Paulelmo's Blog

Pink Floyd’s The Wall, a Tuesday review

I was not an active fan of Pink Floyd in 1979, when the band released its classic album The Wall. Nor had I become so by 1982, when Alan Parker’s  film based on the album was released. I wouldn’t become an active fan of the band until the early-90s. Ironically, that was after most of the band’s interesting activity had ended.

The main reason I wish I had been a fan when the album was released in ’79 is because I’ve had so many long time Floyd fans tell me how they didn’t like the album when it came out.

I’ve tried to hear the album with different ears, listening to the band’s lexicon leading up to that point and then to The Wall to see what it might be about the albums–a two-disk set–that would make a person who had liked the band’s work not think that the new stuff was up to the standard.

And I can’t do it.

When valuing the music of our lives, we tend to put labels on it, words like “best’ and “favorite”; “most influential” is a term that might be used. The problem with that lies in the changes that we bring to the listening. Today, The Wall is my favorite Pink Floyd album; next Monday my favorite might be Dark Side or Animals.

Noting this, when evaluating music, not for placing it into orderly categories but for comprehending what a piece of music means to me, I attempt to affix values that mark the place better for me.

I don’t know if that means anything to you or not, but what it means to me is this: I try to find points of merit in the music by which to better understand just what I think of it and what it makes me feel.

So, that said, I don’t know if The Wall will be my favorite Pink Floyd album come Monday, but I do know this: I believe it is the rock and roll album that people who aren’t rock fans would like more than any other.

Dark Side is the album in which the band set out to treat a list of themes that they saw as the most universal. Home, war, death, and Heaven among others; still, all of their albums are based on universal themes.

The Wall tells the story of Pink, a rock idol, who is a composite of the band’s lead singer, bassist, and principal writer, Roger Waters, and the band’s founder, Syd Barrett. Barrett, who already had psychological problems, succumbed mentally to the ravages of drug addiction during the recording of the band’s second album, 1968’s A Saucerful of Secrets.

Pink is the product of an overbearing mother and a father who was killed in the Second World War. He battles addiction, a dissolving marriage, alienation, and paranoia, as he tries to find his fit in the world.

Sounds like a barrel of laughs, doesn’t it? Still, if you don’t know the album, you don’t know that, despite how depressing it is at times, it simply a joy of a collection to listen to.

That, of course, is a statement that is shaped by my time, place, and situation, as we’ve mentioned about music before. Still, all those factors being what they are, I still think it’s the rock album that non-rock fans will take to most.

There’s a third class of fans where The Wall is concerned, and those are the people who think that, simply because they know songs like “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2,” “Hey You,” “Comfortably Numb,” “Mother,” and “Run Like Hell,” they know the album. Those songs are just a small part of what the band offered here, however, and to think that they give a good idea of what the album looks like is about the same as thinking that you can get a good idea of what someone’s life looks like by looking at every fifth year. You might get a notion of the whole story, but so much of what is there is lost.

Basing The Wall‘s merit on just those songs doesn’t work, not because of anything that list of song happens to be, but what they don’t happen to be. What they don’t happen to be are songs such as “Empty Spaces,” “One of My Turns,”–which is also one of my favorite Pink Floyd songs–“Vera,” “In the Flesh,” or “Waiting for the Worms.” That is just a few of the other tracks from a play list of 26 songs that doesn’t have a weak track.

And it’s the album I spent my day with. With a running time of 82 minutes, I listened to it twice, and I’m on my third time through now. People don’t get how folks like me listen to an album repeatedly like this, but to me, it’s not just an album, it’s an old friend. It brings to mind pleasant pieces of my past, and the familiarity I share with the music leads it to have a safe and homey effect on me.

I don’t know what else to say, except for this: If you don’t know this album, but you are the type of person who can use music to better the spaces in your mind, then I think this is the album for you. You’ll be doing yourself a favor if you buy a copy, sit down with the lyric sheet, and let these men spin you a yarn.

Better yet, watch the movie. It has three songs that aren’t on the album–unfortunately, it doesn’t include “Hey You”–one of which is “What Shall We Do Now?” which is also one of my favorite Floyd songs.

Settle into a nice, cushy chair with all of the trappings that make the movie watching experience complete for you, and let Pink take you on his sad and demented journey. It might be a little bit of a bumpy ride getting where you’re going, but I think you’ll be happy you went once you get there, whether you consider yourself a fan of rock and roll or not.

Be well, friends. Until soon.

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