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The Wall
Pink Floyd

Columbia 36183
Released: December 1979
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 115
Certified 7x Platinum: 8/9/89

Nick MasonRick WrightDavid GilmourRoger WatersThough it in no way endangers the meisterwerk musical status of Dark Side of the Moon (still on the charts nearly seven years after its release), Pink Floyd's twelfth album, The Wall, is the most startling rhetorical achievement in the group's singular, thirteen-year career. Stretching his talents over four sides, Floyd bassist Roger Waters, who wrote all the words and a majority of the music here, projects a dark, multilayered vision of post-World War II Western (and especially British) society so unremittingly dismal and acidulous that it makes contemporary gloom-mongers such as Randy Newman or, say, Nico seem like Peter Pan and Tinker Bell.

The Wall is a stunning synthesis of Waters' by now familiar thematic obsessions: the brutal misanthropy of Pink Floyd's last LP, Animals; Dark Side of the Moon's sour, middle-aged tristesse; the surprisingly shrewd perception that the music business is a microcosm of institutional oppression (Wish You Were Here); and the dread of impending psychoses that runs through all these records -- plus a strongly felt antiwar animus that dates way back to 1968's A Saucerful of Secrets. But where Animals, for instance, suffered from self-centered smugness, the even more abject The Wall leaps to life with a relentless lyrical rage that's clearly genuine and, in its painstakingly particularity, ultimately horrifying.

Fashioned as a kind of circular maze (the last words on side four begin a sentence completed by the first words on side one), The Wall offers no exit except madness from a world malevolently bent on crippling its citizens at every level of endeavor. The process -- for those of Waters' generation, at least -- begins at birth with the smothering distortions of mother love. Then there are some vaguely remembered upheavals from the wartime Blitz:

Did you ever wonder
Why we had to run for shelter
When the promise of a brave new world
Unfurled beneath a clear blue sky?

In government-run schools, children are methodically tormented and humiliated by teachers whose comeuppance occurs when they go home at night and "their fat and/ Psychopathic wives would thrash them/ Within inches of their lives."

As Roger Waters sees it, even the most glittering success later in life -- in his case, international rock stardom -- is a mockery because of mortality. The halfhearted hope of interpersonal salvation that slightly brightened Animals is gone, too: women are viewed as inscrutable sexual punching bags, and men (their immediate oppressors in a grand scheme of oppression) are inevitably left alone to flail about in increasingly unbearable frustration. This wall of conditioning finally forms a prison. And its pitiful inmate, by now practially catatonic, submits to "The Trial" -- a bizarre musical cataclysm out of Gilbert and Sullivan via Brecht and Weill -- in which all of his past tormentors converge for the long-awaited kill.

This is very tough stuff, and hardly the hallmark of a hit album. Whether or not The Wall succeeds commercially will probably depend on its musical virtues, of which there are many. Longtime Pink Floyd fans will find the requisite number of bone-crunching riffs and Saturn-bound guitar screems ("In the Flesh"), along with one of the loveliest ballads the band has ever recorded ("Comfortably Numb"). And the singing throughout is -- at last -- truly first-rate, clear, impassioned. Listen to the vocals in the frightening "One of My Turns," in which the deranged rock-star narrator, his shattered synapses misfiring like wet firecrackers, screams at his groupie companion: "Would you like to learn to fly?/Would you like to see my try?"

Problems do arise, however. While The Wall's length is certainly justified by the breadth of its thematic concerns, the music is stretched a bit thin. Heavy-metal maestro Bob Ezrin, brought in to coproduce with Roger Waters and Guitarist David Gilmour, adds a certain hard-rock consciousness to a few cuts (especially the near-funky "Young Lust") but has generally been unable to match the high sonic gloss that engineer Alan Parsons contributed to Dark Side of the Moon. Even Floyd-starved devotees may not be sucked into The Wall's relatively flat aural ambiance on first hearing. But when they finally are -- and then get a good look at that forbidding lyrical landscape -- they may wonder which way is out real fast.

- Kurt Loder, Rolling Stone, 2-7-80.

Bonus Reviews!

Pink Floyd never did get in step with the cybernetic Seventies, and now's the time to praise stubborn "progressive rock" groups. For the Pink has turned out its biggest project yet, progressive rock of the old school all the way. It's called The Wall, and it is the most musical ambitious rock undertaking since Tommy.

Since it is about something, The Wall makes such recent Pet Sounds, Part Two albums such as Fleetwood Mac's Tusk seem like cotton candy in comparison, and it goes just about everything since Tommy-era Who at least one better in the matter of sound as well -- although you'd have a hell of a time trying to make pet sounds out of some of these. Punctuated in just the right places with glorious vocal choruses and subtle-to-prodigious rock-band orchestral effects, it explores areas of tonal color and vocal-instrumental textures most rock stars never dreamed existed. A composer would simply have to be conversant with classical music to come up with some of these ideas, yet the stuff is what we used to call "accessible" back in the days when progressive rock could be rather thick. You don't have to be musically sophisticated to appreciate what these tonal and textural explorations do for the old viscera, and you don't have to be a graduate of several Van Dyke Parks albums to follow the lyrics. I frankly don't see how it can miss, no matter what the new decade thinks it wants.

