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Friday, August 17, 2018

John Lennon: Walls And Bridges

JOHN LENNON: WALLS AND BRIDGES (1974)

1) Going Down On Love; 2) Whatever Gets You Thru The Night; 3) Old Dirt Road; 4) What You Got; 5) Bless You; 6) Scared; 7) #9 Dream; 8) Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox); 9) Steel And Glass; 10) Beef Jerky; 11) Nobody Loves You (When You're Down And Out); 12) Ya Ya.

General verdict: Dreams, fears, complaints, rants, melancholy, ironic party swirl — this album has a bit of everything, even if not all the experiments are equally successful.


This album is sometimes hailed as a «comeback» for John — largely because it got him the best critical reviews since Imagine — but the word «comeback» feels a little strange now that we know that in less than a year, John would disappear off the radars of the musical world for half a decade anyway. It certainly feels strange to me personally, since I do not think that the overall quality of this material is that much stronger than it was on Mind Games. The only difference is that this time around, the sessions find John deeply entrenched in one of his personal crises, as he continues to deal with his US status issues, general depression, alcohol, and lack of Yoko by his side (who, apparently, could not be replaced by the collective presence of May Pang, Harry Nils­son, Ringo, and Keith Moon — all of them nice guys in their own right, but could any of them hammer a nail into a wooden board with that much class?).

The difference is pretty substantial: it is hardly possible that such great songs as ʽScaredʼ and ʽNobody Loves Youʼ could have been written by John prior to his drunken binges in LA clubs. But I have always insisted that a calm, peaceful, and self-assured Lennon could be just as honest and touching in his songwriting as a perturbed and hysterical Lennon — you just have to approach Plastic Ono Band and Double Fantasy with different goals in mind. Obviously, Walls And Bridges comes closer to the first one in attitude, although, due to John's life circumstances, it has to walk this thin line between personal agony and party spirit now — although it soon becomes clear that both are just two sides of the same coin anyway.

ʽScaredʼ is a particular standout here, perhaps the single most underrated song in John's catalog: not too surprising, since there was never any idea of releasing it as a single, and the sentiments expressed in it are such a far cry from the candy, the political propaganda, or the easy-access guruism of his biggest hits that popularity is not an option. Nevertheless, it is a perfect mood piece: from the opening wolf howl and down to the well-coordinated musical howl of the guitars, pianos, and brass, it is a chilling midnight confession — one that you normally reserve for your own inner self, too afraid to open it up to anybody else. Nobody who has ever lived through a midlife crisis could stay totally indifferent to this music or these words. And it is only recently that I actually noticed how the verse / chorus pair is structured like a dialog between John A and John B, or, perhaps, John and the Devil, the latter telling him about how "you don't need to worry / in heaven or hell / just dance to the music / you do it so well, well, well" (with a self-reference to ʽWell, Well, Wellʼ, I'm sure!).

Most importantly, the arrangement perfectly fits John's mood, and this is a general thing about the album — he has assembled a more dedicated team of players here than he had for Mind Games, including blues guitar king Jesse Ed Davies, Bobby Keys on sax, and Nicky Hopkins back on the piano (though the latter is not featured too often, but I think that any experienced listener will immediately recognize his style on ʽOld Dirt Roadʼ and ʽNobody Loves Youʼ). With Harry Nilsson and Elton John as additional collaborators, this is his strongest backing outfit since Imagine, and one that can equally well indulge in a party atmosphere as it can pile up the spookiness or hit upon heavy romance. Indeed, one of the strongest aspects of Walls & Bridges is all the diversity — it seems as if John was intentionally experimenting with genres here, getting funky, folksy, or glammy at will, which is actually pretty impressive considering how thoroughly wasted he himself and much of his entourage must have been at the time. (Actually, not so much: apparently, Lennon harshly restricted life's pleasures to the West Coast — once the musicians got to New York from LA to make the record, there was discipline all around).

