Roger Waters – ‘In the Flesh’ An SACD review by Brett Rudolph

Pink Floyd have, over the years, made major contributions to the ‘modern-day’ rock music world. A large part of that influence came from Roger Waters, who left the band sometime ago to start touring on his own, although in the years that have followed he has continued to perform Pink Floyd songs, as well as his own compositions. This historical mix of new and old is clearly present on a new SACD of recordings from his ‘In the Flesh’ concert tour of the United States several years ago.

The majority of songs date back to the Waters Pink Floyd era, but there are a number of exceptions. In fact, the accompanying booklet points out not only the songs on the disc that were performed by Pink Floyd, but also why there are obvious omissions; songs that Waters helped write and perform when he was with Floyd. For example, Waters mentions that songs from ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ were left out because they “…had been performed almost ad infinitum by another band.” More obvious omissions on this concert recording are pieces from ‘The Wall’ another famous Pink Floyd album. Waters gives the reason for this as being the recent release of the double CD version of ‘The Wall: Live’.

But even taking those missing songs into account, the SACD release of ‘In the Flesh’ is still a double SACD set that contains twenty-four different songs and tries to create a feeling of cohesiveness between Roger Waters’ time with Pink Floyd and his time apart from the group. While I could spend quite a bit of time and effort writing about the pros and cons of this approach and more importantly its actual success, I would rather point out that regardless of my feelings, both discs do offer quite a wide range of musical variety and choice of styles… perhaps the only positive aspect I could find when reviewing this double SACD set.

Aside from describing the album itself, the purpose of this review is also to discuss how well or not, as the case may be, the actual performance is reproduced by Sony’s new DSD technology. One of the many benefits of SACDs in general is the ability to include not only a high-resolution stereo track, but also a multi-channel mix and at times, even a standard Red-book CD layer as well… just not this time. There is no 44.1kHz PCM layer to allow playback on a standard CD player, but the disc does contain both stereo and multi-channel SACD versions of the concert.

Normally when an SACD contains more than one version of the performance, for example stereo and multi-channel, I try to review each separately and evaluate their own individual merits. However, this SACD does not warrant such attention. The reason is straightforward and simple; both are decidedly below average, so for the purposes of this review, they’re being judged as one.

In the opening paragraphs of the SACD’s pamphlet, Waters writes that he doesn’t enjoy performing in arenas and stadiums because he feels their acoustics are really only suitable for sporting events, rather than live concerts. Sadly, that’s all too apparent when listening to the disc; you feel as though you are standing in a large field, far from the performers, where the only thing you can hear is the metallic, edgy sound of PA speakers that are being pushed too far for their own good. Dynamics are poor, the multi-channel mix suffering more than its stereo counterpart and what bass there is, can only be described as minimal, one could easily believe as result of a mistake in the production rather than a deliberate mixing decision.

During the first (title) track you can hear Roger Waters’ voice easily enough, but there is nothing about the recording that compels one to listen to it. This occurs mainly because the midrange, which would normally contribute to an album sounding rich and inviting, just doesn’t exist. It’s almost as though someone forgot to boost a fader when they re-mixed and re-recorded this album for release on SACD. If it weren’t for the fact that that SACD is supposedly aimed at those whose have good ears and fairly high-end equipment, I would suggest that this disc has been purposely mixed for playback on a boom box. Regardless of what the intentions of those producing this album were at the time they listened to and edited the final version, the sad effect was the same.

Not only is this a poor SACD from a fidelity perspective, but it is also a deficient example from a content perspective. Pink Floyd and Roger Waters have, both together and apart, produced some amazing albums over the years, any one of which would have, produced with care, shown the true capability of this new high-resolution format. Instead, ‘In the Flesh’ only serves as a particularly bad illustration of the SACD art, an example of what not to do when you release material in any high-definition format.

In short, this is not an album I would recommend. Although the disc and the original concert performance contains a lot of top-notch material written by both from Roger Waters and Pink Floyd, in terms of musical and sonic presentation the reproduction is so poor that that the disc really isn’t worth listening to. In fact, it’s so bad that I suddenly found myself actively disliking music that I have enjoyed for many years. Hopefully, over time, my memories of this dreadful disc will fade.