Wish You Were Here Symphonic is a project produced and masterminded by Pete Smith, who also helped produce the wildly successful Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd. He’s joined this time by some friends and fellow Floydians. Makes sense. After all, it was Pink Floyd who pioneered the idea of inviting well-known musicians to make guest appearances on their albums (including Yehudi Menuhin and Roy Harper). Smith collected collaborators from around the world, including New Zealand’s maestro Peter Scholes, who arranged the music and conducted the recording.
Oddly, the album opens with a non-symphonic version of the title track with macabre vocals from Alice Cooper. Neither the vocal nor the instrumental versions of “Wish You Were Here” are symphonic, which is a damn shame considering the highlight of the album is the symphonic orchestration.
The brief orchestra warm-up following the title track is a nice touch, however. It serves to prepare your ears for the shift in tone as the guitar and piano are joined by a full symphony playing the instantly recognizable opening to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Pt. I-V.” The bare, industrial ambience of the original is in every way enhanced by the ethereal orchestration, which delivers the melody that the vocals supply in the original.
Alice Cooper returns in “Welcome to the Machine,” a bleak critique of the music industry and said industry’s corporate fatcats. Cooper’s style works better here in conveying a feeling of utter disaffection.
The London Orion Orchestra takes on “Have a Cigar” and we’re again treated to exhilarating symphonic arrangements with top-notch electric guitar work that gradually ascends in prominence.
Keeping things in their original album order, “Have A Cigar” fades out and an instrumental version of “Wish You Were Here” performed by Australian Pink Floyd begins. Kudos to Aussie Floyd for beautifully conveying the tenderness and melancholy of the original version. That said, after the lush symphonic thrills of the previous songs I found I missed that sweep and scale here.
After the second half of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” we get a little bonus song: a symphonic version of Dark Side of the Moon’s final track “Eclipse.”
I cannot write about this album without also mentioning the artwork. The iconic artwork in Pink Floyd’s 1975 release depicts two men in suits shaking hands (the handshake symbolizing empty gestures), while one man is on fire, literally “getting burned.” All this was meant to convey Pink Floyd’s musical critique of the music industry and a general feeling of absence. Tiernen Trevallion’s take on the artwork for this symphonic album conveys a similar vacuity and disgust but it is so much cooler! Replacing business suits with space suits? Smart. Taking lyrics from the title track and incorporating them into the artwork? Smart. The symbolism of a pig with a duct-taped butt gorging on a trough of money? Smart and funny! Trevallion just became my new favorite graphic artist.
Getting back to the music… Fans of Pink Floyd will definitely enjoy the musical fantasia of Wish You Were Here Symphonic. Those who are less familiar with Pink Floyd will also find a lot to love in this recording. You listen to this album for the symphonic arrangements and in every way they deliver.
This was Smith’s first go at producing an album by himself and I’d call it a great success. I hope to hear symphonic versions of Pink Floyd’s other classics in the future. Hint hint, Pete Smith. Tell us, where will you go from Here?