The Division Bell (1994): Pink Floyd

It’s fun to look back at an album and discuss where it lands in the group’s musical legacy. For this, the group is Pink Floy and the album is The Division Bell.

Of course, we need to give it some context. I’m all about context, and the Pink Floyd story reads like a grocery store checkout rack magazine.

Around the time of The Wall, Roger Waters fired Richard Wright from the group, then he went on to essentially released The Final Cut as a solo album under the Pink Floyd name. Feeling that the band was done in the mid 1980s, Waters left the group for a solo career. Bandmate David Gilmour had another idea. If Waters didn’t want to be in Pink Floyd anymore, fine. He and Nick Mason would carry on, so the two of them worked on songs that Gilmour mostly wrote, and hired Wright back on a weekly wage, and produced A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

Waters however said, you’re not going to release it. Lawyers got involved, made a lot of money for themselves, and a deal was struck. The album was released and Gilmour and Mason carried on with the Pink Floyd name.

They toured the world to massive crowds, along with Wright, and released a live album set. A few years later, Gilmour felt the time was right for another album. This time, Wright was back in the fold.

Highhopes
Artwork for the single, “High Hopes.”

There are Gilmour fans and Waters fans. The post Waters Pink Floyd will never be accepted by many.

I wrote about the post Waters period in a previous blog.  https://wordpress.com/post/mike449933.wordpress.com/8972

My intent here is to confine my focus to The Division Bell album. The Division Bell refers to the bell rung when there is a vote in the British Parliament.

The album sold well, anything Pink Floyd has a built-in audience, rising to the top of the charts and welling several million units in the U.S.  It was successful, but not in the Dark Side of the Moon company, but then what is?

I like the album a lot, it is the best Pink Floyd since The Wall (1979).  Here is a differing opinion in the media:

Tom Sinclair of Entertainment Weekly wrote that “avarice is the only conceivable explanation for this glib, vacuous cipher of an album, which is notable primarily for its stomach-turning merger of progressive-rock pomposity and New Age noodling”. -courtesy of Wikipedia

Like I said, opinions differ on this phase of Pink Floyd. Do people expect The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon? Apparently. At least they didn’t get the pomposity and musical molasses of The Final Cut.

The loss of Waters removed the vision and lyrical brilliance of the 1970s Pink Floyd. Waters floundered without the muscle and grit of Gilmour’s music and guitar. What is often overlooked was the musical textures and quiet melodic underpinning that Wright infused to Dark Side of the Moon. Waters’ ego drove Wright out of the group and his soulfulness from their music.

1280px-Astoria_(Péniche)
The Astoria, Gilmour’s floating studio, where he recorded much of The Division Bell and his solo albums.

Gilmour soldiered on, handling writing the music and developing the concept for the future albums. Mason helped to design the musical textures, the machine noises and industrial effects, with the help of a variety of contributors.

For the The Division Bell, Gilmour used Polly Sampson to co-write the lyrics for many songs. Gilmour’s friend, Nick Laird-Clowes (The Dream Academy), co-wrote two songs. Richard Wright brought a song co-written with Anthony Moore, and co-wrote two others with Gilmour.

Sampson, Gilmour’s fiancee at the time, was a published novelist, but not a lyricist.  Initially, her contributions were questioned, although in years since, she has been at Gilmour’s side, co-writing lyrics for his solo release, On An Island.  Pink Floyd lyrical content is not silly love song material.  Bleak, self-examining, coldly analytical.  Gilmour was reeling from a divorce and self-medicating, although he was in a new relationship, but dipped his toe in familiar Pink Floyd lyrical content.

Gilmour is not a prolific writer, it takes him a decade to produce a new Pink Floyd or solo album. Granted, the bar is set very high for anything with his or the group’s name on it.  The Division Bell came seven years after the previous Pink Floyd studio album. Gilmour is a slow, meticulous writer.  The album originated from sessions involving Gilmour, Wright and Mason, who brought songs and ideas, and studio jams.  I wouldn’t refer to Pink Floyd songs as written as much as constructed.

 

The songs:

“Cluster One” (instrumental) Most Floyd albums have an instrumental track, a soundscape created in layers and textures of processed instruments and sound effects. Written by Gilmour and Wright. The album begins as if you are tuning in a frequency from space, which gives way to Wright’s piano and Gilmour’s guitar, cautiously trading notes, and Mason eventually enters with gentle percussion. Maybe not Dark Side of the Moon brilliant, but not rubbish as Waters lamented.

