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Pink Floyd - The Wall CD (album) cover


Pink Floyd


Psychedelic/Space Rock

4.09 | 3279 ratings

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3 stars **The Wall Is a Middling Album, and This Is a Hill I'm Willing to Die On**

This part of the essay is a bit I've been eagerly anticipating writing for a long time. And if one were to scroll through my personal Reddit account, one could find embryonic versions of the ensuing discussion.

The title of this section is a thesis I've long proclaimed. Setting aside lyrics for the moment?I will get to that?the music on The Wall is woefully inconsistent. There are gems buried in here, but much of the record is plodding and monotonous. There's a pretty decent 40-minute album buried in this 82-minute slog of bloat and self-indulgence.

I've stated many a time on this site that I'm not a lyrically-focused individual. In general, I like the sound of the human voice, and I like the structure of human language, so I prefer music with lyrics to instrumental pieces, all else being equal. However, bad lyrics can hurt otherwise-good music, as can a bad vocal delivery. Roger Waters was never a strong vocalist, and his delivery is especially weak on much of this record. 

The lyrics on much of The Wall are bad, and they're delivered in an impossible-to-ignore way. To start, the main conceit of the album is not a strong concept. "I'm so isolated, I feel like I'm behind a wall," is not a particularly new or unique idea, and it's not presented in a very interesting way. It comes off as whiny and full of self-pity. While relatable, this narrative presented in a facile and achingly unoriginal way. The story?adapted from a much more explicitly autobiographical first draft?is overwrought.

The compositions tend to be either blandly spare or needlessly over-orchestrated, and things certainly weren't helped by the band members' deteriorating personal relationships during recording. A combination of depression (stemming largely from a failing marriage) and a falling-out with Roger Waters led to Rick Wright being fired from the band. He was hired on as a session musician for the tour, however.

Wright's reduced input is obvious, as most keyboard parts on The Wall are plain and simplistic. Jazz is noticeably less prominent as well, as Wright often was the one bringing in those uncommon chords on prior compositions. It's Gilmour who carries the instrumental aspects of this album without Wright. Waters was never a standout bassist, and Mason's drumming is so restrained that even Ringo could have pulled it off.

The Wall also suffers from an abundance of sound effects. Snippets of conversation are littered throughout the album, and it often stretches decent two-minute songs to interminable four-minute lengths. The constant background chatter becomes draining. Contrast this to Dark Side, where conversational snippets were smoothly integrated into the fabric of the music. On The Wall, these elements feel hastily and thoughtlessly slapped on.

The individual songs were composed almost entirely by Roger Waters, with only four of the 26 tracks having a credited co-writer. And unsurprisingly, those four songs are some of the strongest on the whole record, demonstrating that Waters usually needed outside input.

"In the Flesh?" opens the album, and it's a bit of a mixed bag. If I weren't told this was a Pink Floyd song, I'd think it was fine. It's Stygian, prog-ish arena rock, but it's nothing to write home about. I do like the soulful backing vocals, but everything else here is either way too much or not nearly enough. That is to say, it's an odd mixture of overblown and unambitious. "The Thin Ice" features an uncharacteristically weak vocal performance from David Gilmour, and the piano-and-synth backing is underbaked, a quality which most of the record suffers from.

"Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)" is the strongest of the three parts of this song. It's got genuine menace, and the sense of isolation and abandonment is palpable. Unfortunately, this mood isn't upheld in either of the following tracks. "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" is a weird, unfocused prelude to what follows. It's more sound effects than substantive music, and the many ideas jammed into this sub-two-minute cut feel disjointed. "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" meanwhile suffers from the irredeemable ill of a child choir and half-assed white-boy faux-funk.

"Mother" is uneven. A not-insignificant portion of this cut is folky, singer-songwriter bullshit that I simply don't like. Once "Mother" gets going, though, it's not a bad composition. It's not great, but this solid-C+ cut is a relative strong point on The Wall.

The Wall has some oddball tracks which I really love. "Goodbye Blue Sky" is one of those. It combines wonky folk motifs with sinister synthesizers and opaque-enough-to-be-good lyrics to make something compelling.

"Empty Spaces" is more notable for its stupid backmasked message than for anything else. It's an aimless, forgettable interlude which could have been trimmed from two minutes to 30 seconds. ("What Shall We Do Now?" was an inexplicable exclusion. Originally placed after "Empty Spaces", it was quite a strong 90-second piece, and The Wall would have been stronger to include it.) "Young Lust" also overstays its welcome. Co-written by David Gilmour, this song is a send-up of late-'70s bluesy sex songs. It's another alright cut, but the premise wears thin by track's end.

