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Overrated Albums II: The Wall

Before I get into The Wall, I need to clarify something in order to hold the pitchfork and torch crowd at bay. I did not randomly choose the albums that went into this poll. I pulled them all out of the comments here. Personally, I love London Calling - I wore out three copies (cassette tapes) in my car alone - and I feel nothing but pity for the people who can't understand what's so great about that album (and maybe later I'll do a post extolling the virtues of London Calling). Anyhow, White Stripes is currently holding a giant lead, so if you are really eager to see The Eagles win, get over there and vote. I'm closing the poll this afternoon.

thewall.jpgI love Pink Floyd. My relationship with that band goes way back. I mean, I was seven years old when I first heard Careful With That Axe, Eugene. And all these years later, I'm still listening. My 12 year old son is listening. My 66 year old mother listens obsessively. I guess PF is somewhat of a family tradition. So I feel comfortable in sitting here explaining to you why The Wall is overrated. I'm not some PF play hata throwing rocks at Roger Waters. I'm a fan who can admit when an album just over reaches.

First, I'm not a big fan of double studio albums (see, Frampton Comes Alive). More often than not, you end up with six or so good songs and lots of filler. Most of the time, that filler is a songwriter's narcissistic exercise in hearing himself think. And so it goes with The Wall.

Most of the album is an acid-fueled ego trip for Roger Waters. It personified angst before Cobain put on his first flannel jacket. It was emo before the guy from Dashboard Confessional ever shed his first heartbroken tear. It was the epitome of mother issues set to music before all those nu-metal bands made parental abandonment a niche market. It's a group therapy session at a drug detox center set to music.

And it is the music that saves The Wall from being nothing more than a pretentious, self-absorbed LiveJournal entry. From the frenetic pace of Run Like Hell to the sheer poetry of Gilmour's solo on Comfortably Numb, it is the sounds and not the words that held this album together and kept it from falling into the cut-out bins of record stores everywhere. Yet even the music in some parts contribute to the "what the hell were they thinking" aspect of this album, most notably the disco background of Another Brick in the Wall. The whole song is tedious - it's as if their goal was to come up with an anthem that the kiddies would sing along to, that would resonate with them and make them believe that this album was about them, too. "We don't need no education" was the Pied Piper line of The Wall. It suckered in millions of teens and young adults who shouted along with the lines and bopped their heads to the disco beat and never gave thought (at least not until their later years) to the fact that Waters and company were pounding out the disco beats (also on Run Like Hell and Young Lust, which makes the "dirty woman" line feel somehow justifiable) just a year after disco was declared dead. Was he being ironic? Was the whole album ironic? Who knows. The message sort of got muddled in between the Oedipal odes and the admonishments of eating your whole meal before you have dessert.

Don't get me wrong. I love Gilmour's work on this album. Comfortably Numb contains one of the greatest guitar solos in the history of guitars - Gilmour is able to evoke more emotion with the movement of his fingers than Waters managed to eke out in all the words within the album. I listen to The Wall mainly because I still get a rush from the inherent violence and anger unleashed in the short, yet powerful, Happiest Days of our Lives; but that's from the way it's set up musically, and not from the lyrics - which really hammer home the point that Waters had some deep seated issues with authority figures.

thewall2.jpgIt was when I finally saw the movie version of Waters' nightmare that I started to go from "what a work of genius" to "what a load of narcissistic crap." My god. Two hours of sitting through someone else's bad acid trip. That's what the movie was. I had enough of my own, thank you, without watching someone else have the freak out of their life. Not even the wretched depression of Brian's Song could top the depths of despair one feels when watching The Wall.

When taken apart, rather than listened to as a whole, The Wall fails on so many levels. Sure, when I was 17 and still finding genius in the lyrics of Genesis and the gaudy masterpieces of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Wall came off like a brilliant novel, a work of art, an anthem and a stoner's delight all in one. But years later, with the blinders of youth gone and the last joint stubbed out too many years ago and the knowledge that Roger Waters is a prick, The Wall just doesn't hold up like I thought it would. Oh, I still listen to it. Just not with the same awe I did in 1979. And that's not because I'm so far removed from that time that I can no longer appreciate it, because I still listen to Dark Side of the Moon with the same jaw-dropping awe I did when I first heard it at the tender age of 12. Which, coincidentally is the same age my son first heard DSOTM and fell in love with it. When I asked him how he likes The Wall, though, he said "I only listen to it for the guitar" in much the same way, a few years from now, he will say "I only read it for the articles."

