For those familiar with Pink Floyd only through the smattering of hits that have been beaten into our psyches by rock radio, the storied British band began in 1973 with “The Dark Side of the Moon” and ended at the dawn of the ’80s with “The Wall.” But there was an entire artistic lifetime that prefaced such commercial visibility, one born out of the most extreme corners of London psychedelia before continuing through to more prog-ish turns that led to Pink Floyd’s surrender to the Dark Side.
An exhaustive 27-disc overview of that era, “Pink Floyd: The Early Years 1967-1972,” is available with a whopping price tag of about $600. Luckily for Floyd fans with more realistic budgets, there is “Cre/ation,” a two-disc distillation that sells for less than $20. The comparative bargain price aside, here’s the bottom line: Anyone with even a remote interest in vintage psychedelic music should consider “Cre/ation” an essential purchase. It so exquisitely captures not only the artistic spirit of the times, but the sense of musical invention that drove Pink Floyd from its near-pop style beginnings with Syd Barrett to the darker jams that emphasized remarkable group dynamics.
Floyd fans will recognize most of the compositions, but not these versions. The majority of the music on “Cre/ation” is previously unreleased — an assemblage of new mixes, concert recordings, BBC sessions and more.
The Barrett era culminates with a BBC reading of “Flaming,” introduced and honored by guru DJ John Peel for its “strange, ethereal sounds.” But the song was a bridge between the pop-leaning “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” (the original recordings of which begin “Cre/ation”) and the murkier abstractions of the post-Barrett “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” (offered here in studio and live versions). Equally arresting is a deliciously tripped-out revision of the Barrett-era instrumental “Interstellar Overdrive” from a London concert in 1969 after David Gilmour had taken the former Floyd visionary’s place in the band.
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As “Cre/ation” progresses, we are offered several fascinating glimpses into the makeup of Pink Floyd’s sound and evolution. In doing so, the album affirms two under-appreciated attributes. The first was how the poetic nature of songs like “Cymbaline” and “Green is the Colour” (represented here through BBC performances from 1969) emphasize a level of balladry that provided a marked contrast to the band’s electric ferocity. The second was how integral keyboardist Richard Wright was to every aspect of this entire period of Floyd-ian music, from the funereal colors he adds to a 1970 Montreux performance of “Atom Heart Mother” to a piano snippet off the “Zabriske Point” soundtrack titled “The Riot Scene” that would emerge full-blown as the central theme on one of Pink Floyd’s most enduring compositions, “Us and Them,” years later.
It all makes for a two-hour time trip through Pink Floyd’s psychedelic beginnings that can be a primer for new fans and an absolute treasure trove of discoveries for die-hards.