The Wall
[released Nov. 1979]
Disc 1         [39:14]
Disc 2         [41:58]
In The Flesh ?

Hey You
The Thin Ice
Is Anybody Out There?
Another Brick In The Wall (1)
Nobody Home
The Happiest Days of Our Lives
Vera Lynn
Another Brick In The Wall (2)
Bring The Boys Back Home
Comfortably Numb
Goodbye Blue Sky
The Show Must Go On
Empty Spaces
In The Flesh !
Young Lust
Run Like Hell
One of My Turns
Waiting for the Worms
Don't Leave Me Now
Another Brick In The Wall (3)
The Trial
Goodbye Cruel World
Outside the Wall

    I put off writing this review as long as possible, because it's just so difficult to do.  Few albums have more mythology or strong feeling surrounding them than this one does, and I know I'm going to rile up some of those strong feelings.  (A good time to remind you that it's my opinion, and I'm not looking for any hate mail.  Don't like my opinion?  Make your own website.)
    Depending upon where you stand, THE WALL is either the greatest concept album of all times, or a Roger Waters indulgence.  Both stances have validity.  Personally, I believe that DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, and WISH YOU WERE HERE are much better as concept albums, because there is more start-to-finish integrity in those musical works than in this one.  (We'll return to that thought in a moment.)  Waters does dominate this album, and so begins to tip the balance away from the perfect combination of music and lyrics that gave the previous three albums their compelling quality.  This album is compelling, but more in the sense of the way we are attracted to a car wreck than it is like a detective story.  THE WALL is really an album that needs to be listened to from beginning to end in order to fully comprehend the message.  When my friend Jamie Thompson loaned me his albums (the first time I'd heard it), he said, "It's really cool, but I don't understand it all".  I'm not sure anyone but Roger fully does.
    From the beginning, Roger knew he wanted to make this concept into a visual display (read: movie).  Because of that, I think that the music was given short shrift for advancing the concept.  Admittedly, it's probably impossible to find the perfect balance between exceptional music and an interesting visual, and Pink Floyd certainly does it better than any other group did, but...  In the end, the music cannot fully satisfy the audience because it becomes too extended or repetitive.  The visual didn't fully satisfy Roger, because it's equally impossible to completely realize on film what occurs in one's imagination.  If you find the album dissatisfying, rent the movie - I think you'll find that you like the music more afterward.  Since the music gets diminished, and the music is what we are discussing here, we have to rate this album lower than the real peak work of the Floyd.  Despite that, it went to #1, because that's what juggernaut bands do - sell tons of every album.
    Like all Floyd albums, this one has "issues".  Roger, having apparently said his final "good-bye" to Syd, turns his emotional reflections to his family and experiences.  Slowly coming to grips with the depth of his sorrow over having lost his father, Roger attempts to show how that loss (and other harrowing incidents) have made him the man he is today - a man he is not fully pleased with.  Roger had had an ugly incident with a fan in Montreal (Roger spat on him), and realized that his music was not necessarily making him a better person.  Pink Floyd audiences were renowned for sitting back passively and taking in the "experience" of being at a concert, and Roger wanted to shock them into some sort of reaction.  It worked, but I'm not sure we needed to see him so completely stripped to the bone.  When the song asks, "Is anybody out there?", it may as well have been Roger asking his fans for some sort of response.  The story line is really about this person (the character "Pink") who builds a defensive wall around himself, to protect him from everything that has ever caused him pain.  Though you have great sympathy for the suffering this man has experienced, there comes a point where you really want him to fight back, rather than becoming a victim.
    You'll notice that I didn't list individual times for the tracks on this album, because, for the most part, it is extremely dangerous to take these cuts as individual entities.  Many of the tracks run together, separated only by the seconds-counter on your CD player.  Since all of the music here fits one of a few styles, it seemed illogical to discuss them one at a time.  I have thought that it would be interesting to re-record this album, cutting the tracks up by musical theme, just to see if the quality of the music seems to improve that way.  (I'm sure it does.)  If you disagree with my assessments, try that trick first to see if it changes your perception of this music.

