rock world, brought together in manufactured collectives that have no personal, long-established connections between the artists playing on each track. Yes, it makes for an impressive collection of names to plaster across a press release – but it hardly suggests an intimate, personal connection with each other, let alone the songs.

I’m not suggesting that the performers on Still Wish You Were Here are not fans of the Floyd or the album – many of them are the band’s contemporaries, others performers from more modern prog acts. But in coming together not as bands or solo artists, but as hired gun collectives, there seems little hope that they will be offering their own stamp on the material, because what stamp could that be? Who, beyond the album’s producer (unidentified on the press release), is actually in charge here?

And so, unsurprisingly, what we have here is closer to the sound of a tribute band than anything else. Now, tribute bands make a degree of sense as live performers – in the absence of your favourite band touring, why not go for a ‘reasonable facsimile’ (as Roger Waters once described Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason). But that’s where the real thing is not available. And those bands are bands – the same musicians, by and large, playing together night after night. Even if they are dedicated to recreating someone else’s sound, they at least have the cohesion and connection of a real band. I can appreciate the value in such a band, but I still wouldn’t buy an album by them.

This album has an impressive roll call of performers – Rick Wakeman, Bootsy Collins, Deep Purple’s Ian Paice, Rat Scabies, Joe Satriani, Jah Wobble, Steve Hillage, Carmine Appice, Queensrÿche’s Geoff Tate, Dream Theater’s James LaBrie, Geoff Downes, Steve Hackett, Rod Argent, Patrick Moraz, Tangerine Dream’s Edgar Froese and others. This is not one of those tribute albums where you have no idea who anyone performing on it is. But beyond some furious and inappropriate guitar noodling by Satriani on Wish You Were Here, the performances rarely venture beyond the familiar. Everything sounds very much like the original versions, only not as good and not as heartfelt. So the vocals tend to be a bit too rock ‘n’ roll, the songs a bit too pushed up and over-produced. Perhaps that is what this album is for, then – people who want Wish You Were Here to have 2020s production sound and a bit – but not too much – more swagger.

There are certainly albums that might benefit from being stripped of their dated production – Roger Waters’ own Radio K.A.O.S. is a classic example of a great project drowned in terrible, screamingly 1980s production that makes it now sound more old-fashioned than anything he did in the 1960s. But Wish You Were Here is not one of those albums. You tackle a project like this at your peril, I would say – unless you are simply doing it as a soulless cash grab.

The thing is, these are great songs and unless you really try, you’re not going to bugger them up by attempting to recreate them. This album is perfectly serviceable as a curiosity; if you have never heard the original album, it might serve as a passable alternative, though you could still just buy the real thing – it’s not exactly a lost recording. The artists involved in this have enough talent that you rather wish that they had done something else – there are hundreds of LPs that you could do prog reconstructions of if you had that inclination. Going for Floyd, with the ready audience that exists for anything even remotely connected to the band, seems a bit lazy to be honest. This is not the first such Floyd duplication album, and presumably, these things are selling like hotcakes so it is unlikely to be the last. Should this collection of musicians ever perform their Floyd tribute live, I’m sure it would be quite an experience – but the record feels like a pointless exercise, beyond making me want to dig out my copy of the original version out once again.



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