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Pink Floyd - The Wall CD (album) cover

THE WALL

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

4.08 | 2763 ratings

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SonomaComa1999
5 stars REVIEW #17 - "The Wall" by Pink Floyd (1979). 08/29/2018

A quick foreword; I was personally surprised to see that this album has received such divided opinions among the ProgArchives community. I was also surprised to see this album come up on the random review generator; I did not expect to have the liberty to review such a well-known album so early.

The year 1979 was perhaps one of the darkest years for progressive rock. The rise of punk rock in the years 1976 and 1977 had finally manifested in the popular embracement of simpler, less complex music that was more commercially friendly. Furthermore, it seemed that all the creative juices for the titans of prog had been used up; King Crimson had disbanded five years earlier in 1974, leaving bands such as Yes and Genesis to take a more mainstream approach to their music, or in the case of ELP, wither up altogether. However, one prog band proved to stand the test of time, that being Pink Floyd. Created in 1967, the band had already established itself as one of the most successful musical acts of all time following the critical success of their 1973 album "The Dark Side of the Moon." Ever since the year 1971, the band had been relentlessly churning out classic albums, from "Meddle" to 1975's "Wish you Were Here." Pink Floyd is an anomaly in prog history; not only did they survive the punk rock revolution, but they excelled amidst it - how was this so?

Pink Floyd's success through the years 1977 to 1979 couldn't have been achieved if it weren't for bassist Roger Waters taking over creative control of the band. Waters, while not being a spectacular bassist like a Chris Squire or Geddy Lee, was able to formulate a style of music that emulated the angsty and iconoclastic elements of punk rock, while retaining the musical complexity and depth of prog rock. 1977's "Animals" featured a concept based on a counter- cultural interpretation of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and is considered one of the greatest prog albums of all time on this site. However, its successor "The Wall" was able to break its way into the mainstream the same way "Dark Side" did, and today is considered to be one of Pink Floyd's most seminal albums. Like "Animals", "The Wall" is a concept album, composed almost entirely by Waters, and contains allusions to the bassist's own personal struggles. This album came at a time where the band was on the verge of implosion; blink and you might miss the contributions by keyboardist Richard Wright and drummer Nick Mason, and while guitarist David Gilmour is responsible for some of the album's incredible guitar solos, "The Wall" can almost be considered a Roger Waters solo album.

In order to understand "The Wall" we have to learn more about the background of Roger Waters. Born in 1943 during the Second World War, his father would be killed only five months after his birth during the Allied Invasion of Sicily at Anzio. The loss of Waters' father plays an important role in the story of "The Wall"; but for the next theme we have to enter the present day; the year is 1977 and the band is finishing up the arduous "In the Flesh" world tour in Montreal. Tensions between the members of the band were already beginning to deteriorate, and during the final show Waters would spit at a group of fans in the front rows that were being annoying. Waters ultimately wished that he could build "a wall" between the audience and himself, as he was tired of the fame he and the rest of the band had carried on their backs since 1973. Finally, the final theme of "The Wall" has to do with the life of a rock star; we all know that rock musicians have a tendency to dabble in vices such as drugs and non-monogamous sexual intercourse, well Waters had not only found it difficult with the constant temptation of vice, but also the infidelity of his girlfriend. All of these very sensitive topics are conveyed to the listener on the album through the story of the protagonist Pink. Out of all the progressive rock concept albums, "The Wall" may be one of the most personal, as Pink is basically a pseudonym for Roger Waters, and the bassist was extremely nervous regarding how he thought the public was going to respond to such a personal and sensitive story. Imagine having to discuss your personal issues with a psychiatrist, but instead of one person it is millions of critical rock fans.

I know this is a rather long introduction, but I feel the need to address the album's rating on ProgArchives. It by no means stands up to "Dark Side", "Wish you Were Here" or "Animals" when it comes to overall rating, and most of the subpar reviews seem to be coming from people who view the album as not being progressive enough. There is a level of truth to this, with many of the song's seminal tracks have commercial undertones on them, but even then you have to understand that in the year 1979 progressive rock was essentially dead. While there were other prog bands that released commercially successful albums (think Yes's "90125" or Genesis's s/t album) Pink Floyd's music still retains rock and roll elements, instead of ditching them for synthpop or new wave. Furthermore, I consider the lyrical subject matter of "The Wall" to be very progressive, and therefore I consider this album to be a progressive rock album. Some may disagree with me, but I respectfully disagree with them in turn.