This diversity is best illustrated with the two big hits from the record that are equally glorious, but could not be more apart from each other. ʽWhatever Gets You Thru The Nightʼ is probably the most perfect collaboration there could ever be between two Johns: Elton lends it his sense of unabashed, wild-riding rock'n'roll glamor, and Lennon corrects it with his snarky sense of humor. It is pure frantic vaudeville, a track that speeds along at such a speed that it is barely possible to even dance to it — nothing like a «Lennon goes disco», as some grumblers had it (the rhythmic patterns are jazzy rather than funky), but a spluttering, dizzy, controlled-chaotic mess of guitars, pianos, and saxes, with each band member striving to out-energize the rest, though Elton and Bobby Keys are clearly in the lead. The atmosphere is as close to glam as John ever got, but the vocal delivery is clearly sarcastic — both Johns are poking so much fun at the party attitudes that it is a wonder how the song never explodes into bursts of uncontrolled belly-laughs.

But if ʽWhatever Gets You Thru The Nightʼ is easily the whirligiggiest party anthem that John ever (co-)wrote, then ʽ#9 Dreamʼ is one of the most gorgeously psychedelic soundscapes he ever created — almost on par with ʽLucy In The Skyʼ and the like, though, perhaps, not as strictly unconventionally magical as the former. The idea was to bring forth a musical reproduction of one of John's actual dreams, and with a little studio trickery on the string arrangements, Nicky Hopkins' electric piano, and Jesse Ed Davies' wah-wah guitar intro, that goal is achieved — in fact, I would definitely call this a quintessential early precursor of the dream-pop genre; the only previous song in John's catalog that approaches this atmosphere is ʽAcross The Universeʼ, but that one had a very sharp, tangible guitar sound that still brought it down to earth, whereas on ʽ#9 Dreamʼ everything, from rhythm section to vocals, comes to you in a foggy haze. Throw in a catchy vocal melody, the sexiest whispers of "John, John" imaginable (actually, May Pang does a better job with this than Yoko), and an incomprehensible mantra for the refrain — and the whole thing sticks out as perfect proof that even in his mid-life crisis, John was capable of gorgeous abstract artistry, equally removed from his political agenda and personal problems. It also shows that, despite having openly renounced and rejected his Beatle-days psychedelic games, that particular strain within him was still alive and aching to break through — too bad that most of the time, he was actively suppressing it in favor of «realism».

Walls And Bridges does not, however, begin and end with the hits. I have already singled out ʽScaredʼ as the underdog highlight, but this should not diminish the importance of ʽSteel And Glassʼ — John at the top of his vicious emploi, tearing into an unnamed victim (reportedly it was Allen Klein, but that knowledge is unnecessary if you want to arm yourself with the song in order to vent your feelings against some son of a bitch or other) with fangs, claws, and occasionally breathtaking up-the-scale string buildups. This should not obscure the soulseeking brilliance of ʽOld Dirt Roadʼ, co-written with Nilsson (who also sings harmonies) and graced with the trade­mark piano touch of Nicky Hopkins, somewhat making it into ʽJealous Guy, Pt. 2ʼ, a little less catchy but, arguably, a little more deep. (Nicky's glissando after the "cool... clear... water" inter­mission is actually one of the most unforgettable short passages in John's solo catalog for me). And this should not conceal the deeply depressed introspection of ʽNobody Loves You (When You're Down And Out)ʼ, which takes the classic premise of Jimmy Cox's ʽNobody Knows Youʼ and updates it for a different kind of situations — unlike professional bluesmen, John Lennon would find it weird to sing about lack of money, so he makes a grim prediction instead: "Nobody loves you when you're old and grey... Everybody loves you when you're six foot in the ground".

There are a few relative clunkers, of course: ʽWhat You Gotʼ is a heavy funk-rocker that could have worked better without John overscreaming it; ʽBless Youʼ is a nice atmospheric ballad that is too slow and lethargic compared to the quiet, but cathartic piano turbulence of ʽOld Dirt Roadʼ; nobody remembers much about the short pop-rocker ʽSurprise, Surpriseʼ (a rather lackluster ode to May Pang) or about the quasi-R&B instrumental ʽBeef Jerkyʼ; and while it is adorable to hear Julian Lennon trying to keep the drum rhythm on the brief snippet of ʽYa Yaʼ, that closing track is more of a special family signal than a suitably de-pompifying coda to the album. (The brooding heaviness of ʽNobody Loves Youʼ might call for a ʽHer Majestyʼ-style anti-finale, but the father-son ʽYa Yaʼ isn't even particularly funny — although I am still tempted to call it the single greatest Julian Lennon performance on record ever).

