Album Review: Various Artists — Still Wish You Were Here

My standard disclaimer where tribute albums are concerned is that the concept if dodgy on its face, and that it rarely succeeds. But for every rule here is an exception, and I’m holding in my hands the most recent example thereof. Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here is a monumental album, one best not messed with. But the assembled artists – well-known names all – take on the task with aplomb, not merely phoning it in as so many are wont to do.

Steve Hackett playing David Gilmour’s searing, soaring leads on “Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-5)” is in fact a superb idea. He takes things in his own direction while remaining true to the spirit of the original. And because Geoff Downes is tasked with creating the song’s core by sticking close to Rick Wright’s keyboard work, he does a fine job with it. Mel Collins adds some nice flute work that fits into the overall arrangement. Geoff Tate’s vocals are a bit over-the-top, but in the context, they work.

“Welcome to the Machine as performed by an instrumental duo of Rick Wakeman and Tony Levin is inspired. And Todd Rundgren’s multi-tracked vocals make sense.

I wouldn’t have thought of Steve Stevens (Billy Idol’s foil) for “Have a Cigar,” but he does well. Patrick Moraz lays down tasty synthesizer lines. And they’re supported by an unexpected rhythm section: Rat Scabies (The Damned” and Jah Wobble (PiL). James Labrie’s vocals are spirited.

The title track is given a fairly reverential treatment, and that’s only fair. Taking it other places is likely ill-advised. Edgar Froese’s keyboard and acoustic(!) guitar work from Joe Satriani blend nicely. Triumph’s Rik Emmett sings. “SOYCD 6-9” features an entirely different lineup than the first part. This time it’s Zombies keyboardist Rod Argent, Steve Hillage on guitar (another excellent bit of casting), Bootsy Collins(!) on bass (and “spacebass”) and drummer Ian Paice. Argent sings.

The “Shine On” tracks are easily the best things here, but – shocker! – there’s nothing embarrassing about this project. The vocals many not be to every listener’s taste, but the personnel choices are inspired, and the performances balance an honor of the source material with flights of instrumental showmanship. If you care to own just one album tribute, Still Wish You Were Here may well be your best choice.