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Pink Floyd - The Wall CD (album) cover

THE WALL

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

4.05 | 2027 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Pink Floyd was one of those progressive rock bands that I sincerely admired during their heyday, albeit from a distance. In other words, I didn't buy their LPs. However, one would've had to live in a cave to avoid hearing their music so it wasn't difficult to become familiar with what they were creating. The thing that stood out to me most was the incredible fidelity and technical expertise involved in their work that made their records rise above the fray regardless of whether or not I related to the songs themselves. Truth is, even though I now consider the group to be the well-deserved, most recognizable face of prog, I kept them on the periphery of my consciousness until the new millennium dawned and I finally realized that I'd only been depriving myself of some of the best music ever produced. For example, I'd never sat down and listened to "The Wall" alpha to omega till a few days ago. Small surprise that I feel immensely stupid for waiting so long. Being an artist myself, I could readily empathize with the protagonist's struggle against his tendency to isolate and insulate himself from the very people he wanted so desperately to please. 'Tis the nature of the beast.

This respected concept album impressively opens with "In the Flesh." Big, heavy and ominous guitar riffs contrast starkly with the subdued verse, giving a glimpse of the yin/yang conflicts to come. "So ya thought ya might like to go to the show, to feel the warm thrill of confusion, that space cadet glow," Roger Waters sings shakily, expressing the urge to be "special" that plagues us all from birth. "Thin Ice" begins as a somber lullaby, then morphs to a pseudo 50s doo wop vibe wherein Roger warns "Don't be surprised when a crack in the ice appears under your feet." After a brief return to the fat guitar riff the project's indomitable touchstone makes its first appearance. "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1" allows David Gilmour to do what he does so well, painting a masterpiece with his guitar on an unblemished canvas while Waters rues the father's unforgivable absence. "Daddy's flown across the ocean, leaving just a memory, a snap shot in the family album, Daddy what else did you leave for me?" he cries. The sarcastic "Happiest Days of Our Lives" then arrives with thunderous propellers whirling overhead and Nick Mason's drums pounding out a flurry of tribal beats. Roger rips into the demeaning world of public education with searing lines like "When we grew up and went to school there were certain teachers who would hurt the children any way they could by pouring their derision upon anything we did and exposing every weakness." "ABITW, pt. 2" is the cut that the population at large would come to consider the personification of the entire album, gaining massive airplay from day one and going on to become a mainstay of classic rock radio. The children's chorale is genius and Gilmour's guitar work shines brightly. Waters begs, to no avail, "Teachers leave them kids alone!"

The members of Pink Floyd have always excelled at using deceivingly simple folk chords and melodies to throw curves into their proceedings yet nurturing them to grow into something magnificent. I present "Mother" as an example of that gift. By employing alternating time signatures they present a tricky platform for Roger to sing of feeling safe in his mom's codependent arms on one hand while bemoaning her unrealistic expectations of him on the other. She set the bar for him, it would seem, and his response is "Mother, did it need to be so high?" "Goodbye Blue Sky" is a case of beautiful construction utilizing acoustic guitar, subtle singing and growling synth notes from Richard Wright. Now on his own, the hero intones, "The flames are all long gone but the pain lingers on." "Empty Spaces" is a bit of a throwback involving a metallic, industrial metronome that turns the mood markedly macabre. Waters voices the perceived need to protect oneself from being hurt. "How shall I fill the final places? How shall I complete the wall?" he asks. The slightly funky groove underneath "Young Lust" steadily guides the gritty rocker about sexual tension that David so tastefully decorates with a bevy of hot licks. The strange phone sequence at the end shows they still had a sense of humor. Wright stays in the background for too much of this record but his organ/synthesizer drone at the start of "One of My Turns" is pleasantly deep and rich in texture. The number features another simple verse that migrates into edgier territory. It's a very eclectic piece that conveys the trouble that the hero's neuroses have brought into his marriage. "But I have grown older and you have grown colder and nothing is very much fun any more," he gripes.

