Is Pink Floyd's A Momentary Lapse of Reason Misunderstood or Just Bad?
Like a lot of people I didn't really discover Pink Floyd until I was in my late teens. I had heard their songs before on the radio, but had never felt the need to go buy any of their CDs. Then one night in my dorm room I listened to a pirated copy of The Wall and suddenly it clicked. I was a fan.
The Wall was Roger Waters' baby, so not only did I become a fan of the band I became a fan of him as a solo artist. Somewhere along the line I decided that I didn't need to listen to any of the post-Waters Floyd stuff because in my mind they were just imposters.
It's a pretty silly viewpoint to have, but I was young and prone to stupidity. With A Momentary Lapse Of Reason turning 25 this month, I thought it was a good time to what I had been missing.
Although I had never listened to the album before I was well aware of its big single "Learning to Fly." The song has been a source of controversy between certain friends and I over the last decade, because I've always thought it was a pretty boring song and people seem to think I'm wrong.
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Listening to it now, the reason I realize that I've always been so hard on it is because it doesn't feel like a Pink Floyd song to me. That's a silly notion given that we're talking about a group that released "See Emily Play," "One Of These Days," and "Comfortably Numb" as singles, but it's just how I feel.
The other thing I realized is that in the context of the rest of the album it's actually a pretty good song precisely because it doesn't sound like any other Pink Floyd track. All of the problems I have with the album stem from the group trying too hard to be Pink Floyd.
"Dogs of War" is a good example of this problem. On a musical level it's a retread of The Dark Side of the Moon's "Money", only that it replaces the iconic bassline with a boring string loop and has a terrible saxophone solo. Lyrically it's a retread of the same themes that show up in Animals, using the same metaphor they did in "Dogs."
What's worse is that boring string loop goes on roughly forever. It's the centerpiece of the first three minutes of the track including the opening 30 seconds where it's pretty much the only thing the listener hears aside from a few uncreative sound effects.
Bad openings plague the entire record. Four of the six full length noninstrumental tracks have intros that last over 30 seconds and none of them add anything to the songs. "Yet Another Movie" starts with over a minute of synth sounds that don't feel connected to the rest of the song, which is a shame because once the song starts it's actually pretty good.
It makes for a frustrating listen because buried behind the long intros and unnecessary sound effects is the foundation of what could be a good record.
"On The Turning Away" isn't a bad song, it's just a song that's trying a bit too hard. Imagine how great the first two minutes could have been if they had stripped away everything and just let Gilmour and his guitar breathe. The added synths and drums take a song that feels emotional and makes it corny. The song does recover nicely because Gilmour is a very good guitarist at the end of the day.
The standout track on the album is "One Slip." It also happens to be the only track where everything seems to come together for the band. The long intro is actually pretty interesting (although still unnecessary) but it does lead in to the first part of the song instead of feeling completely divorced from it. The song is almost funky and it's full of energy energy that is lacking from most of the record.
I can't help but think that if the band had just spent a few more months refining the songs this could have been something great. A track like "Sorrow" has potential, but the version on the album is four minutes too long and not particularly memorable.
If this was Pitchfork I'd give the record a solid 5.0. I can't forgive awful tracks like "The Dogs of War" and both parts of "The New Machine" but I can acknowledge that the record was a lot better than I was expecting. It even made me appreciate "Learning To Fly", although I don't seeing it popping up on my next air travel mixtape any time soon.
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