Who is the Strongest, Who Is the Best

Get Him Up Against the Wall!

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Poles Apart

The Wall: Mess or Masterpiece?

The Wall is an Enduring Masterpiece

For my birthday in 1980 my aunt bought me my first copy of The Wall, starting a lifelong obsession with both the album and with Pink Floyd. Of course, I just wanted the record for the "education song"; I had no clue what the rest of the record was about. While I was growing up in the 80s, my musical interests were all over the place--Prince, Def Leppard, Duran Duran, Kiss--but I always kept coming back to The Wall.

Constant play destroyed my first copy. Fortunately I received another copy for my birthday in 1986, this time from my brother, who bought it for me because he wanted to listen to it. Unfortunately it didn't last any longer than its predecessor. Even now, over twenty years later, the album seems to find new fans all the time. My nephew just asked me for a copy. Why has this record endured for so long?

One of the reasons is the universality of The Wall. Radio KAOS, for example, feels dated by comparison. When it was released in 1987, I was so afraid of the possibility of nuclear Armageddon that I would lie awake in terror. I had to leave a radio on in order to fall asleep, a habit that I maintained for many years. Today that time period, and the fears that went with it, are a thing of the past and Radio KAOS seems almost silly to me now. The Wall doesn't suffer from that problem. From rock stars down to fast food employees, feelings of isolation, alienation and abandonment are common to everyone in every time period.

Musically, the record still sounds great. The album doesn't sound dated. Compare it to other records from the same time (disco, new wave) and you'll find that The Wall still sounds contemporary all these years later. Even some earlier works by Pink Floyd sound dated in comparison--"Wish You Were Here" comes to mind. The Wall only contains what is necessary; there are no self-indulgent solos, and the lyrics are succinct (unlike, for example, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking). Even the cover art has aged well. It certainly doesn't look like a relic from another era.

To me, The Wall will always be the last great Pink Floyd album. It is the culmination of everything that the band has stood for. As far back as Piper at the Gates of Dawn Floyd was a theatrical band, using the stage to present their music in ways unlike any other band at the time. Musically, the group writing was also tightening up creating "minor" masterpieces like Dark Side of the Moon. The Wall pushed the envelope on everything the band ever did. Instead of evolving around a theme like previous works, the album develops a tight narrative, using music and sound effects more effectively than any album prior. And the stage show pushed not only the band's limits, but also the limits of rock theater.

The Wall remains one of Pink Floyd's most enduring albums. It has endured for over twenty years, it will easily endure another twenty more.

Sean Zloch is a staff writer for Spare Bricks.

The Wall is a Bit of a Mess

The Wall has a widespread reputation as a rock classic. Certain tracks receive constant rotation at classic rock stations, and scores of fans praise it as the pinnacle of Floydian greatness. But a closer look reveals an album weakened by self-importance and self- pity, and given broad public appeal by a cluster of songs whose quality exceeds the sum of the album's parts (and rests largely on the brilliant playing of David Gilmour and the production of Bob Ezrin).

In its defense, The Wall does have its hits: "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)", "Comfortably Numb", "Run Like Hell", "Hey You", "Mother", and so on. It is clear that there are some good songs on the album. Other high points include the clarity of the drums and guitar, the occasional Hammond flourish, and thematic complexity. But does it all work together to make a great album?

Not really. The album's positives are overshadowed by a narrative that fails to progress, even within its circular structure. Further, the splendid musical high points it offers are leavened by long stretches of pedantic pieces such as "The Trial", "Vera Lynn", and "Waiting for the Worms". Finally, the self-obsession of the protagonist Pink--and, by extension, Roger Waters as lyricist and chief writer on the album--undermine the importance and universality of Pink's story.

Listening to the album track-by-track underscores these points. The opening number ("In the Flesh?") rocks with authority and takes the classic Floyd sound in a new direction, parodying ham-fisted metal styles. The excellent music continues through "Goodbye Blue Sky" and strengthens the narrative power of the lyrical themes--themes which jump back and forth from Pink's isolation and vulnerability ("The Thin Ice") to the crushing effects of British school system-enforced conformity ("The Happiest Days of Our Lives" and the first two portions of "Another Brick in the Wall") and smothering maternal care ("Mother").

At this point, however, the musical inventiveness slackens and Pink's story gets less compelling. Tracks such as "Empty Spaces" and "Another Brick in the Wall (Part III)" fail to pull the listener in and seem to constitute the rantings of a selfish jerk. This may be Waters' intent, but as a listener, it is hard to care. Moreover, Pink's story does not really evolve beyond his cocooning himself more and more with each brick and then eventually being exposed.