The tragic "Don't Leave Me Now" is a mysterious, dissonant segment in which Roger's voice is akin to that of someone losing their mind. One wonders if our hero notices the irony in words like "How could you go when you know how I need you to beat to a pulp on a Saturday night?" The band's sudden plunge into a cavernous hole is stunning. Slamming doors usher in a reprise of the album's central theme, "ABITW, pt. 3," and we find that the man's social quarantine is now complete. "I don't need no arms around me, I don't need no drugs to calm me, I have seen the writing on the wall, don't think I need anything at all," he claims. At this point the plot dissolves into an unadorned suicide statement via "Goodbye Cruel World." Our boy has given up hope. "There's nothing you can say to make me change my mind. Goodbye," he mumbles. However, his attempt at self-annihilation fails and he wakes up to sing "Hey You." The song begins as a sobering ballad, then escalates to towering heights courtesy of Gilmour's splendid guitarisms before returning to the initial gloomy outlook wherein Waters laments being incapable of even offing himself. "But it was only a fantasy, the wall was too high as you can see," he explains. A low drone drifts in like a dense fog to support Roger's repeated pleas of "Is There Anybody Out There?" The number's gorgeous combination of acoustic guitar and keyboards is arresting. "Nobody Home" is a piano-based ditty augmented by lush orchestration. The hero has gotten what he desired (to be left alone) but now he is disgusted and bored by his lot. "I've got the obligatory Hendrix perm and I've got the inevitable pinhole burns all down the front of my favorite satin shirt," he sings. "Vera" is a short, nostalgic segue piece that asks the poignant question, "Does anybody else in here feel the way I do?"

A marching cadence heralds the entrance of a grandiose symphonic extravaganza entitled "Bring the Boys Back Home" that, as it fades into the distance, paves the way for one of the finest Pink Floyd tunes ever, "Comfortably Numb." It's a wonderful juxtaposition of a haunting melody, profound lyrics and exquisite musicianship topped off by David's timeless guitar ride. How can you not stand in awe of words such as "When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye, I turned to look but it was gone, I cannot put my finger on it now. The child is grown, the dream is gone and I have become comfortably numb." (I was oblivious to this tune's splendor until I caught a live performance on TV in the early 90s and it reduced me to tears.) "The Show Must Go On" is a queer composition that incorporates a sublime group vocal performance that keeps the listener on their toes throughout. "There must be some mistake, I didn't mean to let them take away my soul," he mourns. "In the Flesh" is a rerun of the curtain-raiser with its strong riff powering through and the verse section more "fleshed" out. The concert ending is no doubt a parody of what their onstage shtick had become to them. Gilmour's striking, almost Who-like chordings layered over Nick's throbbing pulse personifies what turns out to be a very contagious song, "Run Like Hell," that's unmistakably Floydian. Escape is a phantom, our boy has discovered. "Feel the bile rising from your guilty past, with your nerves in tatters as the cockleshell shatters and the hammers batter down your door. You better run," he exclaims.

"Waiting for the Worms" is a real eyebrow-lifter. The Beach Boys-styled intro is beguiling and the remarkably strange melding of musical flavors and influences is fascinating. Roger seems to be hinting at his own dressing room existence when he sings of "Sitting in a bunker here behind my wall, waiting for the worms to come, in perfect isolation here behind my wall, waiting for the worms to come." They concoct a frightening, claustrophobic atmosphere as the chanting audience closes in. "Stop" is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment but important as Waters warbles "Stop, I wanna go home, take off this uniform and leave the show, and I'm waiting in this cell because I have to know, have I been guilty all this time?" "The Trial" takes the cake as far as sheer audacity goes. Its bizarre, surreal "Broadway musical" aroma is shocking yet it fits perfectly into the story line as the hero is dragged kicking and screaming into the hypocritical court of public opinion. "The way you made them suffer, your exquisite wife and mother, fills me with an urge to defecate. Since my friend you have revealed your deepest fear, I sentence you to be exposed before your peers," he is told by the self-righteous judge. The angry mob at the door is unnerving so the wall-destroying explosion is a relief. "Outside the Wall" is the gospel-tinged finale that's delightfully weird. In it Waters issues a plea for the planet's populace to give its tortured bohemians some slack. "The bleeding hearts and the artists make their stand, and when they've given you their all some stagger and fall. After all, it's not easy banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall."

Released at the tail end of the fantastic 70s on November 30, 1979, "The Wall" signified more than just the end of the Pink Floyd four-man collaborations that effectively altered earth's orbit on several occasions. It marked the death of elaborately conceptualized tale-telling presented on a grand scale and, in some respects, the sad close of the golden age of progressive rock. In today's climate such a risky, courageous undertaking such as this would be rejected out of hand, much less listened to intently by the average Joe. "The Wall" is not what I thought it was. It is phenomenal. But I didn't know that until I gave it my full attention. You should do the same if you haven't already. You owe it to yourself. 4.5 stars.

Chicapah | 5/5 |

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