1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
I sympathize with the writer from Melody Maker magazine who was tasked with reviewing Pink Floyd's "The Wall" when it debuted during 1979. "I'm not sure whether it's brilliant or terrible, but I find it utterly compelling," he wrote. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's ever terrible, but it certainly has flashes of brilliance, or at least the potential for brilliance. By now, popular culture has deemed "The Wall" to be a triumph, and that's tough to fight. Rolling Stone ranks it the no. 87 album of all time, and Rolling Stone reads like the Bible to some. Worth the praise? Definitely worth the argument at least.
Much of the conflict revolves around the traditional prog-rock argument: Is it too much? Pink Floyd has dodged the ire of traditionalist critics better than say, Rush, because its instrumental approach has never been overbearing. They continue said approach during "The Wall." Sure, sides C and D are filled with orchestral supplements, and anyone who knows the "Another Brick In The Wall" sequence remembers the use of sound effects. Despite the multitude of instrumental ideas in play, the music is never too dense, nor the time signatures too odd during "The Wall" for a casual listener. The album references itself throughout, such as with the famous bass line from "Brick," helping to unify the concept behind the record.
"The Wall" is overambitious in its conceptual scope however. Roger Waters will tell you the backstory of him spitting on a fan, but that only covers a snippet of what's revealed during the album. Side A serves as a biography for the bassist/vocalist, containing famous singles like "Another Brick in The Wall" (parts one and two), and "Mother," which describes the overbearing care of his own following his father's death during World War II. Side B details the marital troubles of Pink, the rock star representing Waters (although he was happily married at the time), and Side C describes Pink's retreat behind "The Wall," best narrated by the marvelous single "Comfortably Numb." As a collective, these three chapters work well to personify Waters' concept of building a wall to block out humanity, and the negative effects of doing so.
Side D is the mystery however. Pink imagines himself a fascist, raging against the "queers,""coons" and "Jews." He wakes from the nightmare wanting to avoid such a situation of course, but the dream lasts a good five tracks. What can a listener glean from it? Building a wall builds hate for humanity, sure, but does it lead to genocide?
Waters touches on a number of personal beliefs during "The Wall:" objections to methods within the educational system, sending troops overseas, money-isn't-everything themes. He wanted to say a lot, but he could have said it all in a lot less time. There are five great singles on the album that get frequent radio play still, and the B-sides ain't bad either. But "The Wall" could do without many of the minute and two-minute tracks that literally serve only to fill gaps.
Of course, I'm sure the fans who sell out Waters' ongoing "The Wall" tour disagree.
Pink may have torn down his wall by the end of the album, but "The Wall" never came down between the rest of Pink Floyd. The good news is that David Gilmour threw all the good solo ideas he had left into "Comfortably Numb." The bad news is that there hasn't been a band equalling Floyd's epic scope since.
INTERESTING FACT: Bob Geldof is famous for founding Band Aid and World Aid, as well as writing "Do They Know It's Christmas?" for other, more famous artists to sing. He also starred as Pink in the film version of the album, released in 1982.
(not the original, alas. But a pretty good live version that Waters feels is OK to share on the internet apparently)