Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Wall - Pink Floyd

It recently occurred to me that I had hitherto resisted the impulse to listen to Pink Floyd's album "The Wall", in its chronological entirety. Perhaps the prospect even scared me slightly. When, however this gap in my experience was rectified, I was confronted with a few thoughts and revelations.

"The Wall" is a concept album, or rock opera, which follows the protagonist "Pink" in his journey from childhood, to isolation and alienation from society, and out again, the character being based partly on Syd Barrett, partly on Roger Waters himself. My recent and "morbid" interest in this work may stem in part from my own personal experiences in recent years, and my attempts to rationalize these life changes.

One of the things which struck me right away was how comparatively little out-and-out  "prog-rock" features on the record. By necessity the "rock opera" format demands shorter songs and some vignettes to tie the whole thing together, and the relative conciseness of the pieces evokes a mainstream rock feel.  If anything, the strongest direct, or indirect, musical influence which I can detect here is from British art/glam rock from earlier in the Seventies, primarily David Bowie and even Be Bop Deluxe and Queen. Some of Roger Waters' vocals even sound rather Bowie-esque. Songs like "In The Flesh" and "The Thin Ice" carry these traits.

Having listened regularly to the famous tunes ("Another Brick In The Wall Pt.2, Comfortably Numb, Hey You, etc), interest centres more on the pieces which flesh out the album and the story.  There are some recurring motifs, like in any opera of any kind, but the self-contained material is strong, confident and diverse - songs such as "Mother" and "Goodbye Blue Sky".  Also, the better-known compositions acquire a greater pertinence in the overall context of "The Wall"; "Hey You" is a good example of this; its meaning grows more acute, and more chilling.

When closely analysed, the music and the lyrics are not quite so overblown or pretentious as I have sometimes liked to tell myself. Some people might contend that the closing stages, the denouement as it were, is a little over-the-top or extreme, and whilst I would not disagree, it is difficult to deny its impact. The sound affects and speech excerpts which punctuate the record are scarcely original, but they do succeed in augmenting the intended atmosphere.

It is intriguing to note that Floyd, a target for the vitriol and derision of the punk revolution, were in this project exploring, albeit on a more grandiose scale,  subjects which punk also sought to address, such as alienation and the deleterious effects of aspects of human society and human nature.  "The Wall" is to me another vital document of British popular culture of the second half of the 1970s, a period when economic stagnation and psychological and spiritual disenchantment went hand in hand.

I am sure that a lot of people find that aspects of "The Wall" at least strike a chord with regard to their own lives, and supply ample food for thought. I myself can identify with the alienation/isolation angle at least. The "bricks" analogy is rather well done, so the concept itself is quite coherent. The "Pink" character is himself a rock star, but it does not take much for the listener to perceive metaphors in the unreality and artificiality of rock stardom which are more universally applicable.

Few will arrive there by the same route, but I think that most of us who have endured such isolation and angst yearn to have some kind of "epiphany", which takes us back to where we were before. If life can indeed be cyclical, the peaks and troughs are awfully long and deep.

"The Wall", for all its bleakness and occasionally excessive earnestness, is an absorbing musical and social statement.

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