VARIOUS ARTISTS – Meddle Reimagined

Pink Floyd’s sixth album, ‘Meddle’, is regarded as a prog rock masterpiece. The band had released enjoyable works prior to its release in 1971, but ‘Meddle’ is arguably the first album where all of the “classic Floyd” ingredients came together to create something coherent. David Gilmour has referred to it as the first album since his appointment as guitarist that really made sense, and – as enjoyable as bits of its predecessors are in their own weird and wonderful ways – it’s hard not to argue with that logic. The thunderous bass groove driving ‘One of These Days’ very much looks forward to parts of ‘Animals’; in Gilmour’s ‘Fearless’, there’s a melodic prog songcraft that he would take forward and make the heart of ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ and even the post-Roger Waters ‘Division Bell’, and via the mighty ‘Echoes’ – a side long epic – bits of the Floyd’s soundtrack recording past collide with huge solos, and there’s even a melodic phrase that would be reworked a few years later to become one of ‘Dark Side’s timeless musical touchstones. Unfortunately, there’s the lazy blues of ‘Seamus’, too – something that undoubtedly grew from their Pompeii animal cruelty jam ‘Madamoiselle Nobs’ – but very few albums are perfect.

The massive love shared for ‘Meddle’ means that any tribute recording – no matter the line-up – will risk having some very vocal detractors, but that hasn’t stopped a diverse assortment of classic rock and prog rock musicians reworking the entire record. For better or worse, though, much like 2022’s ‘Animals Reimagined’ – an even more unthinkable Floyd tribute – ‘Meddle Reimagined’ has more than enough of its own charm. It’s got a couple of really dubious moments, too, but that was always to be expected.

It’s best foot forward here with an excellent version of ‘One of These Days’. The thundering bass is augmented with a wave of funk which takes centre stage with immediate effect, and since it is played by the legendary Bootsy Collins, the busier groove that drives this version is unsurprising. His slightly futuristic slap bass sounds are joined by a whole world of squelchy synth noises – courtesy of Yes man Geoff Downes sounding like something from Dick Mills and his “special sound” from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – and eventually, a heavy slide guitar adds a more metallic tone than expected. Guitarist Steve Stevens has a real presence in a couple of places, and especially during the busy climax, where his slide work is layered over a groove that occasionally threatens to slide into the riff from ‘Money’, and drummer Carmine Appice applies his typical force. In fairness, the weight behind Carmine’s playing is welcome – and also needed – once Stevens starts to create a massive buzz. Obviously, it has no real subtlety, but this number didn’t require a lighter touch to make it work. Once this hits its stride, it’s great, and proof that this is one of those tunes you just can’t kill.

The transition into the mellow ‘Pillow of Winds’ brings ex-Jethro Tull legend Martin Barre to the fore, and his acoustic work throughout the track is lovely. His chosen riffs mirror Gilmour’s earlier pastoral sounds, but beyond those, this is another recording that’s unafraid to share some musical differences. Atop the finger picked motifs, there is a layer of harmonic electric guitar work where Mart appears to channel Mike Oldfield, and an array of flutes, deepening a folky feel. Very welcome additions, both, since they really allow the listener to experience the familiar melodies in a completely different way. Occasional bass is supplied by former Hawkwind man Alan Davey, but he never rises beyond a near audible grumble, acutely aware that this really is Barre’s showcase. Even Dream Theater’s James LaBrie dials everything back accordingly. His vocals sometimes make the recording sound like its been excised from a 70s musical, but that’s preferable to him wailing like a bastard – his default mode – and his semi-breathy style is very sympathetic to a rather grand folk rock arrangement. Of all the tracks here, this comes as the most pleasant surprise.

A genuine highlight from the original ‘Meddle’, Gilmour’s ‘Fearless’ fares far less well. The original melody holds firm, despite some of the guitars playing second fiddle to waves of Hammond organ and the main riff being reworked by thin synths in place of broad orchestration. It isn’t as impressive as the 1971 Floyd recording, but still shares the heart of an obviously great tune. The real problem comes via the vocal. Vanilla Fudge’s Mark Stein can be an acquired taste at the best of times, but he takes the mournful tone of the piece and puts it through the ringer, attempting to boost it with bluesy wails and a general aching feel. It doesn’t work. Even once you’ve tuned in and start to think it isn’t quite so bad, he’ll throw out another massive wail and offset a great melody. One of ‘Meddle’s finest numbers deserved better than this, though it’s likely no-one would’ve turned in a perfect take. If you must listen to a cover of ‘Fearless’, for whatever reason, seek out Fish’s version from 1993’s ‘Tales From The Mirror’ instead. His recording is a little safe, but at least in capturing a more traditional feel, it shows how much he loves the song. Stein just sounds like a man who’s turned up because a mate has invited him…again. …And it’s supposedly The Damned’s Rat Scabies on the drums, but you’d never guess.