Anyhow we start off with a succinctly mellow English introduction before thrusting ourselves into the opening track "In the Flesh?". Musically you cannot ask for a better way to kick off an album; soaring guitar riffs and a maelstrom of crashing sounds as well as the formal introduction of our concept in the form of some sort of narrator announcing the story of Pink through a speech. Ending on the crashing sounds of the Ju-87 Stuka's Jericho trumpets, the tempo immediately grows low as we start off with Pink's early life in "The Thin Ice." Gilmour performs vocals alongside Waters to a very simple musical structure through a flashback, meaning that the story starts in media res. This piece is concluded by a short solo before falling off into "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)" where the lyrics turn to Pink's father going to war and his subsequent death; the parallels to the story of Roger Waters become evident, and the wall begins to be formed in Pink's head. The Wall isn't a physical barrier, but rather a mental barrier that isolates the character of Pink from the rest of the world; isolation is a key theme in this concept. The sound of a helicopter completes the transition into "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" where Pink's struggles with conformity at school begin to be elaborated upon. An interlude, it connects us to the commercially successful single track "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" which is probably the most recognizable track to come off the album. Played to a rather menial disco beat at the request of record execs, the themes of conformity and iconoclasm make themselves known as a chorus of English schoolchildren demand they don't need education or thought control among other things. One character in the story that functions as an antagonist is the school teacher, who enacts strict policies and acts very unkind towards the students. This song's theme and catchiness allowed it to top the singles charts in several countries, namely in both the USA and UK, immediately fulfilling Columbia's desire for the album to be profitable, for which they were skeptical when Waters presented the album to them. We get a simple yet cool guitar solo by Gilmour to conclude the piece, before going into the acoustic "Mother" where we delve deeper into incredibly personal themes. Pink's mother is another antagonist in the story, as she is very controlling as many mothers may be. Pink asks his mother for advice on everything from social issues to political issues yet she demands that he be shielded from anything challenging or "dirty" as he goes through his teenage years. In effect, she is helping Pink build his wall that would isolate him from society. Musically this track features a good amount of challenging time signature changes, and ends on a rather abrupt note to make way for the second side of the first LP (note that "The Wall" is a double LP.)

On the flip side, we start off with the chirping of birds and the sound of an airplane to signal the beginning of "Goodbye Blue Sky", one of the few tracks on the album to be entirely composed by Gilmour and features some mellow acoustic parts and chant. On the movie version of the album which was released later in 1982, this song is coupled with the incredible animations of Gerald Scarfe, who apart from designing the iconic gatefold cover art on the LP, also drew incredibly detailed and evocative cartoons that wonderfully portray the dark themes of the album. The Wall is now being built, and Pink is portrayed as a very vulnerable rag-doll, completely at the mercy of the carnage forming around him. In the animations we get allusions to Nazism and other dark elements of our society; many of these will be revisited later. "Empty Spaces" starts off with a backtracked message; Waters is known for doing these, namely on Floyd's 1968 album "A Saucerful of Secrets" where he hid a message on one of the longer instrumentals which asked the listener if the band was being "avant-garde enough". On the movie version, this track, which is a very long build-up representative of Pink's descent into madness, features great animation by Scarfe, and segues directly into "Young Lust" which returns us to the commercially-accessible dance rock style we heard earlier on "Part 2". This time, the themes of sexual hedonism are on hand, and Pink finds himself dabbling in vices now that he is an adult and a burgeoning rock star. The concepts of sex and drugs are generally sensitive topics in rock, mainly because they are practices that generally end bad for musicians, especially the latter. "Lust" is one of the more rocking tunes and features a nice Gilmour guitar solo before fading off into a telephone call where Pink learns that his wife has been cheating on him while he was on tour. This is an allusion to the infidelity of Waters's real-life girlfriend, and Pink's rage is expressed on the next track "One of My Turns" where he unleashes his anger on a female groupie following the revelation that his wife was cheating on him. This is personally one of my favorite tracks on the album given its synth- heavy intro and subsequent build up; the lyrics are deeply evocative and convey the personal anger of Pink to the listener very well, especially after the long-awaited breakdown into a more rocking motif. Waters makes reference to an axe (maybe the axe from "Careful with that Axe, Eugene"); in some places on the album you can see allusions to Pink Floyd history outside of the usual concept of Syd which was explored deeply on the "Wish you Were Here" album. We move onto "Don't Leave Me Now" where the concept of the affair continues to be used; at this point I am a little bit ready to move on, and the very long buildup on this track did not help my case. Eventually the band gets back into gear and breaks out once again, but one problem with the album at this point is the general amount of filler and interlude tracks which ultimately take a little bit away from the experience. Simply seems like a case of having too much material for one LP, but not enough for two. Anyhow, "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 3)" is a more aggressive take on the previous two parts, symbolizing the progressive descent into rage by Pink. All the vices, fame, and emotional despair have brought Pink to his breaking point, and in "Goodbye Cruel World" he finally isolates himself behind his wall to conclude the first LP.