So, did anyone else sit in their friend's basement with the headphones on and the bong water gurgling and try to find the deeper meaning in "if you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding?" No? Ok.

[cross posted at blogcritics]

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» The Wall, under-mined from Room Twelve
Michele at A Small Victory says pretty much everything that needs to be said about Pink Floyd's The Wall. I was obsessed by that album when I was a teenager; I could recite it word for word - not just the lyrics, but everything that went on the backg... [Read More]

» Michele from Little Miss Attila
. . . doesn't think The Wall (the album) quite lived up to its hype. I haven't heard it all the way through in over a decade, but there are a handful of tracks on it that are truly amazing.... [Read More]

Comments

sheepishly raises hand

I sat down and made my son watch the movie with me a while back, because I had misremembered its awesomeness. It's a miracle he still speaks to me.

And I'm glad to see you got your poll back under control. (Though I heart the White Stripes, too.)

I agree with every. stinking. word.

I could say more but it would be gilding the lilly. Oh fuck it, I'll gild anyway because I lied, I disagree with one part:

Although I really like the "Another Brick In The Wall" (Part II I think--the one with the disco beat you don't like), I just love the guitar mostly. That liquid guitar solo in the middle kills me.

Also I always hated school and still do. So you know, that's the juvenile part of me still.

But jesus, what a basically awful pile of crap surrounded by a few glistening bits of delicious peanuts.

You want the real proof? Pick up "their" next album, "The Final Cut," where everyone but Gilmour had quit and Gilmour himself wouldn't even let his name be listed as a producer and played with no passion at all--the album's even more pretentious and angsty and there are NO good bits in it anywhere.

As for the Waters-less Floyd... oh never mind. I've said enough.

Oh, BS. Admit it: "Dark Side of the Moon" and a couple of bongs and beers put your brain on this band's track. If you aren't skulled out of your bird you'd want to beat them bastards over the heads with their own axes.
If that ain't the fact, tear that Ramones shirt off your back.

TC, I feel sorry for people like you who think that a person has to narrow themselves down to one type of music. I can wear my Ramones shirt and still listen to Floyd. Hell, I can wear my Germs shirt and still listen to Linkin Park.

Variety is the spice of life, babe. Blandness is for the tasteless.

Well, I find your postions thought provoking. As always. Looking back, my views of Wall have evolved in many ways as well (for instance, I've never bothered to Google for the 'funny farm' in Chalfont).

FinalCut has some good bits to it, again, instrumentally mostly. Despite how the Wall is viewed as a Waters' Ego Trip, FinalCut was even more so.

Sometimes, listening to it on headphones, it made me wish the 'phone never rang'... if ya know what I mean.

I dig The Wall. I just want to know what's up with Nobody's Home and Vera. It's like the album (and the movie) stalls on those two songs.

Well, your essay on London Calling better be pretty convincing ... I have years of disdain built up for that album. It doesn't help when you are "eh" for something, and your friends are crazy for it. I just cannot listen to "Rock the Casba" at this point.

Shop talk:

Gilmore's solo in Comfortably Numb is absolutely wonderful. It's not flashy, but he knows just when to slow down, when to over-bend, and when to do those half-step runs.

But what makes the solo timeless has nothing to do with Gilmore or his guitar. It's the organ. Completely missing from the mix until 2 bars before Gilmore starts playing, it screams "Now for something powerful!" That, combined with the fact that the guitar is running through a heavy stereo chorus, ensures that the "aural space" in the foreground is completely filled. The ears and mind have nowhere to hide.

That solo is perhaps the perfect convergence of mix and performance. It should be taught to RIM students everywhere.

That being said - I was too nerdy to "get" The Wall. Too busy listening to Rush 2112 and reading Tolkien, I guess.

Carin,

It sounds like you might be thinking of Combat Rock versus London Calling.

Minor quibble: Frampton Comes Alive is not a "double studio" album. It's a double live. Some bands can do a double studio (Physical Graffiti), most can't. A double live is a whole other kettle of fish. A band that has enough good material can do it (Deep Purple: Made in Japan, Humble Pie: Rockin' the Filmore, Grand Funk: Caught in the Act & their first one that's even better, etc....) but a lot of them can't.

I sux because I rather like The Wall. Also, the movie.

I do concur that the Final Cut sucked, though, as Waters' other "meaningful" (aka political) work did (Radio KAOS and, to a lesser extent, Amused to Death). His more personal work (The Wall, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking) I enjoyed, though.

Yeah, "Rock the Casbah" isn't on London Calling. That was later, near their end as a band as I recall, and their most pop-sensibility.

By the way, Roger Waters' "Amused to Death" is really not bad at all.

