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Pink Floyd - The Wall CD (album) cover


Pink Floyd


Psychedelic/Space Rock

4.08 | 2782 ratings

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5 stars A terrifyingly bleak tour of the mind's disintegration and concomitant social alienation, PINK FLOYD's 'The Wall' is a seriously flawed but ultimately brilliant masterpiece, ROGER WATERS' magnum opus and the centre of his life's work.

This album is brutally compelling. Anyone with sensitivity will be overwhelmed by the relentless outpouring of vitriolic lyrics and the incessant pounding of the music, and will be drawn into the plot until the main character's probable suicide at the end of 'The Trial' becomes a cathartic relief. This is a million miles away from 'Grantchester Meadows'.

But isn't this where we came in? A fair question on every level. WATERS has examined the question of madness before, most notably as a central theme of 'Dark Side of the Moon' and obliquely on 'Wish You Were Here'. Associated with this is the well-known fate of the band's original guru, SYD BARRETT. This is not the first time, then, we've heard these sentiments, but they have never been more powerfully expressed. Moreover the album itself is a cycle: the album opens with the words '...we came in?' and finishes with the words 'Isn't this where...' indicating that the self-destruction pictured here reoccurs in society. Powerful stuff.

However, there are a myriad of problems with this work. By this stage in PINK FLOYD's existence they were almost completely a one-man band. WATERS would go away and make the demos, and would hire a wide variety of musicians (some of whom might coincidentally be his band-mates) to do the bits he couldn't. Thus the bitterness - the incipient madness this semi-autobiographical tale references - remains unsweetened by the melody or grandeur GILMOUR and WRIGHT might have introduced. Everything here is tight-sphinctered, teeth-grinding, utter depression. It's a shattering experience to listen to it once, but repeated listenings merely serve to grind one's soul into the dust.

Moreover, WATERS invites his family to the party. In fact, this would better be titled 'The Waters Family Album' as the death of his father in the war looms large throughout the record, giving us many a pointless and distracting moment. Rock operas work best when they stick with one theme: the concept becomes diluted on Side 3 when the album becomes an anti-war diatribe. There are half a dozen complete songs on this record, and the rest are song fragments. I can't help feeling the complete songs needed a little more space. Some excellent songs - 'Mother', for example - could have done with expanding. I can't help feeling that the first two sides could have been expanded to cover three sides. Thus 'Goodbye Cruel World' would be followed by 'Comfortably Numb' and then 'Hey You' would lead into Side 4 (which is where it should be, as it introduces the worms that are the central subject of Side 4).

There are many places on the web that will walk the neophyte through the intricacies of WATERS' vision. I'm more concerned with the music. The space-rock PINK FLOYD has vanished, replaced by a much more condensed art-rock feel. There's little one would normally consider progressive here, though I'd argue that the album as a whole can be treated as one progressive track, particularly as there are a number of recurring leitmotifs throughout the work. The 'Another Brick' theme, the main riff from 'ABITW Part II', which appears repeatedly on Side 4, the continual television samples filling the silences and lifting the paranoia level ever higher, the cries of 'Oooh Babe' ... the list goes on. Each is a clever device to link the disparate parts of the record together.

I must mention a few songs. 'Another Brick in the Wall Part II' is often disparaged for its disco beat, but such a beat is repeated throughout the album, a reflection of the marching hordes (hammers, fascists etc) that populate Pink's mind. I see it as artistic necessity, not a sell-out. The guitar solo is superb. 'Empty Spaces' is a compelling song fragment, and industrial throwover to 'Welcome to the Machine', a powerful moment that ought to have been expanded. 'Comfortably Numb' is a GILMOUR masterpiece, originally intended for release on his 1978 solo album, and is cruelly cut short by the limitations of the vinyl. I concur with those who rate this solo as one of the best - if not the best - of all time. It is introduced by a lovely build, begins with that distorted harmonic and is underlain by compelling rhythm and chords: like the solo on 'Stairway to Heaven', much of the magic is in the context. Then, just as he reaches for the heavens, bending those notes like only he can, GILMOUR is cut off by the end of the side. If only some of the pointless stuff beforehand had been pruned a little: this song needs more room to breathe.

'The Trial' is unique in the annals of progressive rock. I'm a WATERS critic, I believed his megalomania and the band members' indifference destroyed the band, but here he got it exactly right. The music-hall style trivialises the various participants, yet the power of the music and the sheer weight of what has gone before means that when GILMOUR starts in with the leitmotif guitar theme we are horrified at what is happening. The intensity cranks up moment by moment until the chants of 'Tear down the Wall!' assume Nazi-like proportions, petrifying in their menace. I cannot praise the conclusion to this album highly enough, nor its pathetic denouement. Some may laugh, but I consider this moment the climax of WATERS' musical career. Somewhat ironic, that, when you think about it.

Yes, there are serious flaws in this album, sufficient that the rating is a fair reflection of its overall merit. It could have been even better than it is. However, there is enough sheer brilliance in this record that, despite the misgivings, its masterpiece status must be acknowledged. If any album in these archives can be considered essential, this, the last great rock opera, certainly can.

russellk | 5/5 |


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