|part of:||Rolling Stone: 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: 2012 edition (number: 87) (order: 87)|
Rolling Stone: 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: 2020 edition (number: 129) (order: 129)
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The powers that be behind the Pink Floyd catalogue are not alone in assuming that someone, somewhere, doesn't yet own one of this outfit's certified classic LPs - also guilty are those ruling the canons of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and… well, you get the idea. Some bands will be mainstays on shelves until the death knell finally sounds for physical formats, and these 1965-founded prog-rockers are sure to be amongst them, with new revisions of old material arriving with impressive punctuality.
That Floyd are no longer a going concern has crystallised their legend. Consistently breaching international top 10s from 1973's mainstream breakthrough The Dark Side of the Moon until 1994's swansong The Division Bell, they've attained an untouchable status amongst critics; the sole exception to the five-stars-on-reissue rule being Roger Waters' parting shot, 1983's The Final Cut. But 1979's The Wall is, once separated from its makers' peak-period accolades, not quite as impressive as the preceding trio of tighter LPs - Dark Side…, 75's Wish You Were Here and 77's Animals - by virtue of its ambitious design.
A sprawling monster of a rock opera, The Wall is ripe with rewards for intrepid listeners; but those returning to Floyd after the curt critiques proffered by the 40-odd-minute Animals were surely dizzied by this double-length package. It's great, don't be mistaken; but trim a little of its fat and it goes from a fantastic listen to an unforgettable one. The Wall hides its treats away beneath multi-layered distractions, its makers reacting negatively to their newly acquired stadium-sized crowds - Waters thought their fair-weather followers boorish.
But Floyd didn't lose its collective head - they used The Wall to tackle their huge audiences on terms that suited both parties, presenting a dramatic live show that brought the album's conceptual framework - isolation and detachment from the perspective of one Floyd Pinkerton, whose lifelong travails inform the lyrical content - to vivid life. The show tours to this day, albeit under Waters' name - but then he's the sole writer on all but four tracks here. Singles Comfortably Numb and Run Like Hell are David Gilmour co-writes, but the school choir-featuring Another Brick in the Wall (Part II), number one on both sides of the Atlantic, is all Waters'. The band's biggest hit, it also represents prog's commercial zenith.
This Experience edition - a grand Immersion edition is also available, with content comparable to the Dark Side… package released last September - features a third disc titled Work In Progress. It features a variety of demo versions, mostly of an impressive fidelity. Notable amongst these recordings are The Doctor, later shaped into Comfortably Numb, and Sexual Revolution, a blues-y affair which re-emerged in 1984 on Waters' solo debut, The Pros and Cons of Hitch-Hiking. For the hardcore these demos comprise valuable additions to the commercially available Floyd catalogue; for anyone else, though, the magic of this set will be found in the original LP. It might take a while to find, but it's there.
The Wall is possibly the greatest case of being careful what you wish for in rock music. The runaway success of 1973's Dark Side Of The Moon had trapped Pink Floyd into being a stadium band. Any intricacies or improvisation that one may have demanded from a Floyd show had gradually disappeared in favour of playing the hits - or in their case, whole albums - to audiences who didn't understand what leader Roger Waters was writing about. As their star grew ever bigger in America, fans came to party, not to appreciate their art. Waters was disgusted by this and spat in a fan's face at a gig in Montreal as he tried to get onstage. Shocked at his own actions and mournful at the alienation between fan and performer, he set about writing his magnum opus.
Recorded in Los Angeles, France and London over an eight month period, The Wall is a sort of recorded version of the David Essex film, Stardust. The tale of rock star makes it; falls apart; is put together to perform by those whose lives depend on him; goes bonkers, turns fascist and faces retribution. Its themes of loneliness, war, loveless marriages and overbearing mothers struck an enormous chord with audiences the world over; the accompanying stage show, which saw the group perform large sections of the show behind a polystyrene wall, wrote this alienation large.
Despite some of the morbidity of most of the material, there are some very beautiful tunes nestling amid the pomp, most notably the David Gilmour co-write, "Comfortably Numb," with Bob Ezrin's orchestration and Gilmour's searing guitar solo. It has become the single track that most defines Pink Floyd. The Wall also contained the unlikely Christmas No.1 "Another Brick In the Wall (Part II)".