Various Artists - Signs Of Life, A Tribute To Pink Floyd - Duo Review
Tracklist CD2: Grand Cross - Shine On You Crazy Diamond (13.57), Pangaea - Time (4.59), Eternity X - Comfortably Numb (6.46), Tiamat - When You're In (5.46), Megace - Dogs Of War (6.23), The Crack Of Dom - Another Brick In The Wall (7.12), The Electric Family - Careful With That Axe, Eugene (6.34), Liquid Visions - Interstellar Overdrive (5.48), Mindala - Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (10.42), Fantasyy Factoryy - One Of These Days (7.46)
'Another Pink Floyd covers album ?', the fans might ask. Most certainly this isn't the first one.
A long range of albums with various levels of qualities have preceeded this one. Most of these
albums fall in the category of orchestral tributes or industrial or trance versions of Floyd
classics. Rarely have we seen a good tribute album that keeps the songs in the genre where they
are supposed to belong to; prog rock or at least rock music !
Maybe Signs of Life, a double CD with mainly German bands, succeeds in offering something interesting this time. Mark and Ed, both long time Floyd fans, gave the disc some thorough listenings and present their thoughts. Not only have they rated the full disc; they also gave ratings to the individual songs.
Sylvan - High Hopes
Ed: The first song on this double CD is a great version of the song from The Division Bell. The fascinating thing about Sylvan's version of High Hopes is the fact that they have succeeded in taking the song and re-arranging it with completely new vocal melodies and heavy guitar riffs to the extend that the song at times almost becomes unrecognisable and sounds very much like a typical Sylvan composition, as they can also be heard on Encounters. The massive keyboard solo is worth mentioning as well. Great stuff ! Rating: 8.
Mark: Frog chants and crickets are added to the introductory bells. Vocally this song sees a departure from the original vocal melody at times, with higher octave vocals adding extra emotion. The at times harsher guitar and Ayreonesque keyboards are expertely arranged and the guitar solo, although an exact replica, is pretty good. All in all a fine rendition that's close to the original even with the noted variations. Rating: 8.
Cromwell - Another Day Of Sorrow
Ed: This is an interesting medley of three songs: Yet Another Movie (from A Momentary Lapse of Reason), flowing into The Happiest Days of Our Lives (from The Wall) and closing with Sorrow (from A Momentary Lapse of Reason). This may seem like an unlikely combination, but it works quite well. A new rhythm has been added to Yet Another Movie while Happiest Days ... comes with heavy riffs following the bass chords and a slightly silly keyboard twiddle. The end of the song features a nice piece of saxophone. All in all an enjoyable medley. Rating: 7.5.
Mark: A professionally arranged medley, which starts off as Yet Another Movie. Great melodic keyboards, good guitar control, quite Gilmouresque. It then turns into The Happiest Days of Our Lives, where the strange and rather riduculous keyboard twiddle Ed mentioned is added for, to me, obscure reasons. This cover might have been drawn out to a somewhat longer track, but the most important fact to mention here is that the combination of the three songs works very well. Good job! Rating: 8.
Angel Dust - Run Like Hell
Ed: This version hardly differs from the original. The only new thing is the added scream 'Run Liiiiike Hell !' during the guitar solos following the verses. Besides that, the vocals suffer from a rather heavy German accent. Rating: 6.5.
Mark: This version takes the post-Waters live renditions as starting point...and sticks to it as much as possible. The only digression, besides added attention to keyboards, are the unnecessary screams from the vocalist, who seems to think we've forgotten the name of the song. A good cover, but nothing you wouldn't find on your favourite eighties or nineties PF live album. Rating: 7.
Ziff - Wish You Were Here
Ed: Now, this is much better. Ziff has taken this - in my opinion - overplayed ballad and turned it into a kick-ass up-tempo rock song with a great male/female vocal duet. The song features some marvellous keyboard work that easily compares to Mark Kelly's early Marillion solos. Halfway through we get a short break where the song returns to it's original tempo, but not for long because soon the whole band kicks in again. The only daft thing about the songs is the mispronounced lyric 'a smile from a whale'. Highly original, I consider this to be a highlight of the album. Rating: 8+.
