By all accounts, Pink Floyd's The Wall was bound for greatness despite the financial woes and internal friction brewing between the band's principals — Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Rick Wright, and Nick Mason. Or perhaps in spite of it. Waters apparently drew his initial inspiration for the piece from a personal encounter in which he off-handedly hawked a loogy at some innocent, screaming neophyte in the front row of a Floyd concert in Montreal. His contempt for his audience had sullied contempt for the music business and everything that came with it — the egos, the money, and ultimately the other band mates. And yet, Waters still needed the clout and influence of Pink Floyd to transcend his message. Waters is fond of calling The Wall his, but it will always belong to Pink Floyd.
The Wall was a strange collaboration — a final one among the four band members — that included producer Bob Ezrin, animator Gerald Scarfe, composer Michael Kamen, and dozens of extra musicians, singers, actors, artists, and architects. It required a lot of foreshadowing and flashing back, a bit of filling in, and a substantial amount of time and labor spent in meetings and studios in France, England, America, and who knows where. In retrospect, the pain and suffering exerted into the making of The Wall comes through in its sheer weight and sonic thrust. Conceived as a multimedia experience for the stage as well as the silver screen, The Wall alludes to Waters' own personal nightmare — of losing his father in the war, becoming a rock star, and being worshipped like a fascist demigod. The protagonist carries the burden of Waters' plight (and to a lesser degree, Syd Barrett's descent into madness) and is finally put on trial for building a wall between him and the rest of the world. That's the simplest way to describe it.
At the core is a surly collection of songs. Waters bears the lion's share as he unravels the plot from the very first note. "In The Flesh?" is an unsettling preamble that forcibly pulls you to the edge of your seat. Once the mood simmers for a spell in the eloquence of "The Thin Ice," the disc becomes almost conciliatory with the disco inferno of "Another Brick In The Wall (Part Two)." As Floyd's first legitimate single in years, "Another Brick" baulks in the end by instigating the somewhat subversive lyrics to be sung almost in jest by an impromptu choir of school children. "Comfortably Numb," its origins stemming from a David Gilmour chord progression, starkly points out the contrasts that lie between Gilmour's melodic sense and Waters' gloomy, yet intoxicating words. Once "The Trial" gets underway — waging Waters' beguiling voice in a head-butt with an orchestra — many listeners are so exhausted they can't help but chant, "Tear down the &*?@! wall..."
Released in late 1979, The Wall zoomed up the charts to Number One and stayed there for an unprecedented 15 weeks. As a double album, it must have paid off the Floyd's tax bill and then some. However, the cost to mount the monolithic tour that followed certainly didn't aid in recouping any expenses. As it turned out, Rick Wright, who was demoted to a salaried player for the shows, was the only one of the four to avoid the overhead. Nevertheless, The Wall would be immortalized many times over. In 1982, it became a full feature film directed by Alan Parker and starring Sir Bob Geldolf in the title role. In 1990, Waters restaged the epic with several special guests at the foot of the Berlin wall. More recently, the Floyd's original shows from 1980-81 were compiled and released as the "live" double CD set entitled Is There Anybody Out There. With talk of a stage play, Pink Floyd's second most popular piece has ingrained itself into the psyche of popular culture like no other album before or since.
~ Shawn Perry