One of the strangest assortments of all-star musicians props up the hazy, overseas tale ‘San Tropez’. Rick Wakeman drops in for a full compliment of easy jazz piano, making his presence felt on a bouncy melody, and Blue Oyster Cult’s Joe Bouchard compliments him very well with a large bass part that’s almost as jazzy, in a stretchy rubber band sort of way. Skegness’s finest, Graham Bonnet, adopts a suitable croon for his vocal narrative, recounting the sand, sea, and a lost love. Although those who’ve grown up with Bonnet in full rock mode due to his associations with Rainbow and Alcatrazz might find his cheesy approach a little strange, this isn’t actually new for him. He’d actually recorded in a similar style as far back as 1974 on his once-lost debut ‘Back Row of The Stalls’, so the transition to ‘San Tropez’ is an easy one, and he sounds like he’s enjoying himself – right down to throwing out a cheeky laugh before the guitar solo kicks in. And this is actually where this recording gets really interesting: the lead guitar – a pleasing mix of jazzy, sweeping notes with a slight metallic undertone – is supplied by ex-Megadeth man Chris Poland, who shows a talent that’s much broader than his former band required. Also playing against public perceptions is Dave Lombardo, filling the drum part with a suitable jazzy swing. Overall, it isn’t perfect, but it’s great fun. These guys breathe a real sense of life into one of Floyd’s lesser tunes, and not having to hear Roger Waters sing is automatically another plus point.

Two 60s legends, Terry Reid and Brian Auger, are charged with sharing a bland version of ‘Seamus’. To be fair, they didn’t have much to work with, but even as sparse blues tunes go, this is pretty dull. Reid’s voice is fine in a sub-Dr. John kind of way, but that’s as far as it goes. The unaccompanied electric guitar riffs are rudimentary as best, and the harmonica has absolutely no presence at all. To add insult to injury, the guys drag it out for over four minutes – almost twice the length of the original cut. All in all, despite a lot of ‘Meddle Reimagined’ being rather entertaining, this track is mostly only fit for the bin.

Luckily, any bad feelings ‘Seamus’ leaves are soon swept away once the assembled musicians get to work on the epic ‘Echoes’, but even that gets off to a wobbly start. Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess completely spoils the sonar like intro by smothering it in wavering noise borrowed from an early Jean Michel Jarre LP – it’s horrible, as is a lot of Jordan’s work, unfortunately – but things improve when Dweezil Zappa steps forth with a huge sounding guitar part. He wisely retains the Gilmour melody but adds his own bluesy slant, which works nicely, updating a familiar riff with something bigger. There are superb harmony vocals shared through the “albatross” verse, showing how even when out of his comfort zone, Angel’s Frank DiMinio retains a great voice. Following that, Zappa indulges in a few semi-funky riffs in a counter melody to the bassline before dropping into another loud, bluesy lead. The second solo is markedly different, and yet conveys a hugely emotive feel that’s well suited, whilst drummer Pat Mastelotto increases his volume in preparation for the best bit of any ‘Echoes’ recording: the funky jam.

…And leading off from around the seven minute mark – as expected – that groove does not disappoint. Bauhaus man David J brings as much muscle as Waters had back in ’71 and once he locks in with Mastelotto, the pair sound unstoppable. Zappa, meanwhile, rises to the challenge with a wealth of grubby sounding slide guitar, driving a lead break with a superb tone and great presence. It’s very much not the work of Gilmour – or the Floyd – but, like ‘One of These Days’, it’s brilliant in its own way. So much so, that it’s a disappointment when that fades out at eleven and a half minutes for the obligatory wind noises and Rudess making a bunch of tuneless drones. At the fifteen minute mark, Pat comes back in with some jazzy cymbal work, signalling some light at the end of what feels like a very long musical tunnel, and the final round of very slow, moody chords takes shape. Like the rest of ‘Echoes’, the ghosts of the original are present throughout, but these musicians make the piece their own, with Rudess choosing a very 70s tone for his solo, before the vocal refrain brings the whole thing full circle. Good or bad, any take on ‘Echoes’ was always going to be interesting, but between Zappa’s guitar tones and some fine drumming from Mastelotto, there’s enough here for the more open-minded fan to enjoy. Factor in a massive bass presence from David J – taking on an unenviable role – and this is (mostly) a winner.

It would be interesting to find out, on a project such as this, how the material is assigned to each performer. Do people plan well in advance, or is there a certain amount of drawing straws involved? After all, it’s easy to imagine that most people would love to be associated with their own recordings of ‘Echoes’ and ‘One of These Days’, yet someone has to take on the literal dog of ‘Seamus’ to make it a complete project. Graham Bonnet is a great fit for the marginal lounge jazz of ‘San Tropez’, but Mark Stein sounds a little uneasy on ‘Fearless’, for example, so that definitely gives this project an uneven feel. Nevertheless, the good outweighs the bad, and if you’re a rock fan looking to hear a different take on an old favourite or two, then ‘Meddle Reimagined’ is certainly worth checking out. Purists need not bother, of course; this is about differently talented people celebrating great music, rather than a sharing pitch perfect homage, and on that score, there’s a lot of merit here.

August 2023