Monday, April 24, 2017

The Wall

Looking back on my review of Alan Parker's film adaptation of Pink Floyd's album, I find in the very first sentence I declared The Wall to be "my favorite music album." I'm not here to backtrack it. If anything, that sentiment has only grown stronger. (Side note, that review is just over five years old. Feels just like yesterday.).

My musical tastes have grown, I've been exposed to a lot of great music from many wonderful bands and artists, and yet, I keep returning to The Wall. It's my go-to album when I have a long, lonely road trip, and while I can't relate to everything the main character of the album goes through, something about the music speaks to me. It's not a happy album, it's not a rocking one, and in fact, it's downright nightmarish, surreal and frightening, but I can't help but be moved by it every time I hear or discover something new to appreciate about it.

"So ya
Thought ya
Might like to go to the show
To feel the warm thrill of confusion
That space cadet glow"

The Wall is another concept album by Pink Floyd. It tells the story of a rock star named... Pink Floyd. Mentally and emotionally, Pink has walled himself from the rest of the world, and the album lyrically explores the source of his neurosis, his fragile psyche, and how all the traumatic experiences of his life - the death of his father in World War II, the smothering of his overbearing mother, the infidelity of his wife - shaped him and transformed into, I'll say it, a monster.

Much of these story elements, in one form or another, are autobiographical details of Roger Waters, who wrote the album, and other aspects, the crazed rock star aspect and the drug abuse, draw on the life of former Pink Floyd band member Syd Barrett, who famously had a breakdown before leaving the band. So, yes, it would be accurately to describe the album as narcissistic and indulgent. It's also accurate to call the album brilliant, fascinating, multi-layered, and ambitious.

Musically, Pink Floyd has rarely sounded better. Guitarist David Gilmour, bassist Waters, drummer Nick Mason, and keyboardist Richard Wright sound fantastic, and the arrangements are superb. Gilmour plays some of his best solos, especially on "Comfortably Numb" and "Young Lust."

"There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying."

The band goes in many directions without disintegrating; the sound - whether the rising "Empty Spaces," the disco-like march of "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2," the acoustic "Mother" - remains unified within the theme and story of the album. They play fast, they play slow, loud, quiet, dark, light, and it all works.

From a production standpoint, the album mixes in several other elements: children's choirs, TV samples, ringing phones, and other pieces that add and progress the story without being overwhelming. Even the switch between characters is easy to follow through the use of guest vocalists and Waters and Gilmour trading off on different songs.

The Wall has so much going for it. It is fascinating to poke and prod at it from many different angles, musically, lyrically, psychologically, and others. I think of it as a journey, an emotional trek through despair, anger, misery, loneliness, alienation, and fear that transcends that in the end with stunning release and beauty.

"Hey you, out there in the cold
Getting lonely, getting old
Can you feel me?"

Standout Songs
Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) - the iconic anthem of the album
Mother - Wonderful acoustic piece
Young Lust - The closest thing to a traditional, partying rock song on the album while simultaneously knocking down the rock star lifestyle
Comfortably Numb - A song I am desperately trying to learn to play on guitar

Favorite Moment
Say it with me: "Tear down the wall! Tear down the wall! Tear down the wall!" After so much darkness and despair, it is cathartic to hear this chant, followed by the inevitable crumbling.

Album Cover
A brick wall with the band's name and the title stenciled in red over it. Bleak, oppressive, appropriate.

Track Order
Disc 1
1) In the Flesh?
2) The Thin Ice
3) Another Brick in the Wall (Part I)
4) The Happiest Days of Our Lives
5) Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)
6) Mother
7) Goodbye Blue Sky
8) Empty Spaces
9) Young Lust
10) One of My Turns
11) Don't Leave Me Now
12) Another Brick in the Wall (Part III)
13) Goodbye Cruel World

Disc 2
1) Hey You
2) Is There Anybody Out There
3) Nobody Home
4) Vera 
5) Bring the Boys Back Home
6) Comfortably Numb
7) The Show Must Go ON
8) Run Like Hell
9) Waiting for the Worms
10) Stop
11) The Trial
12) Outside the Wall

Roger Waters - Vocals, Bass, Synthesizer, Guitar
David Gilmour - Guitar, Vocals 
Nick Mason - Drums, Percussion
Richard Wright - Piano, Organ, Synthesizer, 
And a load of guest musicians.

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