    The first theme is carried by In the Flesh? and In the Flesh!  Pay close attention to the punctuation, because it reflects the mood of the storyline.  Both songs are hard rock, though slow in pace, but differ greatly in approach.  The first (?) sort of challenges the audience to sit up and take notice of how the Floyd is different than expected, while the second (!) gets downright insulting.  Of course, in the interim, the character "Pink" has undergone a radical transformation, and it has not been good for him, or us.  Because of the way Pink Floyd does loops {CPFS}, these two tunes tie in with Goodbye Cruel World which ends the first album, and Outside the Wall, which closes out the entire show.  Though the music here is much more free-form, there are musical ideas and ambient sounds {CPFS} that connect them all.  Interestingly, that means that the very first song, the last song of Disk 1, and the very last song create a loop within a loop.  If you listen carefully, ? begins with the same background sounds that close Outside the Wall.
    The second theme is what I call the "Mother" theme.  Roger loves his mother, but realizes that, in her efforts to protect him from the bad things in life, she may have given him another whole set of concerns.  (I suppose we can all identify with that.)  These songs are all more flowing and acoustic, with harmonic vocals.  They sound soothing, but have the underlying tension that builds this paranoid story line.  In The Thin Ice, she warns us that, even though we are loved, we are likely to fall through the "thin ice" of approval from time to time, because the world can appear friendlier than it is.  Later, Mother gives little Roger a chance to ask some of the "deep" questions, and she comes through again, offering to help him build his protective wall.  The theme continues on into Goodbye, Blue Sky in which some of those worst fears come true.  Having served its purpose, we don't hear from this theme again.  (It's too bad, since the later album could use a little something that sounds soothing.)
    The third theme is the one that's most familiar, since Part 2 was #1 in the UK and the US as a single.  ("We don't need no Ed-U-Kay-Shun")  The problem is that the message was totally misunderstood.  It has to be the ultimate Pink Floyd irony, in a career of ironies, that the last #1 hit would become an anthem for people who had no clue what the band really intended.  These cuts are all about the wall itself, the causes and results of its' construction.  (It was a class discussion about this concept that got my friend Justin Zimmerman interested in Pink Floyd, which, he said, forever changed the way he looked at music.)  Each song in this group is characterized by its ponderous bass lines, plucked guitar licks alternating with ringing guitar riffs, echoes, and appropriate ambient sounds. Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1 chronicles the loss of Pink's father, "leaving just a memory" and his child to wonder what his legacy is.  In our time of overanalysis of the effect on children of one-parent households and lack of father-figures, Roger sums it all up concisely and meaningfully.  This segues into The Happiest Days of our Lives, an incongruous title reflecting Pink being "sent off " to school, where certain teachers were derisive, critical, and sarcastic.  The result is Part 2, wherein the abused children fight back, giving every student the idea that school is terrible and they don't need to be there.  (Of course, Roger's ungrammatical chorus proves how badly an education is needed.)  The sad irony here is that Roger was saying that, at the very time in his life when he most needed a safe haven in which to feel accepted and cared for, it only took one mean teacher to add more bricks to his wall.  Part 3 returns the theme near the end of the first album.  By now, Pink has been unable to find a true love as well, and is ready to reject everything in the world.  ("Don't think I'll need anything at all.")  The theme changes, but still has potency, in the second album.  In Hey You, Pink knows there are people outside his wall who care about and can help him, but realizes that the wall he has built is so high, the connection is almost lost.  (In the concert setting, the band actually built a wall between themselves and the audience, so it would have been eerie hearing this song without being able to see the band.)  The theme concludes with Run Like Hell, which leaves Pink his final option, to simply flee his troubles, because everything he does is under extreme scrutiny.