The second disc continues the aforementioned problems with a few great musical pieces broken up by amusical tracks. And then there is the astonishingly self-centered interpretation of World War II as a horrible event because Pink's father up and got killed by the Germans, and the King and country let it happen. Again, these myopic views--as part of the theme of reactionary, self-induced isolation and pain--may be part of Waters' point. But such themes make it tough to for the listener to care about such a selfish protagonist. Furthermore, Waters' constant return to these events (in "When the Tigers Broke Free", The Final Cut, and Amused to Death) hint that Waters is really as self-obsessed as Pink. He seems to think that The Wall matters because his pain is more profound and possibly more important than that of others.

That being the case, The Wall is, at heart, about a rock star feeling sorry for himself and complaining about it. This overweening, self-indulgent theme, coupled with an unfocused narrative and occasionally weak music, leaves The Wall more a mess than a masterpiece.

Dante Corricello is a guest contributor to Spare Bricks.


Who is the Strongest, Who Is the Best

The Top Ten Roger Waters Solo Songs

As there are really only three legitimate Roger Waters solo albums with original songs (not counting the Music from The Body and When the Wind Blows film soundtracks), that leaves me with a very limited number of songs to choose from in creating this top ten list. But the ten songs I have chosen are, in my opinion, some of Roger Waters' best work and can stand up with anything he did with Pink Floyd. That said, I also felt compelled to choose a couple songs that were written with Pink Floyd, but appeared on the The Wall: Live In Berlin 1990 CD. Again, as with every top ten list, this is a matter of one fan's opinion. Let's get right to it:

10. "Four Minutes" from Radio KAOS

A short song, but probably the most "Floydian" sounding song on KAOS. In concert it was just stunning. As you come to expect from Roger, the lyrics grab you by the throat. "And when you've just run a red light, sit shaking under a street light, you swear to yourself you'll never drink and drive again..." One of Roger's best lines ever!

9. "4:50 AM (Go Fishing)" from The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking

A great song because of Roger's vocals. Let's get it out in the open right now--we all know Roger isn't the best vocalist around, but his singing has as much emotion as David Gilmour's guitar playing. And Roger's voice is so unique. There are a ton of songs that show this emotion and uniqueness in Roger's catalogue, with and without Pink Floyd, and in this song he really belts it out. And just what is Roger doing while reading Winnie the Pooh? Do you hear what I hear?

8. "The Thin Ice" from The Wall: Live In Berlin 1990

Undoubtedly some will be wondering what the heck this one is doing on this list. But I find this version to be the absolute best version of "The Thin Ice". Yes, David Gilmour's vocals on the original are great, but to me it just sounds better with a female singing David's part. And Ute Lemper does an outstanding job. As I stated, I didn't want to include any Pink Floyd songs, but this one is entirely different from any Floyd version because of Lemper's vocals. And in my opinion, she makes the song better. And if you watch the video, I bet you'll agree that Roger likes this version better too.

7. "Three Wishes" from Amused To Death

Another emotional outpouring by Roger Waters, lamenting what was and what could have been. But what really grabs me with this song is the ending... is this Pink Floyd? Sure sounds like it. I only wish this song had been performed live.

6. "5:11 AM (The Moment of Clarity)" from The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking

Another short one, but one of the most touching moments, if not the most touching, in all of Roger Waters' lyrics. The Man does have a heart after all!

Honorable Mentions

"Too Much Rope" from Amused to Death
"The Ballad of Bill Hubbard" from Amused to Death
"What God Wants, Part I" from Amused to Death
"Who Needs Information" from Radio KAOS
"5:01 AM (The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking)" from The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking"
"Folded Flags" from the When the Wind Blows soundtrack

5. "It's A Miracle" from Amused To Death

One of my all-time favorite Roger Waters solo songs. It is such a unique song that there is nothing that can be compared to it. Slow moving, yet it grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. As with most songs sung by Roger Waters, the sarcasm is dripping and the emotion is heartfelt. One thing about Mr. Waters, whether you agree with his lyrics or not, you must respect the clear convictions he has, and the manner in which he holds them dear and expresses them in his words. It couldn't be more evident than on "It's A Miracle".

4. "Home" from Radio KAOS

Easily the best song on KAOS. While many fans deem most of KAOS to be too 80's sounding, this song uses the classic "list" technique and could easily pass as a Pink Floyd song. Once again Roger shows his foresight--a reason many consider him to be such a great lyricist--with the line, "When the cowboys and Arabs draw down on each other at noon."

3. "Another Brick In The Wall (Part Three)" from The Wall: Live In Berlin 1990

An absolutely stunning version of the Floyd classic. The "Spare Bricks" coda in this version is simply amazing and is by far the best version I have ever heard. Performed with full orchestra, if this one doesn't raise the hair on your flesh, nothing will. Try blasting this one with the windows down while sitting in traffic.

