Shine on, you crazy hi-res diamonds. Pink Floyd’s final studio album, The Endless River — out today via Columbia in various physical and digital formats — is an absolutely worthy entry in the band’s deep catalog of “high fidelity, first class” recordings. The 96/24 mix in surround sound on Blu-ray, done by producer Andy Jackson (who also helmed the hi-res 5.1 mix for the recently released 20th anniversary box set of The Division Bell), is top-drawer. River‘s 18 tracks have been sequenced into four specific movements, or “Sides,” and each one carries its own particular vibe, from the sweeping keyboard sturm and soaring guitar drang interplay of Side 1’s “It’s What We Do,” the abject percussive fury of Side 2’s “Skins,” the ivory-tickling solemnity of Side 3’s “The Lost Art of Conversation,” and the uplifting ride of Side 4’s hopeful closing statement, “Louder Than Words” (the latter being the only River song graced by guitarist David Gilmour’s distinctive, impassioned vocals).
I had a chance to sit down with Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason at the Sony Club in New York last week to discuss the making of The Endless River, amongst other hot Floydian topics — such as assessing the band’s penchant for making high-fidelity recordings and pioneering live quad, their trouble at communicating over the years, and possible future projects, including one that might include Super 8 video taken during the prime 1965-68 Syd Barrett era.
Over on Digital Trends, Mason and I discussed his view of the current state of SQ and hi-res playback: “We’ve gotten used to a diet of very poor-quality sound, which is entirely self-induced by people listening to everything on MP3 players and earbuds and so on. Let’s remember that when The Endless River came out of the kitchen, it is absolutely five-star sound. … What’s really peculiar is the human ear really seems to like that top end scraped off and smoothed off — and if that’s the case, we have to find other ways of transferring that feel to other technologies and other formats, like high-res.”
Then, over on FOX411, Mason revealed to me the inspiration for his stunning roto-tom work on “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” a pivotal track from 1968’s A Saucerful of Secrets: “I remember seeing this movie on the Newport Jazz Festival — Jazz on a Summer’s Day, it was called [released in 1960, chronicling the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival]. From that, I entirely owe ‘Set the Controls’ to drummer Chico Hamilton. He played a solo with beaters [i.e., mallets], and they filmed it. It was something I had never, ever seen a drummer do, to use mallets like that.” (You can also hear this influence in some of Mason’s work on 1969’s far-reaching Ummagumma, as well as during the band’s stunning 1971 live performance amidst the Italian amphitheater ruins on the Blu-ray for Live at Pompeii.)
Finally, over on TIDAL, both Mason and Jackson marvel at Rick Wright’s astounding pipe-organ work on The Endless River track “Autumn ’68,” which was cut live at the Royal Albert Hall on the night Pink Floyd was banned from ever playing there again. Jackson recounts, “When they were there in 1968, Rick had a go on the pipe organ. There was a Revox and some mics going in, so it was recorded. Damon [Iddons, engineer] is also our librarian, and he tracks all the things that are coming through, and he went, ‘Oooh, I’ll tell you what I’ve got! This is great!’ It’s a great sound.” Mason adds, “That was an extraordinary thing. I had no idea that existed. I suppose I feel that is one of the gems, much like the one on Wish You Were Here with Stéphane Grappelli [a version of the Wish You Were Here title track on both the 2011 Immersion box set and Experience edition that showcases the legendary classical violinist Grappelli taking a solo]. I thought we had lost that one — that we’d run out of space and recorded over it. To find that one really pleased me. It’s amazing. And the great advantage of digital technology now is you just save everything.”
The last brick may have been set in Pink Floyd’s studio-recording wall, but The Endless River is a fitting final entry in their storied aural canon. You can find the Blu-ray casebook and 180-gram vinyl versions on Acoustic Sounds, while Acoustic Sounds Super HiRez has the dowlnload in 96/24 FLAC. Meanwhile, HDtracks has the album available for download in 96/24 AIFF, ALAC, WAV, and FLAC. Regardless of which format(s) you choose to hear The Endless River flow — happy listening. And, by the way, when you’re done, please let us know which one’s Pink.