Has there ever been another album quite as unrelentingly miserable as The Wall? It first entered my life back in 1998, when I was suffering from a bout of not inconsiderable self-doubt and struggling to connect with anything or anyone. Knowing that I was a Pink Floyd fan, my Uncle loaned me his old vinyl copy of The Wall and I was reminded that we all feel alone and lost sometimes. It’s this utterly relatable theme that has ensured that The Wall has continued to sell so well in the four decades since its original release.
The Wall was the Pink Floyd album on which Roger Waters’ despotic intentions became inescapable, and in many ways that was the mortar that made The Wall so strong, with loads of songs that would appeal to disenfranchised youth and people who generally mope around a lot more than they should do (and I include myself in that).
The Wall must have come as somewhat of a shock to long-standing Pink Floyd fans when it was first released in 1979. Where were the elongated songs? Where were the needless stretched-out guitar solos? Where were the long minutes with nothing happening in which you could role a spliff? Why is there a recognisable narrative arc? Where have all the metaphors gone? Why are there so many individual songs?
The thing was, unlike previous Pink Floyd albums, The Wall was an album that demanded your full undivided attention for its entire run time, with the possible exception of ”Comfortably Numb”, where David Gilmour finally gets his overlong guitar solo and stoners the world over finally get to roll a much needed spliff after being driven to paranoid distraction by what had gone before. The lyrics throughout The Wall are totally unambiguous and something of a departure from the establish Pink Floyd style, allowing Water’s vocals to dominate proceedings and Gilmour only getting chance to sing on a handful of tracks.
With a few exceptions, very few songs from The Wall stand up outside of the context of the album, as a whole though this is an immensely strong album with very few flaws. Okay, so sometimes the links between tracks drag on a little too much, “Comfortably Numb” is nowhere near as good as misty-eyed prog-fans would have you believe and it could have got the job done in half the time were it not for one of David Gilmour’s most cliche-riddled guitar solos. Some listeners will flinch at the fascistic imagery liberally used throughout, but to be honest that was all part of the deal as Water’s ego was now running rampant, what with him sacking poor old Richard Wright, and now pushing Pink Floyd forward under his dictatorship. The harsh truth is, were it not for Waters being a nasty bastard, The Wall would not have the impact that it has.
Aside from being a great album in it’s own right, The Wall is also notable as the album that killed-off the huge-selling concept album, though admittedly the format had already been reeling from the attack of punk. The thing is, The Wall was such a huge and definitive release, that to be honest no one has since been able to better it as a concept album. The Wall was the album that represented the last stand of prog rock as an internationally successful and commercially viable genre. After this it was left to Rush to go all widdly in the corner, Genesis to go pop, and Marillion to try and convince everyone that prog was still cool. when it actually never had been in the first place.
The Wall may have been last of the world-straddling prog rock concept epics, but it’s a roar of total defiance nonetheless.