The Hang of Music: Writing On The Wall

Terrible puns notwithstanding, I thought that, as I am celebrating my 1 month birthday, I would attempt something massive. And Pink Floyd’s Wall has been built far too high to not try and climb it.

Let’s break it down, then – bit by bit.

… Again? I mean, I’m already pretty sure that the end of this album is going to blend into the beginning. It’s pretty much a given. So maybe starting from the beginning wouldn’t make much sense.

Regardless; I have just had a wonderful time listening to a seminal album, full of sadness, anger, abusive boyfriends, suicide and the Nanny State, in a far too near the knuckle sense of the word Nanny. And you should listen to it too. Unless you already have, in which case; bravo, you beat me!

The album could, loosely, be described by my response to the last track on side 1, “Mother”: the moment it started, I thought “Ah, now we’re in Beatles territory.” Then they prove to me how different this is to anything else by using the word balls. Yes, like that. Not a swear word I’ve often heard on any album at all. Then the rest of the lyrics went on to sound like George Orwell had rewritten Philip Larkin’s “This Be The Verse”. Whichis excellent, and if you haven’t read it, do so now.

Because I’m almost certain that Pink Floyd knew of the poem too, as the line about “fools in old-style hats and coats” pretty much seems to cover their opinion of teachers, especially those who should be leaving those kids alone. In fact the entireity of “Another Brick In The Wall” had always made me a little uneasy, what with it’s anti-education stance.* And now that I’ve heard “The Happiest Days Of Our Lives” I feel reassured. Well, I feel a little better. Well, it’s still bad, but you know. Because it seems that what they were criticising was the horrible people who taught them and the reality of schools and schooling, not the concept. Which is more fair. But still disheartening.

When they say teacher, this is what they mean.

This a really weird experience, listening to this album, because I usually have a lot of trouble with Pink Floyd albums. I’m freaked out by how easy this is to listen to. I’m actually scared, but the lyrics are so clever that I’m being held hooked. I keep hearing callbacks to earlier songs, and leitmotifs; so many leitmotifs. I swear, that tune from Another Brick in the Wall is stalking me, through the album, like a shark in a very weird, conceptual ocean. Made of politics.

I’ve heard “concept albums” where the connecting threads feel contrived or forced. American Idiot was apparently a concept album, although apart from sharing a few words, I could find no resemblence between the songs. Nine Inch Nails did a much better job with The Downward Spiral: although I haven’t heard the concept-y-ness in it myself, I think it might be there if I read into it enough.

But The Wall is thew concept album’s concept album. Everything in it is interconnected, to the point where I actually feel it would be unfair to each song to talk about it in isolation; it wouldn’t be complete without at least two others. This is a concept album in the truest sense of the word.

There is even a story. In an album! There are a few stories, in fact, and if I interpreted it correctly, it would actually be a good description of the album to call it an anthology of stories set in the same world. None of this album is free of the context of an oppressive capitalist society. None of it. Not even “One of my Turns” and  “Don’t Leave me now”, a two part piece about an abusive couple’s violent break-up, is free of the TV in the background, and the woman commenting on the awesome hotel room (presumably) that they’re in.**

That said, some bits of the album seem less suited to an album, and more for a stage show. There are a number of elements of pantomime, especially on Side 4, fittingly starting with “The Show Must Go On”, which is itself preceded with a song about having to get your head together and finish of the the gig. You know, the song that’s been covered so many times you’d be hard pushed to hear the original first.

And some bits are just them having fun. That’s all I can imagine was going on, when the band put a track titled “Hey you” right after “Goodbye, Cruel World”. Or where the last half of the last track is actually the first half of the first. And “In the Flesh” and “In the Flesh?” are two entirely different songs. Fun.

The thing is, I have to find something negative to say abvout this album. If I can’t, my reviewing credentials will be in tatters. No good reviewer has NOTHING bad to say about a work. But I can’t. It’s just so very well crafted! The fact that it is, in fact, crafted as an album is already impressive, but it’s done so well! I’m going to have to draw this to a close soon, or this is going to turn into Gushing About Albums I Like, and then I’ll get all emotional and then I’ll start shitting rainbows and stroking puppies. So let’s finish this, and find something annoying!

Erm, in "Mother" did they mean "firing line" or "line of fire"; they mean entirely different things! I hate when people do that!!

Oh, I can’t do it! I’m no Yahtzee Croshaw, I can’t just magic faults out of thin air for comic purposes, I actually love this album. A lot. It’s darkly funny; it’s full of black anger at a society full of bullshit and assholes; it has classic rock segments, and jazz piano; this album covers so many goddamn bases.

Ah, here’s one failing, at least: the musicianship apparent on the album. The lyrics are themselves far more interesting than the music. Because the lyrics are truly great. And the music is merely great. That is all I can think of – the lyrics are good enough to draw my attention away from the songs themselves. But then I start dancing to the instrumental parts.

Albums like this are the reason why I started this blog – to kick myself up the ass and make myself listen to albums and bands that I know, deep down, that I should at least hear once in my life before I die. And, to drive my point home, I may just listen to this again before next Thursday, even.

Oh shit, the album does loop around. Does this mean I should start…

* Education being the easiest and most reliable way for people to increase their status and earning power. You know, all the good stuff that capitalism provides. /politics

** This is returned to in Nobody Home. They’re good at extended narratives!

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Posted on July 21, 2011, in Music, The Hang of Music and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Oz! I’m so glad you listened and reviewed this album, it is actually my favourite album! EVER! Also, WATCH THE FILM! It’s amazing. With Bob Geldof no less! 🙂

    I think you grasped the concept of the album very well without being told, but Roger Waters wrote it because he felt an invisible wall building between him and the audience when he was playing a gig (I believe) and he wrote about a man who blocked himself off from the world. I believe side 3 (starting with Hey You) is when he’s completely isolated, whereas side 1 and 2 is when he’s still in society but hating it (hence the last track Goodbye Cruel World). In The Flesh is the Nazi song (watch the film, it’s a great scene and shows this guys complete insanity). One of my favourite tracks is The Trial, so unique as a song, and I love it! It exposed the characters weakness – to mix back into society. But what happens next? Who knows…

    I feel like I’ve done a mini review myself, sorry!

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