Pink Floyd – The Wall
Okay, this is a big one. Today, we have to talk about The Wall. It is quite hard to find the right words about an album as big as this one, as influential on me personally as this one. No, this is not my favourite album of this, my ultimately favourite band of all times. That would be Wish You Were Here, which I will have to address in some distant future. But this was my first.
And today is November 30th.
Today is The Wall Day.
The story of the album is well known to fans and possibly of no interest to anybody else. It has been talked about in great detail. The estrangement of lyricist Roger Waters with the audience on the one and the rest of the band on the other side, the inner struggles to get this beast off the ground, the sacking of keyboardist Rick Wright towards the end of it, the elaborate stage shows that were like the first multimedia theatre show ever and the Alan Parker movie that proved to be a mix between 90 minute video clip and horror trip. All these are part of the whole Wall Experience. But all in all they’re just bricks… the music itself remains the blueprint behind the whole thing.
Released on the 30th of November 1979 it celebrates its 40th birthday today. Musically it is the most direct and harshest outing of the band. And while previous ones adressed social criticism as well, it never was that intense and has never been again. It talks about hate, drugs, war, violence, loss, fear, anxiety, despair, grief. Whereas its predecessor Animals discussed society and politics, The Wall went right down to business and while telling the Story of Pink, a fictitious mix of Waters himself and former bandmate and lost diamond Syd Barrett, searches the depths of the human soul. The protagonist builds a wall between him and the world with bricks made from all negative emotions and encounters (childhood, loss of the father in WWII, schooldays, failed marriage, pressure of stardom, depression). Behind it he at first almost succumbs to delusions of grandeur, imagining himself on stage as some fascistoid ruler until he breaks down. He goes to a mental court against himself and judges to be exposed to the outside world and face his demons.
The Wall is very different from the lengthy compositions of earlier times like „Dogs“, „Shine On You Crazy Diamond“ or even „Echoes“. It is also less psychedelic, less instrumental. Various themes reappear and give the whole thing an almost repetitive but compact and concise feeling. It is less meandering through dreamy passages but jumps right at you with its in your face opening. The music steps back and gives the story of this concept album a bigger stage.
That is not to say that it is just a couple of similar songs strung together. It rather feels like one big 90 minute epic song with recurring melodies and chords that (in a still very typical Floydian manner) ends right where it began. And while less playful but rather straight, where it shines, it shines. Here, David Gilmour’s guitar work is beyond doubt among his best. His soloing in the most famous „Another Brick in The Wall part II“ is pure genius. But we especially have to talk about „Comfortably Numb“. It is said that Gilmour and Waters fought hard over the arrangement of this masterpiece but that was worth it. Any tribute to Pink Floyd’s music has to include this beast, especially the amazig solo at its end (which is the complete second half of the song – or two thirds if you listen to the amazing rendition on the 1994 concert film P.U.L.S.E.). It is one of the most covered solos of all time. Fine it does not contain any intricate fiddling, but I have never heard anyone capable to play it with the same feeling, the same emotion nd passion as Gilmour does. Countless reaction videos on YouTube had this one as their topic and left metal heads and hip hop fans speechless or even in tears. When it is played in my presence, I demand silence.
If there is any such thing like magic, this ist it!
Pink Floyd are one of the few acts from the last fifty years that people might actually remember in future days and this album is one giant monument to their work. It still is the world’s best selling double album, unsurpassed for 40 years. It also is one of the most theatrical concept albums of all time.
Back in the days, when someone put on a battered and scratched vinyl it was my first outing to something else than radio pop. I was immediately hooked. It was my initiation into a larger musical cosmos and I will always have a special place in each of my three hearts.
Put on your headphones, crawl up in some corner and listen to the whole thing in one bis session. It is dark, it is scary but cathartic. Pure emotion. Pink Floyd.