It’s not often that you see a “10th Anniversary” reissue of a tribute album. Yet it’s not often that a tribute album has an impact like Dub Side of the Moon, either. Masterminded by New York producers Michael Goldwasser and Victor Axelrod and actually released in early 2003, the dub reggae tribute to Pink Floyd’s landmark opus was a big commercial success by reggae standards. It also has spawned tours and a series of sequels which give similar treatment to the likes of Radiohead, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson. If Goldwasser and Axelrod’s Easy Star All-Stars collective is a one-trick pony, it’s a pony that has found a nice little niche for itself.
Dub Side of the Moon remains Easy Star All-Stars’ signature project, and probably their best. That is down to Goldwasser and Axelrod’s wise decisions and the source material itself. That navel-gazing space rock and woozy dub reggae are a match made in stoner heaven is hardly a shocker. The key is that Goldwasser and Axelrod have recognized that natural affinity and have more or less stepped back and let the music do its thing. This is a tribute album, not a remix project. As such, it sounds like Dark Side of the Moon as you might expect it to sound as played by a reggae band with dub effects at its disposal, rather than a bunch of producers and engineers let loose on a mixing board.
The original’s continuous running order and seamless transitions have been maintained, as have the individual songs’ arrangements and lyrics. What’s the point, then? Well, Pink Floyd’s music has never been accused of having much soul or swing. Reggae’s intrinsic emphasis of the downbeat adds a bit of both, as do the strident basslines and talented vocalists like Gary “Nesta” Pine, Kirsty Rock, and veteran Frankie Paul. And, yes, there are plenty of cavernous echoes and careening percussion, but they complement rather than intrude on the songs.
Dub Side of the Moon is full of light but deft touches that give it its own identity. Setting the discombobulated electronic effects and pulsating sequencers of “On the Run” against a thrashing drum’n’bass rhythm seems like a natural progression, something the Floyd themselves might have done. The cuckoo clock and crowning rooster that join in the alarm bells at the beginning of “Time” add a bit of rusticity as well as levity. The ska horns on “Any Colour You Like” come in only after the woozy, hazy languor of the original has been established, adding more substance to what was Dark Side of the Moon‘s least consequential track. The bong hits throughout “Money”, though? Maybe a bit too obvious.
Just a crucial as what Easy Star All-Stars add, however, is what they leave out. Reggae has rarely benefitted from attempts to shoehorn squealing rock’n’roll solos into it. Dub Side of the Moon doesn’t try such a forced marriage. Instead, David Gilmour’s bluesy leads are either played by more dub-friendly instruments such as melodica, or replaced by toasting. Instead of shaking your head at another lackluster Gilmour imitation, you’re treated to something that actually enriches the music at hand.
Not as enriching are the handful of extra tracks at the end of the album. Most are simply instrumental or more-dubby versions. Exclusive to this reissue are an inconsequential new take on “Breathe” and a new version of “Brain Damage”.
Dark Side of the Moon is one of the most-familiar albums in popular music history. Dub Side of the Moon is a success because it doesn’t mess with that familiarity. It places Pink Floyd’s original, moody masterpiece in a different yet quite effective context rather than try to reinvent it from the ground up.