The Wall, as evoked mostly in the writing of Roger Waters, is certainly something to be up against, something to have one's back to, something the writing is written on, varying from one song to another -- but the understanding throughout the album is that it's primarily something one builds around oneself. The songs deal with the various causes and effects of this. There's Mom, of course ("Hush now baby, don't you cry/ Mama's gonna make all your/ Nightmares come true/ Mama's gonna put all her fears into you"), and Teacher, and the whole damned society. The theme reaches a culmination of sorts in "The Trial," an what the prisoner's on trial for is showing feelings. This is set up by "Waiting for the Worms," in which our hero, his wall completed, is "Sitting in a bunker here behind my wall/ Waiting for the worms to come/ In perfect isolation here behind my wall/ Waiting for the worms to come/... Waiting for the final solution." In "The Trial," the judge is called Worm.

Although it does have this big, rich sound I find so engrossing, and although it does deal, from various angles, with what probably still is the most damaging psychological offshoot of modern times, the album is not "progressive" in the absolute sense. It reminds us that "progressive rock" really meant being sort of progressive -- within a limited and pretty-well-defined form. (Even within that, The Wall doesn't try everything; the rhythms, for example, are straight-ahead, even cut-and-dried.) It is a rock album, aimed at a point on the wall where practically all the rock audience can reach. Once they've reached it, it encourages them -- their ears, at least -- to reach still further. Best example I've heard in a long time of why I thought rock could actually be a framework worth building on. It's an imposing edifice, even more so once it has lured you inside.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 3/80.

The first Pink Floyd album since 1977's Animals is a double-pocket concept album with the title apparently symbolic of the separation between performer and audience. There are other analogies that can be made as to the wall's meaning, yet one thing remains constant and that is Floyd's ability to produce interesting music. There's a lot of music contained here, most songs rather short and running the gamut from mainstream textured rock tunes to rather esoteric tracks with voice overs, electronics and orchestral backing. For the first time, Floyd has used a major name producer in Ezrin, who has previously worked with Alice Cooper and Kiss. Ezrin's contributions give the work a unifying thread. As usual, Roger Waters' lyrics are a standout and the playing is tight. Look for a Pink Floyd tour of America early next year. Best cuts: "The Thin Ice," "Mother," "One Of My Turns," "Hey You," "Comfortably Numb," "Nobody Home," "The Trial."

- Billboard, 1979.

For a dumb tribulations-of-a-rock-star epic, this isn't bad -- unlikely to arouse much pity or envy, anyway. The music is all right, too -- kitschy minimal maximalism with sound effects and speech fragments. But the story is confused, "mother" and "modern life" make unconvincing villians, and if the recontextualization of "up against the wall" is intended ironically, I don't get it. B-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

It's overlong, and won't bear close scrutiny, either musically or (especially) lyrically, but, it is listenable. The Wall is the pinnacle of English art rock at the end of the decade. Yet, this is a band that understands the art of the recording studio with more acumen than most; thus, if only on a sonic level, it succeeds. The CD adds marvelous dynamics, clarity of detail, and stage/depth to all the ingenious sound effects. B

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

With The Wall Pink Floyd again found a powerful "story line" for their music -- or as it was becoming increasingly obvious Roger Waters' music. Taking "alienation of the rock star" as its basis The Wall brings up Floyd's production big guns. The wall of the title is the wall built up around the person by bitterness and brutality.

A spectacular recording of hard hitting rock and ballads uses every signal processing trick and incorporates a sequence of unsurpassed sound effects including helicopters and exploding TV sets.

"Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)" sets a remarkably high standard for sound quality with its playground effects, deliciously fluid deep bass and heart-stopping dynamics; the percussion gets one of the cleanest recordings on CD. The most dramatic sound however comes in the track "Young Lust" in the recreation of a large acoustic space only hinted at in LP reproduction.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

This is Roger Waters's two-disc meditation on the travails of a rock star, whose unhappy life causes him to build a psychological barrier between himself and the rest of the world. Contains the #1 hit "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" and the concert favorite "Comfortably Numb" (cowritten by David Gilmour). * * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

The Wall is another masterful Pink Floyd concept piece that, despite its length, housed solid songs such as "Comfortably Numb," "Goodbye Blue Sky" and their biggest hit, "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)." * * * * *

- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

Rock opera meets seminal songwriting on this brilliant but alienating magnum opus, a double-album journey through the tortured mind of a star losing touch with his audience. A bold, forceful move forward, this cathartic crown jewel earned Pink Floyd their third U.S. No. 1. Such music from the depths of despair revealed Roger Waters at his insane best, and it gave every stoner kid a passport to another reality. Still, a handful of Wall-bangers find it patchy and pretentious. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

Pink Floyd's most elaborately theatrical album was inspired by their own success: the alienating enormity of their tours after Dark Side of the Moon, which was when bassist-lyricist Roger Waters first hit upon the wall as a metaphor for isolation and rebellion. He finished a demo of the work by July 1978; the double album then took the band a year to make. Rock's ultimate self-pity opera, The Wall is also hypnotic in its indulgence: the totalitarian thunder of "In the Flesh?" the suicidal languor of "Comfortably Numb," the Brechtian drama of "The Trial." Rock-star hubris has never been more electrifying.

