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Pink Floyd's 'The Later Years' set is nearly perfect

Pink Floyd retrospective box sets have gone from "The Early Years" (2016) straight to "The Later Years," leapfrogging the legendary “middle years” entirely. "The Later Years" covers the last three Pink Floyd studio albums — "A Momentary Lapse of Reason," "The Division Bell," "The Endless Sea" — and accompanying live releases.

Pink Floyd Records/Legacy
(5-CD/5-DVD/6 Blu-ray)

4 out of 5 stars

By Gillian G. Gaar

With the idiosyncratic approach you’d expect from Pink Floyd, their retrospective box sets have gone from The Early Years (2016) straight to The Later Years, leapfrogging the legendary “middle years” entirely. So, no digging into Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, or The Wall on this outing; that’ll have to wait (and given that 1973 to 1986 was such a rich period for the band, it wouldn’t be surprising if it’ll take more than one box to deal with it). The Later Years covers the last three Pink Floyd studio albums — A Momentary Lapse of Reason, The Division Bell, The Endless Sea — and accompanying live releases.

There’s not nearly as much previously unreleased studio material as on Early Years; much of what qualifies as “unreleased” are simply new remixes of previously released material. Still, that can make a difference. Whatever your sound system, you’ll certainly be able to notice the differences in the new remix of Reason, with its new drum parts recorded by Nick Mason, restored keyboard parts from Rick Wright (using previously recorded material, as Wright died in 2008), and a mix that brings out the underlying richness of the work. It’s more than a remix — it’s a big upgrade for this undervalued album.

There’s no such dramatic difference with Division Bell, which uses the 2014 mix of the album, and is here presented in 5.1 dts Master audio and 5.1 PCM (as is Reason, which is also presented in 5.1 PCM Stereo). It’s also the only part of the set that’s only available on a Blu-ray; the rest of the Blu-ray offerings are also presented on CD or DVD. And the live albums have also come in for a revamping. Delicate Sound of Thunder is greatly expanded on CD, with nine tracks that weren’t on the original album. Both the Delicate Sound of Thunder and Pulse concert films have been restored and re-edited. If you’ve enjoyed these films, you’ll love the bright new look and crisp sound.

But fans will probably be most interested in the previously unreleased live material. Neither the band’s 1989 show in Venice or the 1990 show at Knebworth have been released in their entirety before. The band’s coolly confident, the Reason songs holding their own nicely alongside the older material in Venice, while the Knebworth performance is more of a greatest hits set. If Dave Gilmour wanted to prove that Pink Floyd could continue to triumph without the help of Roger Waters — mission accomplished.

Some of the visual material choices are curious. Yes, music videos are expected. There are some nice historic moments too, like the performance of “Wish You Were Here” from the band’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But was anyone really longing to have the TV commercial for Pulse in their collection? The “concert screen films,” as they’re billed (the films shown on the screen behind the band during performances) are interesting to see once, but likely only a diehard fan will want to sit down for repeat viewings. Then again, diehard fans are the ones whom sets like these are made for.

There’s a mere seven songs that are outtakes (from 1994); nice to have, but surely there’s more that could’ve been unearthed. One especially nice item is The Endless River film made to accompany that record’s release. You also get what ended up being the last Gilmour/Wright/Mason performance, when the three played “Arnold Layne,” Pink Floyd’s first single, at a Syd Barrett tribute concert in 2007. Oddly, the last performance of the band with Roger Waters, at a Live 8 benefit concert in London in 2005, is not included. It would seem to be an obvious choice, having happened during the time period the set covers. Did they want to declare The Later Years a “Waters-free zone.”

Or, more tantalizingly, it may feature on a future set. For there’s no doubt one will be coming. Until then, The Later Years offers a solid, in-depth look at a period in the band’s history that’s understandably overshadowed by what came before. But there’s more here to rediscover than you might think.

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