Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) should not require an introduction or explanation. It’s been considered a classic rock staple since the early 1980s, ranked up there with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) in terms of historical significance, and it has clocked more weeks on the album charts than any other album in history. On March 24, 2023, it turned 50 years old.
To celebrate this milestone, the surviving members of the band and Sony Music have teamed up to release another box set honoring the album. The prior “immersion edition” box set was released in 2011 (and admittedly featured much more unreleased material than the new set offers), but that does not mean the 50th set isn’t worth investigating.
The Dark Side 50th anniversary box set is an art piece as well as a musical treasure trove. Within the oversized box, one is treated to a beautiful hardcover photobook, the sheet music for the entire album, a live recording of the band’s 1974 performance at London’s Wembley Empire Pool, and the “Money” and “Us and Them” North American singles.
The photobook features many never-before-seen photos and is quite beautiful, helping transform this set into the realm of art. For audiophiles, there are also two audio only Blu-Ray discs containing the Dolby Atmos & 5.1 surround sound mixes from longtime Floyd engineer James Guthrie.
The Dark Side of the Moon was a key turning point in the growth of Pink Floyd as a band and Roger Waters as a lyricist. It was the logical next step following the band’s prior studio albums Atom Heart Mother (1970) and Meddle (1971), with Waters just beginning to explore the themes of fame, insanity, and loss that would come to define much of his writing throughout the 1970s and beyond.
Long considered an audiophile favorite, Dark Side has been reissued numerous times over the decades replete with new remasters and remixes. In 1973, engineer Alan Parsons created an experimental quadraphonic surround sound mix that received limited release on specialized four-channel LP & 8-track tape formats in the European market. Though the quadraphonic mix was included in the 2011 Immersion set, it’s conspicuously absent from the 50th.
This format never took off in the way that audiophiles at the time had hoped - perhaps due to the expense and complication involved in setting up a system - but the concept of Dark Side in surround is really nothing new.
For the album’s 30th anniversary in 2003, James Guthrie - with oversight and input from the band - created a new 5.1 surround sound mix of the album. Originally released on Super Audio CD by EMI/Capitol more than two decades ago now, the 5.1 mix was first reissued on Blu-Ray in the 2011 Immersion set and appears once again on this new 50th anniversary edition.
Guthrie’s 5.1 mix is an absolutely stunning way to experience the album. Tempting as it probably was for this material, he does not overdo it with the swirling effects and gymnastics. Instead, he expertly utilizes the expanded soundstage to enhance the music and create a greater sense of space. That said, the opening of “Money” with the cash registers moving from speaker-to-speaker around the room is appropriate and a lot of fun.
Whereas the transition from “On The Run” to “Time” sounded a bit cluttered in the original stereo mix, one can now hear all the details it makes for a much more interesting listening experience. “Great Gig In The Sky” is another track that really benefits from the 5.1 treatment. Clare Torry’s vocals bring goosebumps to the listener, and the piano has never sounded so melancholy and lonely.
Perhaps most importantly, the 5.1 mix is true to the original album. Guthrie is not interested in ‘reworking’ the original by changing the relationships between instruments or adding in previously omitted elements, but instead inviting the listener inside the album they already know and love. Let’s face it, this album was simply made to be an immersive experience.
The new 2023 Dolby Atmos mix (also available to stream on Apple Music and Tidal) is probably a key selling point for many fans that already own numerous prior editions of this album, and it doesn’t disappoint. Though the music is now spread over twelve unique speakers rather than five, the core and sound of the album remains the same. Richard Wright benefits the most from this treatment, as his piano and keyboards take on a newfound clarity and reveal just how essential he was to the band’s sound.
Once again, Guthrie resists the urge to employ cheap gimmicks and instead builds upon the strong foundation of the 5.1 mix to draw the listener further in. The four height speakers are reserved primarily for ambient sound and delays (such as the vocal effects in “Us and Them”), though some directional elements do occasionally appear up there such as the speaking voices - which are clearer and more discernible than they’re ever been - and cash registers in “Money.”
The Dark Side Of The Moon would pave the way for Wish You Were Here (1975), which is really the last album in which Pink Floyd functioned as a true four-piece band. Input from the other members would continue to diminish from Animals (1977) onward as Waters began to take on a more dominant role.
Overall, though some fans will certainly be disappointed at the lack of exclusive material in the new 50th anniversary edition - especially given the $300 price tag - I’d argue a great deal of care was taken in producing this box set, especially the new Dolby Atmos mix. If the 50th anniversary set truly represents the final word on Dark Side, then this fan is more than satisfied.