Saturday, January 27, 2018

All in All... - Pink's Journey - The Wall

While their music had directly and conceptually explored madness since "Arnold Layne," in The Wall, Pink Floyd created their most complex and introspective LP. The album tells the story of fictional rock star Pink Floyd, an amalgam of Waters and Barrett. Though there is a loose-knit narrative in the progression of the music, it is merely a vehicle for the statements concerning society, politics, and personal anguish which is the true focus of the album. The Wall is not a 'rock opera' such as Tommy or Jesus Christ Superstar, but rather conceptually linked songs that express the pain of self-isolation against the backdrop of Pink's story.

The project was conceived with the Animals tour which played to huge stadium venues with as many as 80,000 fans. Waters had expressed to the band and to the press that he was having difficulty communicating with his audience 
in such dehumanisingly non-intimate venues — that they were misinterpreting the feelings and ideas he was trying to convey. 

Roger Waters: "[The] notion of expressing my disgust by building a wall across the front of the stage came to me in a flash, and I was so thrilled with the theatricality of that. [The wall image suggested] the idea of each brick being a different bit of the life, and the whole autobiographical number that developed out of it.

"People con each other that there is no wall... between performer and audience, so I thought it would be good to build one out of black polystyrene or something."

By building an actual wall between himself and his audience, Roger could communicate his feelings of disconnectedness, and there would be little chance of anyone misinterpreting the meaning of a gigantic, stark, white brick wall staring them in the face. Roger had been contemplating ideas for a film as early as 1974, and over the next several weeks everything fell into place; The Wall was simultaneously conceived as a stage show, an album, and a film. The metaphor of the wall itself expanded naturally to include the personal walls that people build around themselves and the walls society erects against freedom of expression, with a myriad of allegorical possibilities.

The concept became more personal as Roger developed Pink as a character, bringing in his own pain and angst over the loss of his father during WWII, a viciously oppressive school system, a cruel and unfaithful wife, and so on, each painful experience becoming a 'brick' in Pink's self-alienating wall. Though most of the experiences and other characters came from Roger's own life, the way in which Pink reacts to these experiences is patterned closely after Syd Barrett's sad mental decline.

Work began on the project in October of 1978. David Gilmour immediately saw the need for the album to be fleshed out, to add a certain degree of musicality to it. However, Roger didn't want his lyrical ideas to be lost in the instrumentation, as he feels they had been in Wish You Were Here. To help mediate the two of them, and to pull together the production of the biggest project the band had attempted so far, producer Bob Ezrin was brought in.

Dave Gilmour: "We [Gilmour and Ezrin] went through it and started with the tracks we liked best, discussed a lot of what was not so good, and kicked out a lot of stuff. Roger and Bob spent a lot of time trying to get the story line straighter, more linear conceptually. Ezrin is the sort of guy who's thinking about the angles all the time, about how to make a shorter story line that's told properly.

"[Roger was] sent away to write other songs... Some of the best stuff, I think, came out under the pressure of saying, 'That's not good enough to get on — do something!"

Bob Ezrin: "In an all-night session, I rewrote the record. I used all of Roger's elements, but I rearranged their order and put them in a different form. I wrote The Wall out in forty pages, like a book. I acted as Roger's editor, and, believe me, his lyrics are so good they didn't need much."

The Wall's orchestral arrangements were created and recorded by Michael Kamen at the CBS studios in New York. Kamen, then as well as now, was one of the most skilled in the blending of contemporary rock music and classical instrumentation. Kamen overdubbed his fifty-five piece score in New York with a minimum of contact with the band.

Meanwhile, final recording and mixing of the album was moved to the Producers Workshop in Los Angeles, where Roger befriended the Beach Boys, one of whom (Bruce Johnston) he recruited along with Toni Tennille to do harmony on "The Show Must Go On" and "Waiting for the Worms."

As a big stack of music, this isn't Pink Floyd's best by any means. Meddle through Animals beat it with ease, and add on Piper, though, there's an obvious certain critical mass of top notch tracks that throw the whole thing headlong into AM7 territory. The first 20 minutes or so of the album are great (who doesn't dig that daddy's-flown-across-the-ocean guitar riff that connects "The Thin Ice" and "Another Brick In The Wall Part 1"?), and so is the final half hour. It merely sags a tiny bit in the middle, as most double albums do. What's spectacular about The Wall is that the secondary songs don't affect the album as a whole. That's in a production as big and pretentious as this. It's just a shame that the album - much like its main character - has no heart, despite the heart put into it. As a theatrical piece, the listener doesn't really care about Pink. Still, nearly 40 years on, I still listen to The Wall in its entirety at least once a year and go back to so many tracks just for a listen.

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