Mark: A dreamy opening sequence erupts with full energy into a uptempo rendition of the first vocal section of Wish You Were Here. The second lyrics section returns to a more relaxed state. Then a splendid piece of variation follows, again energetic as the strong female vocals take the lead. Great stuff. Ratings: 8.
Mystery - Hey You
Ed: Very well played but far from original; this version is an exact copy of the original from The Wall. Rating: 7-.
Mark: Another rendition that's extremely close to the original. Pretty good, especially instrumentally, but nothing new. Yes, this remains a great song even after hearing it so many times. Rating: 7.
R.P.W.L - Cymbaline
Ed: This is THE highlight of the CD. R.P.W.L. has been a Floyd cover band for a long time and with their version of the unrecognized Floyd classic Cymbaline proves that they can perfectly capture the spirit of the early seventies Pink Floyd. Cymbaline is a song from Floyd's soundtrack for the movie More and was played many times in the period 1969-1971, often in lengthy versions in which Pink Floyd demonstrated their quadrophonic sound system with a sequence of footsteps going round the venue. Spotting the length of R.P.W.L.'s version I initially feared that they would recreate the footstep sequence, but listening to the song I only found very positive surprises. First of all, the song starts with the two-note bass-line of Careful With That Axe Eugene, acccompanied by mysterious keyboard noises, before it goes into the beautiful Cymbaline. After the first couple of verses a wonderful Hammond organ solo follows and after 6 minutes the song suddenly moves into the Funky Dung section of the Atom Heart Mother suite, featuring some of the best 'Gilmourian' guitar playing on the whole double album. Eventually the song returns to the last Cymbaline verse. Absolutely marvellous ! Rating: 9.
Mark: Surprisingly this starts off as a version of Careful With That Axe, Eugene before the actual covered song is taken up. Then, halfway through we are treated to a lenghty excerpt from Atom Heart Mother, played gracefully on Hammond and with the well known guitar solo. Great rendition with excellent vocal and instrumental performances from one of the best new bands of the year 2000. R.P.W.L. takes one of the most underrated songs from the PF portfolio and delivers an imaginative rendition. Love that Hammond, boys! Rating: 9-.
Das Zeichen - Welcome To The Machine
Ed: This version of Welcome to the Machine is quite reasonable. Although the song follows the original quite closely it does feature some new arrangements in the form of new mechanical rhythms and additional melodies on acoustic guitar. The vocals are a combination of low male singing and more powerful female vocals in the background. Unfortunately the vocals are the weak spot of this song. They are a bit too low in the mix and the male and female voices are not always in synch. Rating: 7.
Mark: Very eerie intro. This version has double vocals which in unison are quite good together, a male voice ultra relaxed, female voice more emotional on the background. Some attractive diversions on acoustic guitar, including original solos, one of which turns oriental at one point. Focus is far less on synths than in the original except towards the end. Problem is it should have ended at the 5 minute mark, for then some silly female chanting ensues. Rating: 7.
Vanishing Point - On The Turning Away
Ed: Wow, another highlight ! Imagine Big Country taking this ballad from Momentary Lapse of Reason and turning it into one of their energetic, uptempo rockers with a slight celtic flavour. This rocks and kicks ass ! Rating: 8+.
Mark: This is one of the best. Take the music and lyrics from the original and rethink them in turns of Take It Back and this is the result. Amazing how well the melancholy lyrics work in this energetic, joyfull rendition. It sounds a bit muffled, but who cares? Splendid stuff and probably the most original cover version on the album. Rating: 8.5.
Solar Project - Pigs (feat. Dogs `N` Sheep)
Ed: Solar Project bring us a nice medley of all the songs of the Animals album. After half a minute of the intro keyboards of Sheep we get a nice version of Pigs with female lead vocals and male backing vocals. After a fine 'pig screaming' voice box solo the song suddenly goes into Pigs on the Wing. After this nice acoustic intermezzo we are treated to the guitar solo from the second half of Dogs, after which the song closes the way it began; with the fading keyboards from Sheep. The band plays all songs very close to the Floyd's versions, but the nice medley mixture makes this an original approach nevertheless. Rating: 8-.
