Last Impressions: Pink Floyd – The Wall

I’m going to keep this fairly brief because it’s sold 23 million copies in the US alone, so you probably already know what it sounds like. Like Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it’s such a landmark in the sonic landscape that I barely notice it any more. I dimly recall Another Brick In The Wall Pt 2 being number one when I was three, and really got into the album when I was 10, but I realised it’s been about a decade since I listened to it and being prompted to by another epic concept album (Foetus’s HIDE), I thought it was time to dust it off.

My first thought was that it has aged really badly, and the first half of the album is actually pretty ordinary rock music that sounds very of its era. I thought there must have been something about it that I loved so much, and as the album progressed it struck me that the worse character Pink’s mental state is, the better the music sounds – not least because it becomes musically more ambitious, complex and bombastic.

This full clip here marks the turning point where it really starts to get good:

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Much as Hey You breaks my heart every time I hear it, Comfortably Numb stands out as probably my favourite track of all time. It is just absolutely devastating.

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Comfortably Numb was a major point of contention between Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour. According to producer Bob Ezrin, the song initially started life as “…Roger’s record, about Roger, for Roger”, although Waters later rewrote it with additional lyrics. Waters wanted it stripped down and rocky; Gilmour preferred Ezrin’s “…grander Technicolor, orchestral version”, although Ezrin preferred Waters’ version. Eventually they compromised – the lush orchestral arrangement is in the body, but Gilmour’s unforgettable solo takes centre-stage towards the end.

To top things off, the absurdly melodramatic The Trial forms a fitting finale, abandoning any thoughts of rock and going for the full orchestral treatment. It’s the part of the album that doesn’t sound remotely dated, and is as stunning today as it was 31 years ago.

However overblown and pretentious The Wall seemed in 1979, I now wonder what it would sound like if it had been even more towards the style shown in the final moments. Then again, 23 million Americans think they got the balance just right.

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