The second LP opens up with the wonderful "Hey You", another single track which performed very well. Like "Part 2" and "Young Lust" you can still hear this song given airplay on classic rock radio stations. While this track, which I consider to be one of the album's highlights, was cut from the final edition of the movie, it was re-added in subsequent reissues after it hit theaters. At this point, Pink has regretted building the wall, and was to assimilate back into society. However, it seems that once the wall has been built, there is no taking it down, and Pink has essentially doomed himself to being cut off from others. Interestingly enough, Waters does not play bass on this track; however, the bulk of the music is based on the guitars and vocals, so this is sort of Gilmour's track even though it was not written by him. The vocal bridge works very well on this tune to supplement the guitar solo, and eventually Waters takes over on the final verse to take us out and into an intercalary track called "Is There Anybody Out There?" where Pink calls out to anyone who may be around in the midst of his isolation, but no response is heard. Among the hazy synth, you may hear sounds that remind you of the band's 1971 epic "Echoes"; blink and you may have missed it, but the iconic opening ping from that sound did appear in "Hey You" around the three minute mark. More examples of Waters incorporating old elements of Pink Floyd into this album. This piece is finished off by an acoustic guitar solo that brings us into the beautiful "Nobody Home" which is probably one of the most emotional parts of the album. It references the case of former Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett, and was one of the final pieces to be added to "The Wall" at the request of producer Bob Ezrin. While throw-ins usually fall flat, Waters shines as he does a great job describing the fragile mental state of not just the character Pink, but also that of Barrett, who by this time had faded into obscurity. Some of the lyrics also refer to keyboardist Richard Wright and his cocaine addiction at the time; overall, this is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I have to be in the right mood to listen to the follow up "Vera" which of course is based on Vera Lynn who released the song "We'll Meet Again" during the Second World War. Waters uses the song as a way to create a connection between the subject matter in that song and his relationship with his father that he never met. Of course this parallels Pink's story, and offers another example of recollection for the protagonist during his bout of isolation. Another short interlude in "Bring the Boys Back Home" continues on the theme of warfare; in the movie it is paired with a wonderful track called "When the Tigers Broke Free" which unfortunately isn't included on the album, but it's basically an extended build-up to the part that we do get on the album, complete with a drum beat and a frantic chorus. Of course, all these little filler tracks build up to the finale of side three, that being the esteemed "Comfortably Numb" which I'm sure most people are familiar with. At this point, Pink is so disconnected from reality that he has to be given drugs in order to perform his concerts. This was originally a leftover demo piece created by Gilmour, but it was modified to fit into the album with great effect. What is most important about this track are the two guitar solos, the second being perhaps one of Gilmour's best. Pink Floyd was so successful thanks to Gilmour's musical ability and Waters's creative genius. When those two elements come together is when we get the band's best music; if there is too much Gilmour, we get musically proficient yet directionless albums like "Momentary Lapse of Reason" or "The Division Bell" while if we get too much Waters (in this case this album is an example) we get great lyrics and themes, but the music is simply lacking. Here on this track, there isn't much else to be said. It comes together and we get a masterpiece - the second solo is one of my favorite musical moments of all time.

