What’s the point of the tribute act? Say, for instance, what’s the point of Australian Pink Floyd? Is it to somehow turn yourself into Mk II Roger Waters (a perfectly respectable goal)? To give a wider selection of people a chance to feel like they’ve been in the room while something incredible is happening? (I remember in 2005, when the Pink Floyd reunion happened at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park. My whole family watched around the television like it was 1953 and we were watching the coronation. My family are big Floyd people.)
And what of the other kind of tribute, the song cover, translated into another genre? Maybe the point there is to do something new with it, or show a new side to an old favourite. Or maybe you’re showing off – my favourite Pink Floyd genre-bend is without a doubt Christy Moore’s stripped-back cover of “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond”. Moore is extremely technically impressive; he tells a new story with the song, and gives himself nowhere to hide. You get to do that when you’re on your twenty-fourth solo album (let’s not include the collaborations here) in four decades.
To do a dub reggae cover of Dark Side of the Moon, as your first album, however, is something else. Who’s it for? Is it, like Australian Pink Floyd, introducing a new set of people to a classic, or is it showing your music-making chops like Christy Moore? Is it making an old thing accessible in a different way, like that Eric Prydz club version of “Another Brick in the Wall” that gave me a nosebleed on the bus in sixth form? Or – and if Dub Side came out today, this is unquestionably what I’d say – am I being polemicked at?
Well, I wouldn’t mind being polemicked at – I rather like my music political, and there is something inherently statement-y about taking Pink Floyd, of all bands, and covering it in reggae. Pink Floyd, whom I love, is the sort of band you like these days if you’re the sort of person who went to a bar with somebody counterculture once, talked over them, and left at half past ten. Covers of Pink Floyd are the sort of things – see the first two paragraphs of this review – where you go, “Yes, that’s all well and good, but do they understand it? Did they do it justice?”
And the answer to that is sometimes yes, and sometimes I don’t think so, but calm down, Robert, everybody had a good time. Simply having a good time, with the sort of thing that A Certain Type Of Person wants to know if you’re doing justice to, is a statement about the broadness of this church that is music. It’s a statement that I, personally, would do well to remember on occasion.
Let’s start with the great, which is to say, the weird-ass combination that is “Time”, with reggae in it.
The original “Time” might well be one of my desert island discs, and here there is something to me very examinable about the juxtaposition of lyrics that I strongly associate with my own fear of being left behind and missing out on life for lack of motivation, with that gorgeous bagginess and the new refrain of “Time is the master/Time can be a disaster.” It’s new. It’s interesting. I think I like it.
What I really do like – probably best on the whole album, in fact – is “Great Gig in the Sky”. It takes serious balls to muck about with “Great Gig in the Sky” – this version is less sampled than reworked, and has one foot in dub and one in prog in a way that, to my mind, draws clean lines between the two in places I wasn’t expecting them. This is super. This is what I'm here for.
All that said, I think they missed the point of “Us and Them”. I don’t think that’s me being dogmatic, although I do think they took a song that’s basically seven minutes of emotional punch, and covered it in “ooh yeah” vocal flourishes. After listening to it, I went back around to the original, and listened to the whole thing straight through with my eyes closed. It seems to me an odd thing to do, to take something very emotionally intense and basically leech all the emotion out of it. (Remember Scissor Sisters’ “Comfortably Numb”? I don’t know why someone would do that, either.) I don’t think Easy Star All-Stars did “Us and Them” justice, but I do think it’s obvious they had a good time doing it, and it has served to remind me how much I loved the original. Which can also be the point of a cover.
Enjoying making art is a perfectly good reason to make art, and better than most. I am far too highly strung to be a person who listens to reggae for fun. But I am delighted this exists, it is a mash-up I approve of, and for somebody I bet it’s the combination they didn’t know they needed in their life.