I'm really sorry that Roger Water's dad died in the war and his mom was overprotective, but he should have gotten over it by the time he wrote The Wall and inflicted his feelings on everybody else. Listening to my roommate play it over and over while he smoked out the window of our dorm room was a crash course in Narcissism 101.

Feh, infindel. I listen to lots of stuff, just not long-toothed hippie angst-driven crap from a band who's best member went mad in the Sixties and his mates didn't take the bloody hint and follow him over the edge.
(I think part of that was tongue in cheek...just not sure which bit.)

The Wall sort of paved the way for concept album, (well that and Tommy) but it's sadly as Michele stated: just one egotistical pity party on the part of Roger Waters.

What's so damn disgusting about it is that I think it was the final straw on the other members of PF. Pretty much since Syd flaked out and went looney, Roger thought he was the s-bomb and declared himself in charge and as time went on he just became more of a self-loathing insular tool, with The Wall being the final sour note.

Excellent insight from a fan's perspective - objective, concise, critical, yet fair.

When you were asking "what should I listen to that I probably never heard of?" or something like that a week or so ago, who was the one who pointed you at a bluegrass band from NJ, eh?

I am discerning about which hippie's are allowed access to my ears! I like mine fresh and locally grown.

Hubris - you know, you're right. I probably have been thinking of "Combat Rock" ... I'd better go check out iTunes for a refresher- certainly I've heard "London Calling"? LOL. But, really, "Rock the Casba" just drove me nuts. I have basically based my whole opinion of that band on "Combat Rock." Bad decision?

HAHAHA! You actually think Dark Side of the Moon is better than the Wall!?!?

You clearly have no taste whatsoever. The Wall is pure genius from the first note to the last. Dark Side of the Moon is total and complete garbage. A waste of sound.

I have a certain amount of ambivalence towards The Wall. I like a lot of the songs, including some of the ones that Michele doesn't (ABITW, Run Like Hell, Young Lust), but I think the overall concept doesn't really hang together. And when you get right down to it, it's really just a grandiose presentation of some fairly prosaic issues that everybody goes through to some extent (Yeah, Roger, we all have to separate from Mommy at some point. We all have to learn how to be good to our SOs, etc., etc.) So to that extent, the idea that it's just narcisism writ large holds a good deal of water. (Get it? Water? Smacks self)

Oh, and I never bought into the whole idea of rock star as fascist leader. Clearly the idea has some sway in Europe because David Bowie said similar things. Yeah, crowd energy is powerful, but just because people pump their fists for you doesn't mean they're going to follow you into battle.

It's a pity, because I'm with Michele that (A) the guitar is fantastic, and (B) DSOTM is an amazing album that holds up well over the years. If Waters could have gotten over himself a little, I'm sure that PF could have continued making great albums like that.

Or maybe not. There are some bands that only really have one great album in them, and everything else just ends up being a prelude or coda to that one album.

Personally, I think Gilmor's guitar solos are about like AC/DC albums: repetitive. The guitar is as overrated as the album.

"When taken apart, rather than listened to as a whole, The Wall fails on so many levels."

I think it's just the opposite, Michele. If you listen to The Wall as just a bunch of rock songs, then it's great. Listening to it as one long concept album about Roger Waters' depression/angst or whatever, then it becomes narcissistic drek.

Also, the solo in "Comfortably Numb" is brilliant, but is still not the greatest Pink Floyd guitar solo ever. That title belongs to the two minutes of perfection in "Time."

"Personally, I think Gilmor's guitar solos are about like AC/DC albums: repetitive. The guitar is as overrated as the album."

I'll grant that Gilmour is not a guitarist of great harmonic sophistication. He mainly plays the blues.

But god, the man has the touch. In terms of the subtlty of his phrasing, about the only rock guitarist who can touch him is Jeff Beck.

Personally - Animals and Wish You Were Here are their best albums - though I do hold very dear Dark Side and The Wall - until the movie which I watched without the aid of marijuana (Bad idea I think now)

I remember referring to my life that was 'stuck in neutral' as my Roger Water's phase.

I get very uptight when I see Roger getting roasted.

OH ---- AND DO WATCH DARK SIDE WITH WIZARD OF OZ--look online for instructions on how to sync the two up correctly.

Sister is correct; Animals and Wish You Were Here are both far superior to DSOTM and especially The Wall.

Speaking of NEW Floyd, a while ago I was listening to the radio for a minute at night, and on comes this music I am not familiar with. I listen for a while, and think "this sounds like someone doing a half-assed job of making boring, tepid, late-period Floyd."

