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Pink Floyd - The Wall CD (album) cover

THE WALL

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

4.05 | 2062 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Review 72, The Wall, Pink Floyd, 1979, double-album

StarStar (ooooh....)

There are few albums that inspire as much of a mixture of feelings in me as The Wall. On the one hand, the heights are absolutely brilliant, and some signature characteristics are used immensely well, on the other, there is nothing remotely memorable about several of the pieces, some leave me completely uninspired and some of the 'filler' (will explain what I mean by this later when I come to them) is really nothing more than that. In addition, the ending is feeble and so utterly unconvincing to me that it alone brings down the album somewhat. I'll try to explain the pluses and minuses in a bit more detail:

On the positive side, the inclusions of phone calls, voice clips, film moments and sound effects is generally very, very nicely done. It fits into the pieces very well, keeps up album flow and adds a bit more interest. Equally, the guitar work and vocals are generally quite clean and forceful, and is responsible for most of the album's real high points. Lastly, when everything does come together, which isn't often enough for my liking, it comes together magnificently.

On the minus side, there are plenty of individual tracks that draw my finger towards the dreaded skip button. More generally, the lyrics don't really satisfy me that much overall, being very self-referential, a bit ridiculous story-wise, but without the clever allegorical style that made albums like The Lamb and A Passion Play so enjoyable from that perspective. Additionally, a few of the pieces seem lyrically so un-needed as to make me cold to them by default. Finally, Wright and Mason are mostly boring on this album. At times, they do make valid contributions, but nothing remotely comparable to their roles on, say, Meddle or Wish You Were Here.

In The Flesh (I), after the light theme of the opening (echoed in the closer) provides a relatively effective start to the album with superb hammond sound from Wright and really grappling guitars from Gilmour. Mason, also, is on top form, with bass pedal throbs and very fitting clear percussion sounds. The vocals and lyrics, equally, are pretty good ('If you wanna find out what's behind these cold eyes/ Then you'll have to claw your way past this disguise!'). A superbly bombastic start to the album, with taste moderating the intentionally overboard sound.

A baby wailing brings us onto The Thin Ice, another solid cut, with some really haunting work from Wright's swirling synths and cautious piano as a highlight, and excellent vocals from Gilmour, whether or not they stretch the 'oooh'ing a bit too much. Waters' more aggressive vocals contrast neatly, and a fine snarling solo from Gilmour also marks the piece. The end segues through a thunking, almost electronic bass beat...

to Another Brick In The Wall pt.1, which is the first of the few really fantastic songs on the album, with extremely well-written and accusing lyrics, as well as a brilliant harmony of empty menace over the minimalistic electronic bass-line merging with some little guitar and keyboard effects. Children's voices and the occasional shout punctuate the background.

The Happiest Days Of Our Lives is a moderate mix of biting anti-school aggression and the defiant mockery of these oppressive figures. The rhythm section, unusually for Floyd, takes a really dominant part and handles it finely, and the screeching segue is almost unmatched...

Unlike the following Another Brick In The Wall pt. 2, where, simply, not a lot is going on. The guitars and riffs are very much repeated, the loud children's chorus is simply irritating, and so horrifically out of tune that I usually end up skipping. The lyrics are solid, and the bluesy solo in the middle ain't bad, but those are the only nice things I'll really say about it. The first of the 'let's throw in a few vocal loops' things flops a bit. A phone segue takes us onto...

Mother, which is one of the most lauded songs of the album. Unfortunately, it bores me. A couple of the creepy lyrical lines and deliveries are pulled off with great menace ('ooh ma, is it just a waste of time?', but the acoustic theme is simply un-interesting to me. The additions are mainly propping that up, and since I'm not too keen on it, they don't really help... equally, the self-referential lyrics are a bit of an irritation for me, but that's just preference speaking. The final couple verse and answer are a bit of an improvement, but still not so incredibly fascinating that the words 'classic' come to my mind.