But even the clunkers contribute to the album's impressive level of diversity, and even clear throwaways such as ʽBeef Jerkyʼ still possess Lennon's unorthodox style — like, what genre is that song? It's like part-time Shadows, part-time Stevie Wonder, and part-time subconsciously Paul McCartney's ʽLet Me Roll Itʼ (whose riff is partially borrowed for the bridge section). I could not say that I like it, particularly, but I respect the odd corners into which Lennon's jam spirit could lead him every now and then, as opposed to the straight and predictable roads trodden by the majority of professional blues / rock / R&B genre specialists.

In the end, Walls And Bridges is just another good and honest solo Lennon album, with the added benefit of shitty times' experience to help the songwriting and of a great company of musical friends to help with the arrangements (there is a certain naked charm to hearing the same songs in their raw versions on Menlove Ave. and other archival releases, but I am deeply impres­sed by the finished product all the same). And, for those of you to whom this is important — it is the only solo Lennon album without any input from or explicit mention of Yoko, even if his longing for her does permeate several of the songs. Ultimately, the record is more about walls than it is about bridges, and this is good, because John is always at his most convincing when he is staying behind a wall rather than crossing a bridge.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Pink Floyd: Delicate Sound Of Thunder

PINK FLOYD: DELICATE SOUND OF THUNDER (1988)

1) Shine On You Crazy Diamond; 2) Learning To Fly; 3) Yet Another Movie; 4) Round And Around; 5) Sorrow; 6) The Dogs Of War; 7) On The Turning Away; 8) One Of These Days; 9) Time; 10) Wish You Were Here; 11) Us And Them; 12) Money; 13) Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2; 14) Comfortably Numb; 15) Run Like Hell.

General verdict: Passable live album — great songs, bad decisions, questionable atmosphere.

I certainly cannot be sure, but I think there must have been an uneasy vibe about Dave Floyd's 1987-89 tour in support of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. Not only because it was their first tour in seven years, but also because without Roger they had to make a fresh start — with Gilmour, Wright, and Mason now having to take upon themselves all the creative, visual, choreo­graphic, presentational decisions, and managing to stay true to the Floyd spirit as well as take into account the (not so precious) popular tastes of the mid-to-late Eighties.

Ironically, at their peak Pink Floyd did not even bother to think about live albums — or, if they did, nobody ever pushed strong enough to make it come true. Arguably the main reason behind this was that a Pink Floyd live show had to be seen, not heard: and, indeed, Delicate Sound Of Thunder was both recorded and filmed, although, unlike the album, the film has long since been out of print. But it may also be true that, at their peak, the band simply regarded the perspective of a live album as an excess, a sign of artistic weakness — and so, Delicate Sound Of Thunder may have easily become a nice weapon in the hands of Gilmour detractors. Like, what is the point of releasing (inferior) versions of classics like ʽMoneyʼ or ʽComfortably Numbʼ, if not to simply re-establish your claim on them, showing the world that the current lineup of Pink Floyd is the true, genuine item even without its primary creative driver?

It may have been just like that, yes. But in retrospect, Delicate Sound Of Thunder stands out as Floyd's (including Gilmour solo) weakest live album not because it had some inferior-ulterior motives behind its production, but because of two other things: an unbalanced and rather banal setlist, and an inability to think of any great ways to rejuvenate and re-embellish their legacy. This new Floyd was clearly still getting its bearings, and perhaps the late Eighties were not the best time for getting them.

The setlist is particularly telling. After a nice opening teaser with the first part of ʽShine Onʼ (probably the single best performance on the album, largely because it stays true to the original without any serious changes in tones or arrangements), the first part is essentially a complete re-run of Momentary Lapse, while the second part is a crudely put together mix of Big Classic Hits and nothing else. The implied feeling is clear: "If you are patient enough to sit through all of our new shit, we will be nice and play ʽTimeʼ and ʽMoneyʼ and ʽwe don't need no educationʼ for you, because this is what you came for, is it not?" And while they were all perfectly in their own right to adopt this attitude, we are perfectly in our own right to say that, because of this, Delicate Sound Of Thunder at times feels stiff, at times unsecure, at times give-the-people-what-they-want-ish: not the kind of record that you make when you have to prove the usefulness and relevance of your continued existence.