Mark: Working a whole Floyd album into a ten minute track seems quite a challenge indeed, but Solar Project have made a valiant effort. This starts off as the intro to Sheep, then, a bit uncomfortably, turns to Pigs. Another good combination of female and male vocals. Although the female vocalist is off to a bad start with the first three lines of Pigs, she makes good her performance after that. After the instrumental section we slip more comfortably to Pigs On The Wing (Part One) and then to the guitar solo from Dogs. Then it's closing time with a repeat of the intro from Sheep. This one earns extra credits for its approach, although I remain queasy about certain section of the vocals. Rating: 7.5.
Flying Circus - Let There Be More Light
Ed: This psychedelic oldie from Saucerful of Secrets starts with the well-known 3 note bass-line, although here accompanied by some extra guitar melodies. When the vocals come in they prove to be far from perfect. It almost seems like an old woman singing, whereas the whole sound quality of the piece makes it (intentionally ?) sound as if it was recorded in the same period as the original; the late sixties. After the vocal section we get a psychedelic part with drum rolls followed by a return to the 3-note bass-line, accompanied by a quick rhythm. The mediocre guitar playing fails to impress me in these two monotonous segments, as does the rest of this piece as a whole. The snippet of Astonomy Domine and the ending with a sample from the Bolero cannot enhance my interest in this track. Rating: 6.
Mark: The female vocals make this absolutely unlistenable. What's more, the same irritating voice is heard doing backing vocals, as to double my irritation. There's also an a bit redundant instrumental section with admittedly nice drum rolls, but the inadequate guitar solo and modern keyboards just aren't at their place here, although a frail attempt is made to heave it in a psychedelic jacket, with the help of bits from Astronomy Domine. What's worse, they've chosen to end it with an excerpt from Ravel's Bolero! Not much is left of the magic that made this one of my favourite PF tracks. Rating: 5.
Pendragon - Schizo (a tribute to Pink Floyd)
Ed: Pendragon has never really been my cup of tea. That goes for this song as well. First of all, I don't understand what it's doing on this album. It's the only song that isn't a cover of an existing Floyd song but instead an own composition. True, it is heavily based on Floydian elements like 'Gilmourian' guitar, slow pounding rhythms and lots of female backing vocals, but it isn't a Floyd song. The only reason I can think of why it's on this album is the fact that it would help sell more copies (on the promotional leaflets it's printed largest). The song isn't bad and the melody is okay but I can't get excited about Nick Barrett's voice and above that, I've heard Pendragon play better Pink Floyd ripp-offs (if you know what I mean). Rating: 6.5.
Mark: For me this is one of the highlights of the album. The only track that's not a cover, but instead a loving tribute incorporating most of the best-loved post-psychedelic PF characteristics. The sound fragments, the characteristic guitar solo, the female choir, the heavy bass. It certainly has the sound of a late Floyd Gilmour composition and, therefore unsurprisingly, also reminds me of Gilmour's solo material. The only unfortunate factor is that the track ends with a fade out. Great instrumental and vocal performance, with extra kuddos to the guitar player, giving his best Gilmour impression. What's most important is that this is a great song in its own right. Rating: 9+.
Grand Cross - Shine On You Crazy Diamond
Ed: A cover of the full first half of this classic Floyd track (part 1 - 5). It's a very good copy, but that's also the weakness of the track; besides some improvisations and changes in the guitar solos, there's nothing new in this version. Rating: 6.
Mark: A valiant effort to copy the original as exactly as possible is hampered somewhat by weak drums. After the original approaches to Floyd material on the first CD, this opening piece of the second disc failed to get me excited, although it is well performed. Rating: 7-.