    The fourth theme is the second-most familiar, because the song that concludes it gets plenty of airplay on "Classic Rock" stations.  It varies wildly in style, but some basics hold true throughout. It is often quiet, plaintive, and even painfully sensitive, and other times tends toward the bombastic.(perhaps a reference to Manic Depression?)  It begins with Empty Spaces, which uses gritty keyboard and vocal lines to give the impression of actually dragging a great weight uphill.  It becomes quieter and more fearful in Is Anybody Out There?, where Rick Wright digs up some sounds from old albums, just to remind us that the Floyd we once knew is in there somewhere.{CPFS}  Pink has sunk so deeply into his walled-off inner world, that he has become akin to a mental patient (maybe we haven't left Syd behind after all). Nobody Home is the work of a desperate and twisted mind that possesses "everything a man could want", except for that which he really needs.  It's a very cool song.  After a search for the AWOL Vera Lynn, he operatically asks us to Bring the Boys Back Home, especially his father, we presume.  He has exhausted his search for "anybody out there" to such a degree that he is no longer in touch with reality.  Then, Roger made a mistake.  (Goody for Us!)  Absorbed in himself and his character's inner pain, he could not adequately write the music that represented Pink's "friends" trying to break through the wall to him, so he left it up to Dave.  Hallelujah!  Comfortably Numb is probably the best piece of music on the albums, and truest to the Pink Floyd we'd come to know and love.  The theme reverses to "is anybody in there?", and comprises a conversation between Pink and his "doctor", who's going to give him something to make him "feel better".  Pink, of course, doesn't really need anything, because, being "comfortably numb" he doesn't really care anymore.  Unfortunately for him, he has promoters and others depending on him to keep going, and their desire for him to perform (and therefore make them money) is intense.  The song has all the best Pink Floyd elements - soaring slide guitar lines {CPFS}, lyrical exchange, poetic imagery {CPFS}, and musical integrity.  It's a song that really gets into your head.
    The fifth theme begins to tie the whole story together (in a less-than-joyful way), as Pink prepares to go back on stage.  He is now a changed man, and it's not a change for the better.  In The Show Must Go On, he shows us that he is afraid to get back out there, because it's not much fun, and he fears he'll forget the words.  Still, the show does go on, and it's not a nice show.  He sees himself now as a sort of Nazi rock star, who is angry with, and punishes, his audience. In The Flesh! shows his "true" nature (although, of course, not really) as he vilifies the very people who buy the tickets to his shows, and snap up his albums.  (When they could be spending their money on something important, I suppose.)  By using his biting satire on himself, he ironically risks simultaneously alienating and hopelessly confusing his potentially sympathetic target audience.  Waiting For The Worms has serious Hitler-like qualities ~ Pink obviously sees himself as much more in control of our lives than we thought he was.  Finally, he decides it's time to Stop completely.
    The final theme is about responsibility for our actions.  In the first album, Pink has had One of My Turns; a bad day when everyone is just supposed to bear with him.  Now, as the story closes, he must be judged for his actions. The Trial brings back many of the phrases from that earlier song, and uses them against him.  The sentence is that his wall shall be torn down, since that is his only hope of salvation.  Finally, someone does care enough about him to fight his resistance to assistance.  It gets pretty operatic and difficult to follow here at the end, but you have to feel that we're going to find a way to coexist, if not live happily ever after.
    The two songs I haven't fit into themes are quite different from each other.  Young Lust is another tune that's gotten lots of "classics" airplay.  A simple rock song about the search for a "dirty woman", it actually rocks pretty good. Don't Leave Me Now is a more plaintive, gritty acoustic ballad, in which Pink tries to get his girlfriend to stay, even though he knows he's mistreated her.

    So, is the debate settled?  Not by a long shot.  The album remains, and always will, a point of controversy.  Roger has had his say, and we didn't always agree with it.  He has flooded us with words, and we have been left wanting more music.  He has taken the Pink Floyd edge, and honed it to such a fine line that the cuts go too deep too quickly.  He has laid bare his soul, and we do not like all we have seen.  He has also made us take the concept of the album {CPFS} (and concept albums in general) seriously, and see musicians as perhaps we never have before.  Maybe we didn't really want to see them so clearly.
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