I would be perfectly willing to forget them all the theoretical transgressions if the Big Classic Hits were played well, but I have at least three unsurmountable problems here. Number one: what the hell are they doing with ʽMoneyʼ — who was the genius that told David to include a lax, slippery reggae section in the middle? Number two: what's up with the «experimental» twiddling of the guitar solo in ʽTimeʼ, replacing the harmonically perfect flow of the original with poorly improvised ugliness? Number three: is there anybody out there who actually likes what they did with the lead vocals on the verses to ʽComfortably Numbʼ? That part is not supposed to be a duet, and it is not supposed to be sung in that particular key: it is a doctor speaking to his patient, not a drowning sinner calling from the deep.

These are just some of the most glaring examples of things that went wrong here — things that, admittedly, would all be corrected by the time of the next tour, but since Pink Floyd concerts are not like Who concerts or even like Fleetwood Mac concerts and the songs generally stay the same, it makes misguided decisions such as the ones taken on this album stand out in a particu­larly unfavorable light. Most likely, there will rarely be a time when you are going to be in the mood for a live Floyd album, but once that time does arrive, the probability that you will pull out Delicate Sound Of Thunder instead of Pulse or the archival Wall Live seems quite low to me. Pulse, in particular, obliterates the need for Thunder completely — it has all the Big Classic Hits in superior versions, removes some of the biggest Lapse Of Reason stinkers like ʽDogs Of Warʼ, and generally feels more cohesive and purposeful.

Of course, one cannot take away the historical importance: visually, «live Pink Floyd» is almost certainly going to be the 1987–1995 Pink Floyd, since the band never liked filming their shows in the classic days — and the record does introduce the by-now familiar extended Floyd lineup, with regulars such as Guy Pratt on bass, Tim Renwick on second guitar, and Jon Carin on additional keyboards (the guy who went on to play with both Gilmour and Waters). Plus, on the whole the album is certainly listenable: Gilmour will have to be totally disintegrated before he can do a bad ʽComfortably Numbʼ solo (he does quite intentionally botch the one on ʽTimeʼ, as I said), and there was never a time when Wright did not sound adorable and cathartic when singing on ʽUs And Themʼ. It's just that the only reason to listen to it may have been when you were faced with the uneasy choice of paying top dollar for a brand new blinking copy of Pulse or fishing out a used copy of Thunder from the two-dollar bin. And now, in this brand new streaming age, you might never be faced with such a choice again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Alice Cooper: Paranormal

ALICE COOPER: PARANORMAL (2017)

1) Paranormal; 2) Dead Flies; 3) Fireball; 4) Paranoiac Personality; 5) Fallen In Love; 6) Dynamite Road; 7) Private Public Breakdown; 8) Holy Water; 9) Rats; 10) The Sound Of A; 11*) Genuine American Girl; 12*) You And All Of Your Friends.

General verdict: Just some light-hearted fun this time around, with some old and new friends. The only thing that is truly paranormal about this record is Alice's endorsement of its production.


It is nice to know that Mr. Cooper is alive, well, and has not lost his energy, humor, and desire for further creativity at the ripe age of 69. This is probably all you need to know about Paranormal, a record that adds nothing whatsoever to our general understanding of Alice Cooper — if you are not planning to listen to it. If, however, you are enough of an Alice fan to still bother, do not make the mistake I made — even after three sub-par studio albums in a row, I still subcon­sciously keep expecting a Cooper album to bite me, if not with the bite of Killer, then at least with the bite of a Last Temptation or a Dragontown. But perhaps this is my problem and not the artist's; and if we do acknowledge the right of toothless kitsch to count as an art form alongside ironic satire, how could the artist be blamed for jumping from one to another at random?

Paranormal is a very lightweight record; so lightweight, in fact, that even Alice's voice here sounds strangely more youthful than before — when, after the long intro of the title track, he comes in with "I'm condemned to the long, endless night", I almost got the impression that he set himself the goal of emulating the average emo teenager. Later on, you do get the screechy growl and the guttural howl, but for the most part, Paranormal is all about the 69-year old Alice Cooper trying to convince you that, deep down in his heart, he is still just a nasty, reckless, and badassfully charming teenage brat from Detroit. Aiding him in this noble goal are several members of the original Alice Cooper band — all except Glen Buxton, who passed away twenty years before he could get this chance to rejuvenate himself — although they only play on a few of these tracks, with Dennis Dunaway also credited as co-writer.