Goodbye Blue Sky has a much stronger and more interesting acoustic, with some haunting background bass supplementing it as well as dark and fairly assertive additions. Much as a couple of the lyrical lines feel a bit basic, it works, and the piece is overall quite enjoyable while handling a psychological menace.

The growling aggression of Empty Spaces is a complete and delightful contrast, with wailing guitar, psychedelic force added by Wright's effects and the German distorted spoken additions, and a forceful and compelling beat. The vocals have this guttural, probably distorted, power behind them, and the piece as a whole, though brief and mainly intended as a lead up, is very effective.

Unfortunately, the following Young Lust is simply not a piece I enjoy. The rhythm section is pretty basic, Gilmour's guitars have such a synthetic edge and the plain rock ends up mainly being plain, without quite enough action to keep me interested. Wright's chords on the hammond have a simply bored vibe, and the lyrics are for the first time a bit of an insertion, rather than a necessity. Not as awful as I'm making it sound and it does at least do the decency of being memorable, but it does nothing for me. Noch ein phonecall-based segue...

Straight into One Of My Turns, also sometimes lauded as a highlight, with a bit more plot-exposition and some very disjointed keyboard work, which I can understand, even if it doesn't hit me. The vocals for the first time feel a little too vulnerable and empty, much as that is the only real option for the piece, and the lyrics do have their moment in the opening section. The musical side... well, it's just not especially fascinating for me.

The breathless and dark Don't Leave Me Now is another very Wright-driven track, even if it's not quite as fascinating as some of the previous ones, and, much as the lyrics are horrific and dark, the rather thin delivery simply doesn't quite work out the way I think it meant to. Three minutes I didn't need to spend, and one superb conclusion, with a whirling guitar, some moving piano touches and the 'oooh babe' motif being used really well.

The biting and hammering aggression of Another Brick In The Wall pt. 3 is the real highlight of the first side for me. The lyrics are brilliantly written, and the forceful, striking electronic-ish beat backed up with little band additions is incredibly compelling. Vocals, effects, guitars... everything works.

Goodbye Cruel World ends the first disc in a subdued way, with a fairly feeble two-note bass thing over some repeats of the organ riff from Another Brick pt. 3, and a simple lyrical set to signify the completion of The Wall (a theme which I've stopped following mentally by Young Lust, anyway...). It doesn't make a great impression.

The second disc starts out promisingly, with the exceptional Hey You. A more medieval-feel guitar theme holds up neatly by itself, giving enough space for the other additions to really hit home. Simple though it is, everything fits neatly, and emphasises the emotions of the narrator. More importantly, we get the amazing guitar theme (diao-da-da-dao...) that will be repeated in the second side in its purest and most stunning form. The vocals also express themselves much more clearly and freely than I feel they've done on the majority of the first side, and the lyrical content is again quite impressive ('Hey you! Would you help me to carry the stone/Open your heart, I'm coming home'). Superb in and out of context.

Is There Anybody Out There is another menacing piece, with just one repeated, maddened line arranged precisely and a mass of psychedelic keys with a couple of guitary and bass sounds, even reminiscent of Echoes. A really pretty acoustic solo from Gilmour highlights the second part of the piece, and much as I'm not the biggest fan of his acoustics in general, this one works beautifully.

Nobody Home features some fiddling with a vocal repeat, as well as a generally good vocal side. The orchestra feature for the first time, if generically, and Wright's piano gets a little space to expand. The first half of the lyrics I really enjoy, the second... don't really impact on me. Overall, however, it is a satisfying piece overall.

Vera is the first of two lyrically pointless pieces. There is absolutely no conceivable reason for it to be where it is, in my opinion. Perhaps on the first disc, it would have fit a lot better, with the touching vocal from Waters and the lush cello not dragged down by plain irrelevance.

Bring The Boys Back Home is the second. The bombastic orchestra is pretty generic, but the highlights of the song is in the vocal wailing accompanying it, truly bizarre. Unfortunately, the segue has the worst of the vocal loops overuses, despite the menacing Is There Anybody Out There? reprise.

