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It's easy to be sucked into The Wall live when it starts off with this much production.
It's easy to be sucked into The Wall live when it starts off with this much production.
Photo by Jim Bricker

The Wall May Be an Important Record, But It's Not a Great Pink Floyd Album

There are a lot of people out there who, usually upon reaching college age, have gone through a Pink Floyd phase. Sure, someone younger might appreciate Floyd at a more immediate wow-these-songs-are-good/singing-”we don’t need no education”-is-fun level, but they’re not going to do that deep dive into the catalog. They’re just not ready. Much in the way you need to get some age on your name before you can understand the blues, you need to reach a certain age in your life before you’re ready to tackle Pink Floyd in their entirety.

You need certain hallmarks of youth for Floyd to really sparkle, the two most important being anger and hubris, because those feed into the cynicism to really appreciate Roger Waters’ very specific view of the world in the ‘70s. If you’re not mad at the world and you don’t think you’re one of the few that sees how the world really works, it’s going to be hard to really did into a record like Animals or get through all of The Final Cut. But if you’ve got those twin passions, you’ll see Dark Side of the Moon for the dark joke that it is and see the horror underneath the beauty of Wish You Were Here.

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And you’ll fall head over heels with the epic known as The Wall, a record engineered to play to all those negative feelings people, young and old, carry around with them. It’s a record about how our past haunts our present and how we self-destruct to push away the pain. It’s a record with some of the finest songwriting of all time, including arguably the best guitar solo of all time during “Comfortably Numb.”

It’s also not a great record.

It’s a great live show. Floyd’s tour for The Wall in 1980 and 1981 is legendary, partially because of how state of the art it was and partially because it’s never been released in full in video form. Waters’ version of The Wall live from a few years back is one of the five best shows I’ve ever seen, leveraging the effects of the past with modern technology in a way that is cathartic in a way that concerts rarely are. Watching the show play out in real life is a thrill that future Floyd fans will never understand, unfortunately.

But as a studio piece, even with some really great highs, the record is far from Floyd’s best work. Live you can smooth out some of the slow parts with stage visuals, but even then much of the second half of the record is just not great, feeling more like padding than vital plot points. “Vera” and “Bring the Boys Back Home” don’t play to the band's strengths, and “Waiting for the Worms” is a song I expect most people forget even exists.

But even some of the singles don’t quite fit in with the rest of the feel of the record. This owes in part to how the record was constructed, with the album being sketched out by Waters, then having “Comfortably Numb,” “Run Like Hell,” and “Young Lust” written after the fact. They’re all good songs, but they’re also all a little too polished, and — “Comfortably Numb” aside — seem jammed into a narrative rather than coming from it organically. They’re some of the best rock songs ever written, but they feel like they come from a different, more energetic album.

At its core, The Wall is not a bad record, it’s just not a great one. It’s the record where the final occasional flashes of greatness that made Pink Floyd so exciting exist before everything goes downhill, with neither Waters of David Gilmour reaching their previous heights after. It’s more of an interesting novelty, due to the stage production and film that came from it and its place in the band’s history, but it’s no Dark Side or Animals. Hell, it’s not even Meddle, which has the band’s best opening and closing tracks. It might feel comforting in the moment, where your rage and intelligence feel their most powerful, but in time you’ll grow up and see the truth, and you’ll still enjoy the songs, you’ll just see the imperfections outside The Wall too.

Classic Albums Live presents Pink Floyd: The Wall, 8:30 p.m., Friday, August 10, at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive. Free.

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