The Wall was chosen as the 87th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

The subject matter of Pink Floyd's 11th album may be bleak -- the mental decline of a rock star -- but a heavier focus on songs rather than experimental soundscaping gave the album increased appeal. It made Number One in the US and Number Three in the UK, and the single "Another Brick In The Wall" topped the charts in both countries, 15 weeks in the US. The Wall has received an incredible 23 platinum awards since its release, making it the top selling album of the 1970s and the third best-selling album of all time.

The success of The Wall was consolidated with a feature film version in 1982, directed by Alan Parker and starring Bob Geldof. A live show, featuring a literal construction of the wall, proved so elaborate that it was only staged in four cities.

Although Waters based The Wall on his own experiences of fame, he found little room for drummer Nick Mason or keyboard player Rick Wright -- whose cocaine addiction led Waters to soon remove him from the band altogether.

As of 2004, The Wall was the #1 best-selling album of the 70s.

- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.

Punk could not kill Pink Floyd. Led Zeppelin, Yes, and ELP's days were numbered. Genesis shrank to survive. But the Floyd did whatever the hell they wanted.

Always socially aloof from their contemporaries (except, oddly, The Who), the Floyd now sought to express their alienation from their audience. The result: a concept album about a disillusioned pop star who wigs out and imagines himself as a Fascist leader. So far, so Tommy, so Ziggy. And the central metaphor -- bricks -- hardly sets the pulse racing.

So the thrill is in the frills: production elaborate even by the Floyd's grandiose standards, Beach Boys soundalikes singing about worms, and unusually concise songs -- notably the disco protest "Another Brick In The Wall Pt II" and fan favorite "Comfortably Numb."

A mega-selling sensation to rival Dark Side Of The Moon, it spent six months in Billboard's Top Five, topping the chart for 15 weeks. Two decades on -- according to chief writer Roger Waters -- it still "does anything up to four million each year."

Beloved of Brits such as Noel Gallagher of Oasis and Robbie Williams, The Wall also has legions of Stateside disciples. Double albums by The Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails would not exist without it; Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar is its (conceptual) evil twin.

So entrenched is the album, it can even withstand a disco makeover of "Comfortably Numb" by the Scissor Sisters, and threats of a Broadway adaptation. Hear it now before it is tarnished for ever.

- Bruno MacDonald, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

(2012 Immersion Edition) There was an agreement, at first. In the summer of 1978, Roger Waters, Pink Floyd's singer-bassist and primary songwriter, presented the other members with two sets of demos and a choice: Pick one for the next album. The rest of the Floyd wisely voted for Waters' bleak, enraged observation on emotional exile and totalitarian celebrity, provisionally titled Bricks in the Wall. (The other demos became Waters' 1984 midlife-crisis opera, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking.) It was also a disastrous decision. The Floyd fell into eventually fatal throes of conflict and division on the way to the 1979 album's grim, towering splendor. Waters designed and the band built, The Wall too well.

Immersion is a good way to characterize the grip and whirl of construction recounted on the two CDs of demos in this seven-disc box, which includes a previously released recording of the 1980-81 stage show. (An Experience edition has the album and a single CD of demos.) Excerpts of Waters' early sketches are sequenced into a stark vertigo of his contempt ("Mother") and despair ("Goodbye Cruel World") at birth. Later band demos -- "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" as a crisp funeral march instead of disco revolt; "The Doctor," a prototype of "Comfortably Numb" -- and discarded ideas like the plaintive "Teacher, Teacher" and the static blues "Sexual Revolution" proved development came slow if steady. It is obvious, too, that Waters' authoritarian drive was not enough to get this job done. The crucial difference between Waters' initial notion of "Run Like Hell" -- slow, snarky bullying -- and the perversely gleaming menace of the final version is in David Gilmour's demo of jangling commandant's-strut guitar. * * * * 1/2

- David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 3/1/12.

Pink Floyd's most elaborately theatrical album was inspired by their own enormous, alienating success. The Wall is also hypnotic in its indulgence: the totalitarian thunder of "In the Flesh?"; the sweeping suicidal languor of "Comfortably Numb"; the Brechtian drama of "The Trial." Rock-star hubris has never been more electrifying or captivating.

The Wall was chosen as the 129th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

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