Pangaea - Time
Ed: Some strange stuff is going on in this version of Time. Seemingly the band fiddled around with the rhythms of the song, making the song sound rather unnatural compared to the original. Especially the sections that are normally sung by Richard Wright sound extremely unbalanced and uninspired because the rhythm and vocals don't match. Rating: 6.
Mark: A muddled version of the Dark Side of the Moon classic. At times the music just drifts in the background as vocals take up the whole stage. The guitar solo sounds uncomfortably strained and towards the end of it the other instruments again drop into the background. The ending is ridiculous. First the singer cries out: "Time!" and then the music fades out. But the voice returns, asking: "Is there anybody out there?" [although this might originally have been part of the next track -Ed]. Poor production hurts this track, but it's not that good a version to begin with. Rating: 6-.
Eternity X - Comfortably Numb
Ed: Another strange one. The song starts as an exact copy of the original, but somewhere halfway through the song, when the second chorus starts it suddenly gets heavier with metal guitars and grunting vocals (including added whispers 'There is no pain !'). At the end the tempo is increased and the vocalist starts singing in typical heavy metal vocals. The song stops after a sample of Wish You Were Here runs down. Nope, not my cup of tea. Rating: 6.
Mark: This rendition starts off as another duplicate of the original although the guitar player doesn't seem quite up to the job and drums are irritatingly loud in the mix. But halfway through Eternity X seems to have decided to add their own signature as heavy guitar intrudes and the instrumentation gains volume and bulk. I rather enjoyed this second part with its riffs and power drums, although guitar is again weak in the solo and the vocalist goes somewhat over the top and starts mumbling in the background. An easy overflow to a few guitar notes from Wish You Were Here heralds the ending which, unfortunately, proves an anti-climax. A missed oportunity. This should have had a prog metal approach from the start, not just in the second half. Rating: 6-.
Tiamat - When You're In
Ed: When You're In is a short song from the Obscured By Clouds album. In my opinion it's supposed to be played together with the title track of that album because it builds on the same chord structure. In itself When You're In is just a 40 second instrumental tune that's repeated a couple of times. The original only lasts 2 and a half minute, which was already more than enough. Tiamat's version is extended to almost 6 minutes ! This seems extremely pointless to me. Although they play the (simple) tune very well, I really question their choice of the song and the need to extend it even further. Boring. Rating: 6.
Mark: This extremely simple Floyd tune is extended to almost 6 minutes by the Gothic metalheads of Tiamat and, surprisingly, it works quite well! I know it's repititious and, let's face it, the original sounded like a left-over instrumental passage from a longer track. But the added ferocity of instrumentation makes this a very good and absolutely not boring piece. Rating: 7.
Megace - Dogs Of War
Ed: This is an interesting version because it's sung by a female vocalist with a voice that reminds me of Alannah Miles (Black Velvet), although she does have a bit of a German accent. The rest of the song is quite identical to the original, although the sax solo has been replaced by a guitar solo playing the same melody. Unfortunately the drumming in the song is a bit below par, resulting in a lack of power for the song. Rating: 7.
Mark: Smooth adaption of the A Momentary Lapse of Reason track. Echoing keyboards add a nice ambient atmosphere. The splendid sensuous vocals from the female singer made me recall Michelle Pfeifer in The Fabulous Baker Boys! However saxaphone is sorely missed. Rating: 7-.
The Crack Of Doom - Another Brick In The Wall
Ed: This song is without a doubt the most ridiculous track on the album. Remember that (synth-)bass line from Franky Goes To Hollywood's Two Tribes ? Now, take that one and add to it a death grunt vocalist 'singing' the lyrics to Pink Floyd's megahit. This combination of techno beats and grunting result in a complete rape of the original. This is a real shame because the song also contains some nice improvisations on guitar and keyboards and references to the theme from Shine on You Crazy Diamond. Rating: 5.