This noticeably forced youthfulness is pretty much the only conceptual element about the record: otherwise, it is merely a collection of pop-rock songs about issues ranging from getting some to getting wasted to getting used to the imminent end of the world as we know it. It could, in fact, be legitimately seen as the conclusion to a sort of «Detroit trilogy» that began with The Eyes Of Alice Cooper and continued on Dirty Diamonds — with Paranormal never managing to recapture the grit and venom of the former, but arguably putting a slight improvement on the relative blandness of the latter. Music-wise, the worst thing about the album is the production: in between all the sound compression and all the unimpressive session musicians, there is not a lot of truly gritty-crunchy joy to be found in those rockers — ever so often, it sounds like you are not listening to a classic hard rocker, but rather to alt-rock in the vein of Ash. Which is not the worst thing in the world, but slickness in hard rock is generally a crime, and particularly if all your riffs and solos are essentially the result of a third or fourth cycle of recycling.

Still, I must stress that while I was very disappointed upon my first listen, by the time my ears adjusted to the slickness, Paranormal began to occasionally provide small bursts of fun. It is hard to resist the pure intelligent silliness of Cooper slipping into old school rockabilly on ʽRatsʼ (a song that, in a measly two minutes, manages to ironically lambast both politicians and their entire electorate — well, Alice never really concealed his belief that 90% of the people are idiots), or the catchy onslaught of the Dunaway-cowritten apocalyptic anthem ʽFireballʼ. On ʽFallen In Loveʼ, Alice engages Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, producing a bona fide ZZ Top non-classic in the process. ʽDynamite Roadʼ, sounding like a brief retelling of the storyline from Tarantino's Death­proof, is campy to the extreme, but it is such a speedy, over-the-top, utterly ridiculous rock'n'roll monolog that it is hardly possible to either get bored or offended by it.

Only once, at the very end, Alice decides to go serious on our asses and offer an atmospheric, mournfully creepy ballad (ʽThe Sound Of Aʼ) — not very effective, and not just because it steals its vocal lines from Pink Floyd's ʽBrain Damageʼ, but mainly because after all the giddy, over­slicked fun of the previous songs, this last out-of-nowhere attempt to make us feel genuinely uncomfortably feels misplaced. I ended up liking the song anyway, but it is no ʽPass The Gun Aroundʼ or ʽWe're All Crazyʼ when it comes to serious-soulful moments in the Coop's life.

Perhaps all of this could be better with a different bunch of producers: Tommy Henriksen and Tommy Denander, who had already worked with Alice on the Welcome 2 My Nightmare disaster, are fairly generic dudes, mostly known for bringing «rock» elements into the sound of Kesha and Lady Gaga, and their presence on the album very much overshadows that of Bob Ezrin, also credited as co-producer, but why, I do not exactly know — apart from ʽThe Sound Of Aʼ, nothing here has the deep spookiness that used to characterize Ezrin's best work with Cooper and Pink Floyd. Even with better production, though, Paranormal would never pretend to anything higher than recycled nostalgia — but Alice Cooper is still capable of putting the fun back into recycled nostalgia, and a dude who can have this much fun at the age of 69 certainly deserves respect.

Talking Heads: Remain In Light

TALKING HEADS: REMAIN IN LIGHT (1980)
1) Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On); 2) Crosseyed And Painless; 3) The Great Curve; 4) Once In A Lifetime; 5) Houses In Motion; 6) Seen And Not Seen; 7) Listening Wind; 8) The Overload.

General verdict: One little paranoid Scotsman in the lap of so many terrifying African gods.


[This is a slightly revised version of an older review in the abandoned "Important Album Series", from June 26, 2016].

Even after the major critical success of Fear Of Music, Talking Heads had little chance of turning into a household name — in fact, this would not properly happen until they'd record ʻBurning Down The Houseʼ in 1983, a track that made all the difference because, finally, ordinary people could dance to it. However, the first three albums firmly established them as not only one of America's most unique and innovative bands, but also one of its finest New Wave-themed European exports. Instead of reggae, which somehow turned into a primary point of attraction for so many European New Wave acts, they had put their money on R&B and funk —capitalizing particularly on the nervous / paranoid associations of the funk groove, so that it could be flawlessly integrated with David Byrne's psychotype. The peak of this approach was reached on Fear Of Music, an album that for most bands, would be impossible to top — in fact, most bands would probably not even set themselves such a goal, and instead just stay forever happy after having mastered such an intricate formula.