“What Do You Want From Me” Music by Gilmour and Wright, lyrics by Gilmour and Sampson. One of the best tracks on the album. From the opening groove of bass and synth, then the powerful guitar, this will be one of the heavier songs on the set. Aided by background singers on the vocals, Gilmour lets loose early with his beefy guitar attack.  This song has a definite Pink Floyd sound to it.

“Poles Apart” Music by Gilmour; lyrics by Gilmour, Sampson and Laird-Clowes. Seven minutes and very ambitious, with an orchestra bridge in the middle, like Genesis or Supertramp. A very long guitar solo to finish the last couple of minutes. Did they pull it off? Mostly. A good song and it shows Gilmour doing something Waters excels at. Poles apart, he could be singing of Waters and himself.

“Marooned Music by Gilmour and Wright; another instrumental. Mournful and aching, Gilmour’s guitar takes center stage in place of vocals. Layered piano and electric guitars, this shows the artistry of Gilmour and Wright in weaving these beautiful but haunting soundscapes. Listen with earbuds to deeply appreciate this track. One reviewer called Gilmour’s solos predictable and generic. Hardly.

“A Great Day for Freedom” Music by Gilmour; lyrics by Gilmour and Sampson. A fine vocal performance by Gilmour with piano accompaniment and orchestra. This might have been a deeper song in the lyrical hands of Waters, this is more his territory, but Gilmour and Sampson do fine.

“Wearing the Inside Out” Written by Wright and Moore, it is the first lead vocal by Wright since Dark Side of the Moon. A moody, ambient song, Wright’s vocal is plaintive and almost ethereal. Emotionless, it has great emotion, because of the solemness of Wright’s layered vocals.  There is a great saxophone performance by Dick Parry. Gilmour adds the solo that leads the song to the fade out. This song would have been at home on Dark Side.  Invest in one of Richard Wright’s solo albums, notably Wet Dream.

“Take it Back” Music by Gilmour and Bob Ezrin; lyrics by Gilmour, Sampson and Laird-Clowes. A muscular track with a solid groove, a shimmering track of synthesizers and ringing guitar and background chorus.  One of the more upbeat, radio friendly songs on the album.

“Coming Back to Life” Music and lyrics by Gilmour. Nice guitar work on the intro and vocals before the song kicks into gear. Mason drives it forward with a bit of a marching pace. The song is reflective, of missed chances but of regaining flight. Gilmour again shows the beauty in his voice, it soars but is outdone by his guitar. These long solos could become a little overblown and repetitive if he dint vary the styles and effects.

“Keep Talking” Music by Gilmour and Wright; lyrics by Gilmour and Sampson. My favorite track on the album, stellar production with loops and sound effects. One of the best Floyd songs, period. This is the most Pink Floyd sounding song since Dark Side of the Moon. The textures bathe the sound in melodic riffs and Gilmour muscles this song in the bridge and exit that tells you Pink Floyd had its way with you.

“Lost for Words” Music by Gilmour; lyrics by Gilmour and Sampson. Another mid-tempo song with a long intro of acoustic guitar and piano. Sound effects and orchestra take over for a bridge and then shift back to Gilmour to march the song along as the song builds to a guitar solo, acoustic version.

“High Hopes” Music by Gilmour; lyrics by Gilmour and Sampson. The longest song on the 4f0533ff7d24e6e5d12aae59b3e42d16.pngalbum, clocking in at over eight minutes. For my money, as fine a song as Floyd has in their arsenal. A perfect song to send the album and essentially the band. The song unfolds in several sections, shifting in time and style. It’s solo, aching and and a tour de triumph for Gilmour. His long guitar solo of three minutes reminds me of the best progressive rock instrumental breaks of the 1970s. Over the top? I don’t think so. From the opening bell strikes and piano notes, the dye is cast.

This is an album about communication, or the lack thereof. It’s a set of songs about  hope, opportunity and missed chances.  Floyd has always been about alienation and disconnection, and life in the void.  The sessions for the album produced a lot of material not used, ideas that Gilmour would revisit 20 years later for The Endless River.

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2 thoughts on “The Division Bell (1994): Pink Floyd

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