The Wall

Pink Floyd

Columbia Records, 1979

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Let's just say it: This is one of the most overrated rock albums of all time.

Yes, it has sold millions of copies, and yes, at least five of the songs get regular classic rock airplay (the station in Toledo plays a song from it, and no other Floyd albums, at least twice a day). But it is not a great's not even a Pink Floyd album, really, but more of a Roger Waters solo album.

Waters wrote or co-wrote all of the songs, sings many of them and helped with production. Drummer Nick Mason and guitarist David Gilmour do their jobs and not much more (save for a few examples we will discuss later), and keyboardist Rick Wright is barely noticeable; at this point, he was a paid employee, and the only one to make money on the ensuing tour, which is pretty funny. Honestly, it sounds like the music could be played by any band of the era. At almost no time does it rise to the level for which Floyd is known.

What makes this like other Floyd albums is a concept, sound effects and themes of alienation, drug use, madness and exploration, themes that have been present since Syd Barrett founded the band. But the execution is so self-pitying and obnoxious that it's irritating. The story concerns a rock star (what a stretch) who lost his father, had an overbearing mother and hated school, so he turns to drugs, sex and rock (original!) as an outlet for his increasing insanity. He eventually builds a psychological wall that helps him get through concerts, in the process envisoning himself a cult leader (with Nazi overtones) and, in the end, putting himself on trial and tearing down his mental wall to rejoin the world.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If that sounds convulted, it is, and the lyrics are even worse, making references to domestic abuse, racial slurs and a bunch of whining. One wants to just smack Pink and tell him to be a man, straighten up and get his shit together, but this would cut the album short by an hour or so.

As for the music, well, it's a long way from Wish You Were Here, with almost nothing that is recognizable from the band's sound. The songs are all short, fairly basic, free of atmospherics and keyboards and jams; the biggest hit, "Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2," even sees Mason tapping out a simplistic disco beat to back up the inane lyrics (although every schoolkid immediately responds to "No education!" – so how could the song not have been a hit?). His overly simple playing to "Comfortably Numb" is even worse; it could have been a drum machine and nobody would know.

Gilmour gets a few nice moments, particularly in the lovely acoustic "Is There Anybody Out There," the solo to "Comfortably Numb," the fun "Young Lust," the propulsive "Run Like Hell" (the best song here) and the tricky chords of "Hey You." But even his fluid, languid style of playing is truncated here so as to serve Waters' songs, many of which feel like filler to advance the story. Underwritten, unmemorable fluff like "The Thin Ice," "Goodbye Cruel World," "Bring The Boys Back Home," "The Show Must Go On," the dull "Mother," the overslow, depressing "Don't Leave Me Now," "One Of My Turns" and the other version of "In the Flesh," with the offensive second half, just clog up space and are, frankly, duds coming from the man who wrote "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and Dark Side Of The Moon.

That said, there are moments where the band wrings drama out of the story and everything works, mostly on the aforementioned Gilmour songs but also on the moving "Goodbye Blue Sky," the creeping sense of foreboding in "Another Brick In The Wall pt. 1," the crowd chants that swell up in the closing moments of "Waiting For The Worms," and the ending "The Trial," which is the only time Pink is honest with himself and claims victory over his internal demons. On record and in concert, the closing chorus of "Tear down the wall!" will send chills down your spine, especially when you hear the bricks fall and the strains of "Outside The Wall" waft in from the ether.

There is a great single album here, but you have to wade through a bunch of crap to find it. It was clear that Waters was fully in control and a deep disdain (bordering on hatred) was developing between him and the other three; after this and one final terrible album, he would split. Waters is very proud of this record, and certainly the millions of sales would suggest the public agrees, but the truth is that this is not a great Floyd album and not a great album in general, merely a good, ambitious one whose flaws cannot be overlooked.

Rating: C

User Rating: B


Ben: thanks for saying it so I didn't have to. There are about five good songs on this album; the rest is mostly filler, some of it embarrassingly weak and self-indulgent filler. Wish You Were Here is *SO* much better than this.
While we may not agree on this one, well done Ben.

However, one does not mess with the cow without getting the horns! It’s easy to look back 30 years and pick this album apart, but its means something different if you were there. If you were a 16 year old kid hearing this when it came out as I was, this critique would read very differently I expect. When it came out The Wall was quite monumental and original, and anyone old enough to remember that will attest to its impact. We were captivated by its dissection of this damaged character, and it explored mental illness in depth which no one had done in that much raw detail, certainly not in popular music anyway. Plus, we were not yet jaded by the likes of Kurt Cobain and Jon Davis whining about their crappy childhoods and their mental ailments ad nauseam. Hell, the grunge era made an industry out that. 30 years down the road we have been now been saturated with songs about “my poor mental state” and who they blame for it. So now Rogers’ musings may seem trite after decades of bombardment by the post-punk emo whiners. No one had delved into the subject quite so vividly in ’79, so it was more of a revelation and had an actual impact. Its it overblown? Hell yes. Self indulgent? Absolutely. How about Genius? Maybe not, but it was an important album to that era.

I also take issue with the argument against Waters that he usurped creative control. This wasn't Roger taking control, the band acquiesced that happily and enthusiastically after they saw the success of Dark Side of the Moon (a 100% Roger penned album, as was WYWH). They happily played his songs and cashed the checks.
I agree in this case that the emperor has no clothes. I was a senior in high school when this came out. I thought it was falderal then and the intervening 35 years haven't changed my opinion.
BruceR: Thank you for the feedback. I actually was 16 when I first heard this (in 1999) and I was hooked (just like other Floyd releases), and when I got my first guitar that year I tried to play some of the easier songs from this. But I didn't know it in the historical context you described, so I was hearing it through the ears of a teenager in '99 and not '79. You do raise a good point about the subject matter being done to death in the ensuing decades, but I still stand by how it sounds to me now. (In another decade, someone will tear down the exalted status of, say, Nevermind or Ten, and I will take issue).

Also, I read somewhere that Waters asked for input from Wright and Gilmour but they rarely had anything to contribute, so the burden fell to him to create all the music. Two sides to that story, evidently.

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