Mark: Earlier this year I had the distinctly unappealing task to review a techno-industrial version of The Wall by an ensemble calling itself Out of Phase. I was abhorred by the lack of respect for the original material it showed. The same could be said of this rendition of Another Brick in the Wall part 2 which features techno beats, grunting vocals and the melody of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Two Tribes. Fact is, I found this version rather amusing, a quality sadly missing from Out of Phase's The Wall 2000. What's more, there are some wonderful keyboard pastiches and an excellent guitar solo. But its silly character should have prompted the producer to include it as a bonus track rather than plant it smack middle in the center of the second CD. Rating: 6-.
The Electric Familiy - Careful With That Axe, Eugene
Ed: This cover of one of the oldest post-Barret Floyd songs takes off very slowly in the version of The Electric Family. After some minutes of noise, acoustic guitar and the two-note bass line we finally get the climax. There's none of the climax building we find in the original, like Water's spooky whispering, and when it finally arrives the sound quality is so incredibly horrible that it's almost a punishment having to listen to it. The sound of the drums is so bad; this song would not even deserve the status of a demo tape. The effect is worsened by random freaking on keyboard and guitar later on. Skip ! Rating: 4.
Mark: This is another favourite Floyd track of mine and it is treated poorly here. There's no sense of suspense and the atmosphere of the original, or even better the longer live versions, is totally absent. Instead we get a blurred sound that takes a turn for the worse at the 4 minute mark, when the blur becomes a smudge. It sounds like someone is wheezing away at an electrically amplified didjeridoo! The keyboards are guaranteed to give you a splitting headache. A miserable failure. Rating: 4.5.
Liquid Visions - Interstellar Overdrive
Ed: One of the oldest Floyd songs ever. A version of this song appeared on Floyd's debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I have never been able to get into the original because it was too free-formed and experimental for my taste. I did however like the opening and closing guitar riff a lot. Therefore the version by Liquid Visions is (in my opinion) an improvement on the original. Although there is a lot of experimental stuff going on in the middle piece, the bass and drum rhythm are maintained throughout the song, giving it the structure that is lacking in the original. Also, the experimental section is much more of a jamming thing than the chaotic noise-making of Floyd's version. Still, it's a bit too long and monotonous for my taste. Rating: 6.
Mark: The only track on the album that improves on the original version. It's better structured, has more tempo than Pink Floyd's own version and maintains melody throughout the track instead of dishing out four to five minutes of tedious experimentation. Still, it remains a bit of a ruckuss. Rating: 6.
Mindala - Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun
Mark: Lets cut right through the BS. Almost every covers album has a track on it that can only be classified as utter rubbish. Look no further, this is the one. This version starts off nicely enough, slowly building up through an added introductory section. But when the original melody sets in an uncomfortable sensation becomes apparant. And then vocals. Good God, this woman should be barred from public performances. She sounds like she's completely doped up (not necessarily a bad thing with this song), but it surely isn't a very nice trip she's on! And that's far from surprising when you've got a bunch of players surrounding you who do their best to make the music as unrecognisable and crowded as they can. An added (instrumental) section brings only further aggrevation as the listener waits for these people to get on with it. I'm sure Mindala's intentions were honourable, but they could at least have put a little effort into their work. Better yet, they could have done an instrumental version which would eliminate the most distressing factor: the vocals. I was glad it all ends very abruptely as I just couldn't take any more of this crap. Another favourite ruined. Rating: 3.
Fantasyy Factoryy - One Of These Days
Ed: The last song is a version of One of These Days; a song from the Meddle
album and a long time live favourite. Fantasyy Factoryy has increased the tempo of the song slightly
and has added lots of bluesy guitar improvisations to the first part. After a rather annoying
monotonous bit of drumming we get the well-known and only line of lyrics in the song. I'm not sure
what is being said, but it certainly isn't One of these days I'm going to cut you into little
pieces. The band could at least have tried to get the right text.
Fortunately the rest of the song is more interesting with lots of nice bluesy jamming on organ and guitar, even resulting in an organ-guitar duel. Unfortunately it ends too abrupt without a decent ending. Nice and refreshing, but not 100% convincing. Rating: 7.