Comfortably Numb is a piece I have mixed opinions on. The lyrics are great, but clearly a complete insertion. Equally, the music is fine, but it doesn't match the album, which, at its best is downcast and sullen... the rather upbeat themes of this one have never fit for me. The orchestra inclusions irk me a little, as does the chorus-dragging-on-so-much part. The guitar solos... well, I like them enough, the second much more so than the first, but wouldn't really consider them mindblowing, especially since I'm not the world's biggest guitar person. It's understandable why it is so popular, but I feel quite confused as to why I'm listening to it in the middle of a clear concept album, which it isn't an integral part of.

The Show Must Go On, comparatively, is a piece that was clearly well-meaning, but simply feels like a bit musically invalid to me, especially the vocals. It's clearly trying, but I simply don't like the harmonies and Gilmour's voice on it. The lyrics... equally, feels a bit fill-up inspired. The only substantial plus is the semi-yodel thing handled in the opening harmony.

In The Flesh (II) echoes the first one pretty precisely, in terms of its musical content, albeit acoustics and slightly more stretchy choral things feature prominently. Lyrically, however, the altered context and vocal performance really does give it a fair bit of validity. The lines are again well-written, and quite neat, albeit I completely fail to understand why Pink (erk!) decides he's being Hitler for the evening... The conclusion is, however, great.

Run Like Hell features another more basic beat, and some guitar 'waves' (I like to call them) that, while perhaps interesting to a guitarist, don't get me. The vocals, while experimental and cleverly arranged, also have no effect on me. So we have. a song where I really feel either of the leads and the rhythm section is pretty basic. A slightly redeeming synth solo from Wright marks the end of the piece and returns of the Another Brick 3 theme work, but that's all I can really find to like.

Waiting For The Worms, after a slightly slow opening, features a kicking guitar theme from Gilmour as well as menacing multi-tracked vocals and vicious lyrical madness. Repeats of the godly guitar-theme of Hey You are like ambrosia for my ears, and the overall piece is a very impressive and compelling one despite a vulnerable beginning.

Stop is a deliberate, short anti-climactic break, with really nice high piano playing from Wright.

The following The Trial features the orchestra in its full role, really arranged for maximised effect, and an array of the bizarre characters involved in the album arrayed against our protagonist. The vocals around the line 'crazy... toys in the attic, I am crazy' are wonderfully supplemented by the harp playing. Meanwhile, however, the refrains on that just don't work for me. Though it features again that phenomenal guitar theme, added to the judge's blustering, the piece could have been so much more enjoyable for me with a tiny bit of trimming, and the 'tear down the wall' shouting, while really the obvious way to do it... feels so obvious that it's almost out of place.

Outside The Wall provides possibly the world's most ineffectual conclusion, especially in the context of such a dark piece. With a really light sax theme echoing the opening, and a slightly irritating light vocal complete with daft refrains not really doing anything for the lyrics. An instrumental repeat... well, why bother. Doesn't work for me.

So, individually, a lot of the pieces are alright, a few are really, really strong, and not a huge number really fall flat horribly. However, as a whole, it simply doesn't feel quite there to me, and it falls down to aggressive examination. I'm not that keen on the concept, and I really do not like the ending. Also, I really don't have the money spare to do what some have suggested and head for the film just to understand the concept a bit better... if I'm not the album's greatest fan, and I think the concept is basic, I'm not going to splurge on it, to be honest. It is quite an interesting album from a few perspectives, but the interest... it passes too quickly, and one listen will generally give me just as much information as ten on any individual feature.

Two stars is admittedly a bit harsh, but I simply don't find it entirely satisfying, and that's even as someone who's generally positive towards Floyd. If you're not a fan of the band, it is admittedly so big and influential a recording that it's probably a necessity. Equally, it's interesting to look at why this album succeeded so highly, but in and of itself it isn't, in my view, the masterpiece some proclaim it to be.

Rating: Two Stars Favourite Track: Another Brick In The Wall pt. 3/Hey You

TGM: Orb | 2/5 |

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