By this time in their career, Pink Floyd had become the unanimous kings of psychedelic rock. The one we’re discussing today was as well received as it was groundbreaking. The Wall is major in scope, emotion and the strength that made the band so wonderful, but I digress. Let’s get to the record!
From the first time I heard the concept, and the grandiose nature of it, my brain was changed. I remember a summer where this was one of only two records I listened to. The whole idea behind this album started with Roger Waters wanting to make something that showcased not only the feelings he had regarding his life but also his utter contempt for modern concert audiences. Since they have blown up in a gigantic way, he had begun to feel alienated and alone, especially when playing in front of 80,000 people who he felt largely had no idea what was going on when it came to the motivations of the band. The resulting album was dark, angry and full of sadness and frustration. The opening soaring nature of In the Flesh? is a very good early example of what we’re in for in terms of scope. The sounds of planes crashing, guitars wailing, and, finally, a baby crying put you in the appropriately frail position to understand where the band was at this point.
Now, this might be a creation of Roger Waters, but that’s not to say that the other members are simply sitting idly by. Nick Mason, Richard Wright, and David Gilmour all bring their best to this fierce record. The guitars are fucking incredible, to say the least. Still today, you’ve never heard a guitarist and rhythm section that good. The album also has a perfect narrative flowing through it that is absent from music today. By the third track, the first part of the ambitious and very popular Another Brick in the Wall has ascended upon us. This track is a total slow burn and it adds tension in the same way a good film director knows how to. That’s what makes this band so remarkable. These songs, not only just on this album but all of them, have a very cinematic quality to it. This is probably why “The Wall” as a whole works just as well in film form as it did in album form. Repeatedly, the band is able to bridge the gaps between songs with not only similar themes, and lyrics, but also similar guitar parts and time signatures. The Happiest Days of Our Lives is an adequate example of this. The song evolves from Brick in the Wall Part 1 and takes on its own shape, and before the listener knows it, we’re back in the groove for Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.
Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 is easily one of the most well-known songs in the band’s canon, and you can tell why. There hasn’t been a generation of rock music fans since this was released, who hasn’t at least been exposed to this song. “Teacher leave those kids alone” is a staple of rock n’ roll music. There are no two ways around it. Mother, followed by Goodbye Blue Sky and Empty Spaces are the heart and soul of this first half of the record. “Mother” is a pretty but bittersweet letter to the parents who told us we could succeed at anything, while “Blue Sky” is the reality of waking up to realize all those promises weren’t meant to be. It’s this brilliant use of metaphors that sets this band apart. The gorgeous opening of Goodbye Blue Sky gives way to slightly darker vocals and the presence of ever-growing fear and fright. From there, we dive into the ominously, quiet visual presentation of Empty Spaces. This album was in some ways inspired by World War 2, and the marching of the feet and the thumping time beats perfectly reflect that.
The next section of the album gets slightly lighter, but only in tempo and instrumentals. The lyrics are still adequately dark for the subject material. But the chipper sounds of Young Lust and One of my Turns doesn’t last long. Before we get too comfortable, we’re back with the saddest sections of the album, which just so happens to be the conclusion of the first half of the album. Don’t Leave Me Now. is very depressing and you get the feeling that the story-teller isn’t really trying to make things better at all. From there, we receive the final “Another Brick in the Wall.” Part three might actually be my favourite, if only because of how in your face it is. “I don’t need those arms around me” is a violent reaction from a man who not only doesn’t want help, but he’s finding bliss in the lack of light in his life. The guitars and drums are nothing. if not deliberate, and it gives way to the perfect dark conclusion that is Goodbye Cruel World.
“Cruel World” is the admission that the character of Pink is finally letting go of this world. He’s not killing himself, but there are worse things than death. He’s purposely turning his back on the things he once loved because he doesn’t know how to relate to them anymore. It’s a short song, but it gets its message across.