Mark: The line spoken is in fact: "And one of these days I'll stick you together again." Seems like a smug attempt to be funny. Which is a shame as this version features some good moments. Its tempo and aggressiveness are closer to the live versions than to the original. The guitar-organ stand off which dominates the track is magnificent indeed. The remainder of the track does tend to sound like an anti-climax after this.Rating: 8-.
The other type of cover version is one where the band actually adds something new to the song, either by using completely new arrangements, performing interesting medleys or offering new kinds of instrumentation. The quality within this second category can vary enormously. Often the result can hardly be considered a tribute, instead more an insult to the original songs, like is the case with for instance the recent Wall 2000 album. When songs are pulled out of their context or transformed into genres that no longer have anything to do with the original music the results can be disastrous.
Based on these criteria, the Signs of Life album really doesn't do to bad. It does contain some (almost) note-for-note copies, but fortunately most of the songs have something new to offer. Sometimes the results are far from impressive, but at other times we are treated to some gems that are fresh and fascinating and stay true to the spirit of the songs.
Nevertheless it's a shame that they haven't taken the best songs and issued these on one CD instead of this double album, which contains too many mediocre or even bad renditions (especially on the second CD). This also makes me wonder about the reason for issuing the CD. It seems like new labels have discovered the cover album as a good marketing tool for presenting the bands on their label to a wider audience (the Italian Adrenaline label is doing the same thing with tribute albums to Dream Theater, Queen, Queensryche, Iron Maiden and Metallica). Marketing of bands thereby becomes more important than delivering a good tribute album. I therefore doubt if some of the bands would normally have been interested in playing Floyd covers or if they just did because 'they were asked'.
I'm also missing some bands that you would normally expect on a Floyd tribute album, like Nangyala or The Australian Pink Floyd Show.
The artwork, based on several elements from Pink Floyd's album covers and songs, is okay but nothing to write home about. The booklet contains pictures of all bands and their postal correspondence addresses. Strange enough homepage addresses are missing. As if interested people would write the bands a letter instead of visiting their web sites. There's also a complete absence of background information on these unknown bands. All of the links and information provided in this review were found after some own research.
All in all: only recommended to Floyd completists or fans that appreciate covers that take a different approach to the originals.
Mark: I found it quite fascinating to discover Ed's appraisals and comments concerning the 21 tracks on this 2-CD set were often closely similar to mine. When pasting my reviews of the songs into the package Ed had prepared, I often found I had to cut out some of my own comments to avoid too much repetition in this duo review. The only tracks on which Ed and I differ radically are Pendragon's Schizo and Tiamat's When You're In. Both of us long time Pink Floyd fans, but with differing preferences as to best album and best tracks, this seemed to point to the fact that other Floyd fans will likely agree with most of the observations.
I must again agree that it would have been a far better idea for Angular Records to have released a single CD instead of this 2-CD set. A few of the cover renditions seem to me outright failures, while others are redundant for adherring to much to the original. The addition of Pendragon's original track is very nice and somewhat lifts this album from a covers CD to a true tribute. Some of the others bands featured are also known for the Floydian influences in their original material, R.P.W.L. stands out among the crowd in this, and I wouldn't have minded a few more of those original tracks.
As it stands this is a more than decent tribute album, offering two and a half hours of Floydian music. I'm glad to see, after the horror earlier this year of Out of Phase's utter blasphemy in their rendition of The Wall, that there are still people out there willing to give Pink Floyd the respect it is due. The inclusion of a great many songs from PF's earlier (psychedelic) years is an absolute bonus, even if these songs are often treated a bit harshly by the cover artists.
This is not a must-have, but it certainly is a must-have-tried album for Floyd fans. So go to your record store for a quick listen and then decide for yourselves.
Overall Album Ratings:
P.S. Angular Records is also releasing a series of 3 vinyl double albums over the coming months. The first one will cover the early years (1968-1973), the second one will cover the years after 1973 and the third one will feature tracks that never made it to LP or CD (sound tracks, rare B-sides, etc.). Every album will feature tracks that have not been used for the CD version. Keep an eye on the web site of Angular Records for news and order details.