Pink Floyd – The Wall
The penultimate Pink Floyd album featuring Roger Waters was accompanied by a single that is still instantly recognisable after more than a quarter of a century, and, several years later, a movie starring Bob Geldof. Despite receiving widespread critical acclaim and spending fifteen weeks at number one, The Wall seems to be considered very much the poorer cousin to Dark Side of the Moon by most progressive rock fans.
The Wall is almost a Roger Waters solo album, rather than a band effort. The only other significant contribution is from David Gilmour, who co-wrote three tracks, including the brilliant “Comfortably Numb.” In fact, band friction was so bad that Richard Wright was kicked out and only joined the tour as a hired hand. At least he made some money from the loss making concerts.
Lyrically, this is all Roger Waters’ baby. Appalled at his own behaviour in spitting on a young fan on Floyd’s Animals tour, Waters headed home for some self-analysis. Working in the semi-autobiographical mode that has become his signature, a story was constructed about a boy named Pink, whose father died in the war. Brought up by an over-protective mother in an oppressive school system, Pink grows into a troubled rock star. In a dysfunctional marriage, he seeks solace in groupies and struts about the stage like a fascist dictator. His unhappy dealings with the outside world he treats as metaphorical bricks in the wall, which he uses to completely isolate himself. Side two deals with the consequences of this isolation.
Musically, the album is extremely strong. Waters takes up the bulk of the vocal duties, and despite the fact that I often dislike his voice, here its raw, emotional qualities are perfectly suited to the album. Although this is a vocally dominated album, there are some truly superb moments on the guitar. The guitar solo in “Comfortably Numb,” the deceptively tricky finger picking on “Goodbye Blue Sky,” and the amateur guitarists’ classic “Is There Anybody Out There” are all standouts for their guitar presence.
This is an emotional work, and anybody who cannot connect on that level is not going to appreciate this album. It is also a complex one, with a structure like a musical inolving reprisal of themes at key junctures, and rewards many repeated listenings. There is no traditional progressive rock “space cadet glow” here, only painful self-analysis. For me this has always been my favourite Pink Floyd album, in spite of subject matter that I usually do not appreciate and an unhappy ending. It will not please those who want keyboard pyrotechnics, odd time signatures or space travel, but for existential angst and emotion it doesn’t get any better.