IT'S not often that one is faced with a double-CD package that flashes a red light at you. And that is only the beginning of the visual voyage on which Pink Floyd's Pulse (NMC) takes us.
The cover shows a dilated blue iris with a globe about to roll into or out of its pupil. This is surrounded by a vista of sea, sand and cloud, and a band of swishing-tailed sperm emerging from sea-spray droplets.
These head straight up to a series of pretty, spotted birds' eggs, from which emerges a small band of angels. The angels in turn disappear into a mass of fluffy white clouds above which a red-tailed airplane flies.
And, oh yes, off in the distance beyond those clouds one can dimly make out a cluster of pyramids.
Unfortunately, the music inside the package is less fascinating. A live recording of Pink Floyd's 1994 tour, it features plenty of great songs, from the opening "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" through "Another Brick In The Wall," from "Breathe" to "Money."
If you loved the originals by this super group (more than 140 million albums sold since 1966), you might want to listen to this incarnation. But then again, you may wish that they'd just let well enough alone.
Perhaps you'll miss Roger Waters, the group's former lyricist and conceptual director. Maybe lavish production and drawn out, "mature" interpretation will make up for that.
Thousands of screaming fans are on record here, attesting to their excitement at being swept into Pink Floyd's trademark cathedral of sound. Does it move you? Does it add a significant element to the original?
Songs that were once reportage from the new frontier are not given much new depth, though they are keeping up with their old selves. And their sax player and female vocalist on "The Great Gig in the Sky" are great. In all, it's a credible blow against the old "quiet desperation," though it probably sounded a lot better in person in the mass communions last summer's open skies.
MEANWHILE, on the other side of the generation gap, the Beastie Boys weigh in with a minimalistic, yet equally bombastic, packaging extravaganza of their own.
Earthling Radar (NMC) was delivered to reviewers in an expectation- raising large brown box. Inside was an "Air Box" of two air-filled clear plastic bags sandwiching a disc and claiming to be "packaging for the 21st century."
The contents were significantly more inspiring than all this three- dimensional hot air. These Jewish rappers - whose savvy is more Brooklyn Heights than Bed-Stuy - have listened to Bob Marley and read Franz Fanon. They have something to say over their up-to-the-minute "trip hop" grooves, with a rhythm like a fast train doing the cha-cha- cha. So what are they saying? &
quot;Soup or no soup, sing your own Hallelujah!" Make your own joy, whether you're hungry or not.
The music is often beautiful. Sometimes it echoes turn-of-the-century European orchestration or delicate Japanese music. Other times, it is more easily identifiable, like the sampled, forthright female vocal on "I Still Love Albert Einstein," which is answered by a male who sounds like he's a robot trapped in a submarine.
The manhood in these songs is not one-dimensional. A few songs later, in "Echo on My Mind," we are treated to a modified Johnny Mathis impersonation.
Such fluidity makes Pink Floyd sound creakily dated. It's the sound of freedom, ransacking whatever sounds have worked, be they cheesey TV scores or '50s jazz piano riffs, all mixed up with strange satellite beeps and bleeps.
Especially interesting are a couple of songs about the keeping and telling of secrets, such as "Planet of the Apes," about a girl sexually abused by her grandfather. The disc is a truly exciting example of a powerful new musical form. It has a lot in common with Jim Morrison' s classic mix of raw rowdiness and sophisticated poetry.
Every generation finds the beat to which it learns to roll with the punches. Anyone of any age who could use a refresher course would do well to listen in.
The last cut, "I Could Just Die," is cause for worry, though. Its "I'm so relaxed I could just die," refrain is more "trip" than "hop. "
It is an ominous reminder that sometimes the best and the brightest are
actually dumb when it comes to self-preservation, a fact that makes
Pink Floyd's staying power look pretty good.