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.
I 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.
It 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.