The one big advantage of Talking Heads was that they happened to be interested in music as much as they were interested in art — that is, from a perspective where we do not simply regard «music» as a subcategory of «art», but instead associate the former with technique and texture, and the latter with symbolic / philosophical meaning. The first three albums by the Heads featured some very fine music, but most of it was very much overridden with Byrne's personality: when you think of those records, probably the first thing that comes to mind is his vivid character impersonation rather than, for instance, the (actually no less impressive) polyrhythmic guitar interplay between Byrne and Harrison. The band did have a unique sound, and it was never against making it more and more unique by transcending its «rockist» limitations, but it would not be too inaccurate to state that most listeners probably wondered what that plural marker was really doing at the end of Talking Heads.

At the same time, interest in «world music» (understood as «predominantly white European or American pop/rock musicians appropriating elements of other musical traditions full-scale — for artistic, humanitarian, and educational needs only, no personal financial gain whatsoever!») seemed to be on the rise among all sorts of audiences, largely because it was high time music did some more cross-breeding to prevent from stagnating — and Talking Heads, who had already once dabbled seriously and successfully in crossing real African (rather than Afro-American) music with rock on ʻI Zimbraʼ, were more than happy to explore that interest. For one thing, at a time when some of the band members had begun expressing discontent about Byrne's vision monopolizing the band's career, it gave them all a chance to democratically expand beyond a Byrnocentric world — by making The Byrne Identity merely one of the integral elements of the process, maybe a bit more equal than the others, but not crucially so. Byrne himself had made the first step by working with Brian Eno on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, where he had learned to tame and restrain his personality, and so, by mid-1980, the stage was set for one of the strongest concentrations of talent ever assembled in one place.

Indeed, for the Remain In Light sessions, as well as for the ensuing tour to promote the album, Talking Heads actually had to become The Talking Head Consortium, adding: Brian Eno (who, in addition to retaining his production duties, also played select bass and keyboard parts); Adrian Belew (crazyass lead guitar beyond the capacities/imagination of either Byrne or Harrison); Jon Hassell (trumpets, horns, solid knowledge of world music theory); Robert Palmer and José Rossy (percussion); and the illustrious Nona Hendryx (backing vocals). Some of the songs actually give the impression of a much larger ensemble of musicians, but that is due largely to Eno's masterful overdubbing (although for the ensuing tour they still managed to get away with a nine-piece ensemble in order to reproduce the album in most, if not all, its sonic density).

In their basic form, the tracks were originally laid down in Nassau (Compass Point Studios), not too far away from Jamaica and Haiti where Chris and Tina spent a holiday socializing with voodoo and reggae people while Harrison, at the same time, was producing an album for Nona Hendryx and Byrne was recording My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts with Eno — the same kind of merging collective profit with individual pleasure that preceded the Sgt. Pepper sessions in late 1966/early 1967, to use a perfectly appropriate reference. However, the album turned out to be even more of an «assembly» thing than Sgt. Pepper: Byrne's vocals were added separately, as were Nona's and, finally, Hassell's brass overdubs. What you are hearing on the final product is not at all the sound of a tight, well-drilled band (which the Heads certainly were), but the results of a tremendously complex cut-and-paste procedure, which makes it all the more astonishing how they were ultimately capable of transferring it all to the stage with perfect mutual coordination (Talking Heads Live In Rome is a terrific DVD from the tour that is every bit as worth seeing as is the far better known Stop Making Sense — at least, for the regular fan). In any case, Eno's contribution to the record is every bit as important as George Martin's was for Sgt. Pepper — not a single subsequent Heads album would boast such a multi-layered sound.