We open the second half of this album with the slow and dreamy guitar playing of Hey You. Personally, I’ve always preferred the second record above the first. The songs, for my money, are just better, and for whatever reason, I’ve always related to this collection of songs more. “Hey You” is an excellent starter for the tail end of The Wall. It doesn’t jump in but rather moves at a gradual pace until the wave of sound envelops us near the end of the song. This one is another to add to the list of songs that features incredible guitar parts from Gilmour. Even Waters’ voice here is crying out for someone to bring him relief. Unfortunately, though, the character has thrown away everything in his life, and he’s left inside his “Wall” to try to figure out where things went wrong.
This whole record is a pretty bleak one though. At least the first half has a bit of light, but by this point, there isn’t anything left to be said, and it’s all just depressing bullshit. I’ve always felt that this album was as much of a therapy session as a warning. A therapy session for the person (Roger Waters) who always had these feelings in him, but a warning for people listening to realize life isn’t meant to live if you’re shut off from the rest of the world. Nobody Home, the third song on the second disc, is perhaps the saddest, yet most poignant song heard in this section of the double album. The visuals used in the show are also amazing. By this time in the live performance of the album, a wall has been constructed in front of the band. Except for the end, this is one of the few times you see a member of the band outside of the wall. A room opens up in the wall, and you get to see Waters sitting destroyed in a hotel room wondering what the fuck caused this kind of destruction in his life. I imagine the state of the band, at this point, also didn’t hurt. Let’s just say they weren’t on good terms with each other.
The song is short, but it’s easily in my top songs from the whole double album. Something about Vera makes it hard for me to get past. It’s the story of wrecked love, but also of fondness in remembering a sweet time in someone’s life. The choral arrangement is sheer magic for my ears, and after all these years I’m still left wondering “Vera, what did become of you?” The most notable and remembered song on “ The Wall” is without question number six on the second disc, Comfortably Numb. For anyone who has ever experimented with substances, you’ve likely had this song playing at one point or another. Beyond that though, it’s a pretty important song. From my point of view, this is the full surrendering of the character. He’s finally got to the peak of full openness inside himself and he doesn’t care who is there to watch it with him. He’s “Comfortably Numb” with the way his life has spiralled.
As far as the music goes, though, this is a triumph for the band. It might be their best-known song, to be honest. The lyrics back and forth between Waters and Gilmour are executed in an exacting manner, and the overall tone of the music is mesmerizing. This is also the moment in the live show where Gilmour shows up at the top of the wall and sings his parts. As a person who has never gotten to see it, and likely never will, I can’t imagine what it would be like.
The next notable track comes in the way of Run Like Hell. The most jamming song of the album by far, it’s matched in intensity in the vocals only by the furious, relentless pace of the music. The thumping, driving sounds are what makes the song so cool, and it picks up the pace at a critical point in the record. Again, the guitars kick ass. I hate to just keep saying that, but it’s true. David Gilmour is an immortal god among mere guitar players.
The last two songs though, shit gets real. The Trial is a really innovative song, and probably the most out-of-place song musically on the album. That’s not to say it’s bad at all though. It’s excellent in fact. One of my favourite on the album, it’s the story of a man being punished for feeling human needs and wants. The orchestral elements also had a very judgemental feeling to the song. It’s extremely negative in terms of events that are happening, but it also signifies the end of the characters struggle to get to the once positive state of mind he occupied. The sinister voice at the end is completely terrifying, and it brings not only the song but the album to a satisfying conclusion. “Tear down the Wall!” is chanted by thousands of people, and at last, this character has the chance to get back to where he previously was. In “tearing down the wall” he’s able to move away from the pain and loneliness he’s felt, and it’s made his travels are little easier.
The finale, Outside the Wall, is pretty, and finally a light-hearted song that wraps up this tour de force of musical imagination. It’s slow, gorgeous nature is happily taken in place of the darkness the band has levelled on us for the last hour, at least. It’s the perfect end to an album that proves that you can’t live your live shut-off. You have to deal with whatever comes your way, and if you chose to stand up and fight for your own sanity, you’ll be better off for having done so.