2. "5:06 AM (Every Strangers Eyes)" from The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking

Once again, lyrics by Roger Waters that most people can relate to. I once heard an interview with Roger just prior to the shows in New Jersey in 1984 in which he stated that this was his favorite song that he had ever written. He said it was his favorite because it was "a song of hope." I couldn't agree more.

1. "What God Wants, Part III" from Amused To Death

When I made my original draft of this list, this song was somewhere around number five. Upon closer inspection I realized my mistake. Just an incredible song. The words, the vocals, the amazing solo by Jeff Beck. One of my all-time favorite Waters' solo moments is the line, "The hyenas break cover and stream through the meadow." Sung with such emotion, I can visualize the hyenas every time I hear it. Whether you like Amused To Death or not, and I know there are many Floyd fans who do not ("too wordy"... "not enough music"), you cannot deny that this song stands up against anything ever done by Pink Floyd. If you do not own Amused To Death, or ignore it entirely, you do not know what you are missing. Give it a listen for this song alone... you will not be disappointed.

Bob Cooney is a staff writer for Spare Bricks.


Get Him Up Against the Wall!

Is Roger a Hypocrite? Who Cares?

There was a huge crowd packed in front of the large stage. But that stage was separated from the crowd by an area of 10 meters in width, which was filled with an army of security guards, creating a wall between band and fans. Those fans were screaming and shouting at the top of their lungs, making it impossible for most of the people there to actually hear the band playing. Fireworks went off, distracting the crowd from the actual show. Roger Waters looked at the whole scene and smiled approvingly.

If it wasn't for this last sentence one might think I was describing a scene from the infamous 1977 show in Montreal. But this is in fact a first hand description of Roger's performance of "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse" at this year's Glastonbury festival, where he played the final show of his In The Flesh World Tour 2002. Of course things weren't as dire as I describe them here: the screaming and shouting was actually a singalong (albeit not a very good one), that 'wall' wasn't quite that big, and there were only about 5 firecrackers in the entire show. In fact, the feeling of unity with all the other fans sharing this terrific concert made it a near-religious experience and one of the nicest concerts I have ever witnessed in my life, even though the performance will probably turn out to be crap when I finally get to hear the recording. ;-)

Still, it seems very odd that the man who once described stadium concerts as "just like tupperware parties with fifty thousand people who buy hot dogs and t-shirts and only occasionally look up to watch those disgusting video screens that are all out of synch and torture you" would ever want to perform in such an environment. But here he actually said that Glastonbury was "a fitting end to this long world tour". His satisfaction might even be understandable if this had been the only stadium or festival show of the entire tour. But it was in fact the 13th of that kind.

Although it can be argued that most of the South-American and African shows had to take place in these stadiums because there aren't enough proper concert halls to provide in the demand, this argument doesn't hold up for the shows in Seoul, Budapest, and especially Rome. So we can say without a doubt that Roger wasn't too reluctant about playing these stadium gigs.

The reason for this appears simple enough: an unexpected amount of commercial success. When he first started the In the Flesh tour in 1999, only small arenas were booked, but they quickly had to move to 15,000- to 20,000-seaters. I'm sure this gave Roger's ego a tremendous boost. So when it was time to book the 2002 world tour and it became apparent it would be more convenient for management to book a few stadiums Roger didn't refuse it. He may have argued that this would be the best or easiest way to please the fans in those places, even though it would be possible to play more dates in more smaller halls to reach the same number of people. In short, he finally swayed to the weight of commercial arguments and abandoned some of his beliefs for it.

Waters finally swayed to commercial pressure and abandoned some of his principles for it.

So, does this make him a hypocrite? I believe so. But does that matter at all? Not in the slightest! After all, a stadium show isn't a bad thing by definition. It only turns into a monster when the majority of the crowd consists of people who only know the artist from a few 'hits' they've heard on the radio and consequently they only scream for these songs throughout the show, bothering the real fans in the process. You see this happening at the stadium concerts by the likes of Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, or N'Sync.

But I'm quite sure that this kind of fans are very hard to find on a Roger Waters concert, and the majority consists of real fans who know when to cheer, when to sing along and when to be quiet--fans who know how to enjoy this kind of show. Fortunately nowadays it appears Roger finally realizes this too and is able to appreciate his audience in the same way as we appreciate him. His simple nods to all sections of the crowd at the end of the show during "Brain Damage" are a testament to this. It's just too bad he didn't realize this earlier.

One more critical remark though: if Gilmour, Mason, and Wright would ever decide to do a stadium tour again--it probably won't happen, but with Floyd you never know--Roger would no longer have any grounds to bash them for it. Only then would he be a real hypocrite.

Philippe van Roy is a staff writer for Spare Bricks.