"One of My Turns" is one of the great successes of The Wall. It aptly conveys the sense of desperation and mania the Waters was striving to portray, and though it's rather unimpressively played, its internal diversity is strong enough to let it stand on its own. Sadly, this is followed by what is likely the worst slog on the album. "Don't Leave Me Now" has Waters warbling off-key over atonal organ chords in a hazy torpor of uninteresting depression for four punishing minutes.

Disc one of The Wall ends with the perfectly passable duo of "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 3)" and "Goodbye Cruel World". Neither is particularly noteworthy: the former is a slightly more energetic rehash of Part 1; the latter is a dull-but-short organ-and-bass dirge.

Thankfully, disc two is markedly stronger than disc one.

"Hey You" is a standout on The Wall, but if it had been on Wish You Were Here, it would have been underwhelming. It isn't a bad song by any means, but it does fall victim to many traps of late-'70s arena rock which I have a distaste for. In addition to being generically overblown at parts, the production is a bit much for me here. Gilmour's solo is decent, but its backing track is repetitious and uninteresting. The organ is too dramatic during those moments, as well. This song thrives in its quieter moments.

Unfortunately, Roger Waters can't let us have two consecutive good songs on this record, it seems. "Is There Anybody Out There?" begins as a dull synth drone, but its second half features more interesting acoustic elements. "Nobody Home" is a track I have an unjustifiable soft spot for. It's a simple piano-based piece with big, warm swells of string and brass that feel almost embarrassingly earnest.

"Vera" is simply pointless. Let's skip this one. Y'know what, let's also skip "Bring the Boys Back Home". Christ, these two messes made it in but "What Shall We Do Now?" was cut? Revisiting The Wall is simply reinforcing my anti-Roger Waters bias.

Finally, we're getting to the good part of The Wall. "Comfortably Numb", on paper, suffers from many of the symptoms of bloat which I'd normally decry on this record. The simple playing and overly lush sound palette would usually be red flags, but the melody has drama to it, and the song has an understandable arc. Gilmour's masterful closing solo certainly doesn't hurt either. (For a truly amazing rendition of that solo, listen to the live version of this song from 1994's Pulse.)

"The Show Must Go On" is nice and warm, if forgettable, and "In the Flesh" is a pointless retread of the album's opening track.

"Run Like Hell", however, is an amazing, energetic, anxious track. It's both claustrophobic in its tight rhythm and wide-open with its guitar tones. It truly evokes the feeling of sprinting from some danger. Waters's snarled delivery is befitting. This song features Rick Wright's one solo on the album, but it's a strong one. Though not particularly technical, the wobbling insecurity of his synth suits the subject matter well.

One of the weirdest tracks on The Wall is "Waiting for the Worms". It's full of allusions to the preceding songs, and the oddball vocal deliveries suit everything wonderfully. It's thumping and lurching and scary, though it's also got some of the most beat-you-over-the-head obvious lyrics on a famously straightforward record.

After the 30-second piano interlude of "Stop", "The Trial" is another strong, wonderful oddball cut. There's a Vaudevillian theatricality here that is absent elsewhere in Floyd's output. The song's sheer weirdness is what saves it. The lyrics continue the trend of ditching any semblance of artfulness, but everything is so odd and surprising, I can't help but love it. "Outside the Wall", which closes the album, feels like an afterthought and makes no lasting impression.

A few paragraphs ago (or maybe a few dozen, it feels like), I mentioned I felt that there was a decent 40-minute album buried in this unfocused mess. Coming from my lyrically-deemphasized standpoint, here is my proposal for an improved, abbreviated tracklist. Certain songs would need to be trimmed down, and those songs have been noted with asterisks. If they were to be taken as-is, this The Wall would wind up north of 50 minutes. Seeing the tracklist now, I'm not sure I could whittle it down to 40 minutes, but 45 seems totally reasonable.

My Streamlined Wall

In the Flesh?* Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)* Mother* Goodbye Blue Sky What Shall We Do Now? Young Lust* One of My Turns Hey You* Nobody Home Comfortably Numb Run Like Hell Waiting for the Worms The Trial

Lyrics would need to be rewritten if you wanted the story to make sense, but unlike my view on films, I don't need a coherent plot in my music.

Review originally posted here:

TheEliteExtremophile | 3/5 |


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