Then, David Gilmour started singing.

"Sister is correct; Animals and Wish You Were Here are both far superior to DSOTM and especially The Wall."

Not even close. They're both good albums, but the production on the two of them is irritatingly thin sounding. DSOTM is remarkable if, for nothing else, for the way it covers the entire sonic spectrum.

Thematically, I think Animals and WYWH are pretty trite. Animals: a catalog of types of people Roger doesn't like. WYWH: Boy, that Syd sure was crazy. Dark Side isn't so easily pigeonholed.

So, did anyone else sit in their friend's basement with the headphones on and the bong water gurgling and try to find the deeper meaning in "if you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding?" No? Ok.

We did, but the meaning we got was all wrong cuz we kept accidentally-on-purpose mishearing the word "eat" as "beat."

It's too bad that Roger became such an Idiotarian. Luckily, I've read that Gilmore never agreed with him politically.

"Sister is correct; Animals and Wish You Were Here are both far superior to DSOTM and especially The Wall."

Not even close. They're both good albums, but the production on the two of them is irritatingly thin sounding. DSOTM is remarkable if, for nothing else, for the way it covers the entire sonic spectrum.

Farmer Joe--I think the reason DSOTM was so sonically superior is because Alan Parsons was the Engineer/Producer of the album

and it must be noted WYWH had a song regarding Syd - but he had nothing to do with the album itself.

David, Nick and Richard really have never been able to galvanize PF after Roger. I did see their last concert in the states - it was a last hurrah of sorts - I really do wish them the best

-------------------------------------------------

"Wave upon wave of demented avengers
March cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream"

I'd say "The Wall" was overplayed, but not overrated. It exudes effort to me and sounds like Gilmour, Waters, Mason and Wright sat down and did the work. Sure, it's indulgent, but I've never had a problem with music being indulgent. I'd rather listen to music that's played and produced well than something crapped out of a garage because Jojo Threefingers learned a new barchord. I'd agree that DSOM is a better album, but "The Wall" was still pretty impressive. It just got old.

I don't know how much involvement Pink Floyd had with the movie, but I'm content to attribute that unnecessary creation to Alan Parker.

I never considered a bong an efficient method of smoking (I'm still getting a hard time over this from the younger generation in my household) and I never cared much for studio rock. I tuned out Pink Floyd and The Moody Blues when others played their music, and enjoyed the Dead when they got things right without ever becoming a Deadhead. The only work of art which drugs lead me to see great insight in and achieve great insight about was the huge painting in the Art Institute of a rainy Paris street scene.

I read Huxley and Ginsburg and Gaskins singing the aesthetic and spiritual praises of psychedelia before I ever turned on. When all I got was temporary entertainment and pleasure I decided not to dig deeper for enlightenment but just to enjoy getting high. I still managed to waste a goodly chunk of my life before I discovered one of the world's most suppressed secrets - moderation is the key to pleasure.

I have to agree w/t those that said "WYWH" and "Animals" are Floyds best."DSOTM" is a great album, but I can not stand the song "Money". "The Wall" only has "ABITW Pt1", "Comfortably Numb", and "Run Like Hell" as the only good songs. Heck, "Meddle" has the same number of good songs and at least "Echoes" is over 20 minutes long. :)

Everything Pink Floyd ever did is overrated in my opinion. I think actually enjoying a Pink Floyd album required mass quantities of drugs.

1) Dark Side;

2) Wish You Were Here;

3) The Wall.

And at no point am I listening to any of these albums for the lyrics.

Isn't Pink Floyd really true Rock Opera? I mean, have you listened to opera's lyrics? Let's just say that most of them aren't exactly transcendent poetry. They're convenient tone-poems to hang some really great music on.

I think I see the problem, Joe.

Suffice it to say, almost none of my praise for Animals or WYWH has any relation to the lyrical content.

Musically, DSTOM doesn't do much for me. Maybe it's just the cash-register sound effect and the chorus overuse.

(I mean, really, who listens to Floyd for the lyrics? If I'm gonna do that, I want the early stuff. I'd rather listen to Bike Song if I want to care about the words.)

I HAVE A BIKE YOU CAN RIDE IT IF YOU LIKE

sheer poetry man.

[i]Suffice it to say, almost none of my praise for Animals or WYWH has any relation to the lyrical content.[/i]

Exactly, the guitar work in "Dogs","Pigs", and "Shine On" are just fantastic. And listen to the drumwork at the ending guitar part of "Sheep", I wonder if that was done on tour? I only have one bootleg and it doesnt cover the "Animals" album. :(