We're almost to the end. This has been a long review indeed, but I feel an album like this is worthy of my time and an extended analysis. "The Show Must Go On" indeed, and we begin side four with another short piece that opens up with harmonized vocals. Originally the Beach Boys were gonna do this part, but they cancelled on the day the album was recorded. At this point in the story we are getting closer to finally rejoining where the album originally started, and indeed we hear a reprise of "In the Flesh" this time without the "?". While at the beginning it may seem like a carbon copy of the opening track, the lyrics now portray Pink speaking out to a crowd on stage. He has embraced dictatorial tendencies; typically those who may feel powerless or disenfranchised tend to sympathize and identify with dictators, and here Pink is doing just that. He singles out homosexuals, drug users, and even Jews in the audience to be attacked by the rabid mob. This of course is all a hallucination in Pink's mind; the Dictator is another character. There is a hammer logo that is used extensively in the movie and in the album's gatefold cover; this in many ways relates to the Nazi swastika as we see many parallels between the Dictator and Adolf Hitler. Once the lyrics are all done, we get the same guitar solo as before but this time we segue into "Run Like Hell", a cool lounge-style rock track which has garnered acclaim and is even still played on classic rock radio (at least my local radio station). Pink continues to have fantasies of oppressing the marginalized; at this point in the album we get a lot of political references. In the movie, they hired a skinhead group to play the part of a mob as Pink leads his men to attack those who he singled out in the previous song, as well as raid diners and attack interracial couples. The bass is especially prominent in this piece, and is probably my favorite bassline off the album. Once again, bass parts are performed by Gilmour, and we even here Waters's trademark primal scream before the music fades off into the sound of marching to indicate the beginning of "Waiting for the Worms" where Pink continues his acts of violence. He demands his followers attack homosexuals, Jews, communists, and people of color, promising the return of the British Empire and the deportation of non-whites. Of course, Waters is a self-avowed socialist, and has been largely critical of political happenings in the modern day as many nations have seen an increased interest in nationalism that have stirred opinions similar to those of Pink in "The Wall". I suppose in many ways, this album can be seen in the actions of a group in addition to that of an individual. Musically this is another hit for me, as we get some radically intense vocal passages that really build up the tension and creates a furor. An intense chant finishes off this one and abruptly ends with "Stop" where Pink finally gets fed up with his fascist tendencies, and segues into "The Trial" which serves as the concept's final climax. All of the characters from earlier in the album in addition to a judge hold Pink on trial as he is forced to face the consequences of his actions. It is the first time that Pink does not narrate the story to us, but rather through the antagonists. This is another very emotional song among the vitriol from the antagonists until the Judge enters in and things instantly intensify as he demands that Pink's wall be "torn down" and as we hear the sound of the wall coming down, the album is closed out by "Outside the Wall" which serves as a bit of an epilogue to the concept. I prefer the movie version which is orchestral as opposed to the mellow album version which makes use of the original opening motif and a children's chorus, but it is a fine ending to what has certainly been a wild ride.

Pink Floyd's "The Wall" is perhaps one of the most famous albums in prog history. Pink Floyd had a knack for shaping the genre on a grand level, and this album signifies the end of the band's golden age. From here on the band would grow so controlled by Waters that it would eventually result in the exodus of Wright and the dissolution of the band. Following a brutal battle in court, Gilmour would eventually win rights to the band's name and continue on with Mason (and Wright on a supporting level), with Waters never returning. "The Wall" represents the magnum opus of the musical work of Roger Waters as a person; for this album his story will forever be immortalized in music history. While there is much debate as to whether this is truly "progressive" album, I still think that this is an essential work of the genre, even if it has its imperfections. The concept is perhaps the best in rock history, and has the ability to relate to any listener who may be dealing with depression or extended isolation. I don't think there is any question whether this album deserves five stars or not, but rather how high of a rating it gets from me. "The Wall" has its imperfections; as I mentioned earlier there is a lot of filler that has to be removed in order to extract the gems; something that seems to always afflict double albums. Beyond that there is a commercial element to this album; those who want the same atmosphere provided here in addition to more progressive music should seek out the band's 1977 "Animals" album. However, this album is in my top five for albums to introduce a new listener to progressive rock; it's very accessible and has a very well-defined concept. Finally, to cap off this extensive review, I give "The Wall" a five-star (92% A-) review; essential to the genre, especially the 1977-1981 years, and every listener of the genre should at least give it a full listen at some point.

SonomaComa1999 | 5/5 |

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