Once released, the album was an immediate critical hit, but it did not sell that much compared to the band's previous output: ʻOnce In A Lifetimeʼ charted fairly high in Europe, but not in the homeland, and the LP showed only a very modest rise in the charts compared to Fear Of Music — apparently, the strange new sounds were still way too incomprehensible (and disturbing) for the sitting majority and far too complex for the dancing minority to make a wave-like impact. It is also a matter of debate precisely how influential this record has been: it did not exactly invent «worldbeat» as such, and it still had too much of that strong Talking Head essence in it to be properly imitable — probably the closest followers would be Discipline-era King Crimson with the same Adrian Belew manning one of the guitars, but King Crimson never went for that African / Haitian voodooistic angle, and vocals in general were nowhere near as important for KC as they were for the Heads here. But one thing is for certain: Remain In Light was perceived as a major event in music when it appeared, and its classic status has not become even faintly dimmed with the passing of time.

The very first thing you might feel, as the poly-pulse of ʻBorn Under Punchesʼ is fully established, is that proverbial Jungle Sensation — the song's multiple guitar and keyboard bits symbolizing all the friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) tongueless creatures of said Jungle and the tribal woos and hoos representing its humanoid inhabitants. Of course, it is not a real jungle: with Byrne at the wheel, it is more of an allegory for an Urban Jungle, where tribal Africa is taken as an allegory for the general hustle-bustle of life in a perfectly modern industrialized society. But at the same time, nothing about Remain In Light is truly «chaotic»: all the polyrhythms, all the multi-layered vocal overdubs are strictly coordinated and disciplined — in fact, Byrne's singing / talking / screaming is pretty much the only element that keeps on disrupting the rigorous patterns, and so the whole album (or, at least, most of it) can be viewed as the solitary hysterical madness of an individual helplessly caught in the grinding cogs of perfectly tuned machines (not exactly an artistic breakthrough for these guys). Although, admittedly, they are tuned so perfectly that getting caught up in them might sound like an exciting proposal.

The first three tracks here are probably the single most thrilling, tension-mounting sequence in the band's entire catalog: ʻBorn Under Punchesʼ sets up The Jungle, ʻCrosseyed And Painlessʼ introduces The Panic, and finally ʻThe Great Curveʼ descends into utter ferocious emotional hell. The first of the songs is cleverly subtitled ʻThe Heat Goes Onʼ, where «heat» may (and should) refer at once to jungle heat and government heat — and where the weird, lilting, sounding-like-nothing-else-at-the-time guitar solos by Adrian Belew are somewhere in the middle between the sounds of merrily, but mechanically chirping birds in the trees and the sounds of phones, ticker tapes, alarm sirens, automatons, and whatever other analog and digital contraptions have been invented by cruel humanity to confuse and enslave the poor human.

But despite the colorful, bedazzling sound, it is still merely an introduction to the "sharp as a knife" sound of ʻCrosseyed And Painlessʼ, where Tina's bass actually does sound like a cutting knife, making one careful, but brutal incision after another — again, the whole thing is either a relentless run-through-the-jungle or a grinding, never-ending musical lobotomy performed on the protagonist as he is "still waiting, still waiting", but there's really nothing to wait for because it's already over, to the mock-lullaby of "there was a line, there was a formula..." sounding like the equivalent of a good dose of sleeping gas to help ease the pain. This stuff works on so many levels of perception that it is almost scary.

What is scarier is that next is ʻThe Great Curveʼ, which makes ʻCrosseyed And Painlessʼ sound like a kiddie dance round the mulberry bush by comparison. The call-and-response dialog between the ringing guitar line and the answering bass is worth gold alone (the dark and the light? two sides of the coin? the optimist and the pessimist?), but when you have all those different vocal melodies gradually laid on top of them, one by one (useless trivia detail — I always heard one of those not as "night must fall, dark-ER, dark-ER", but rather as "night must fall, dark pearl, dark pearl!", which sounds way cooler to me), the result is a kind of sonic bliss / sonic nightmare that must be heard to be believed — and it actually worked live as well (but maybe not nearly as effective when stripped of Eno's supernatural production)! And in between that, you get some of the craziest solos ever devised by Adrian Belew — yet, believe it or not, they sound like moments of respite, allowing you to actually catch your breath between all those rounds of vocal basketball. And Jon Hassell's brass overdubs? And "the world moves on a woman's hips"? This is one of the greatest songs ever written, and maybe the best ever use of vocal polyphony in a rock setting, period. This is not really a Talking Heads song — it's a Mother Nature song (feat. Talking Heads), capturing Mother in one of her not-too-pretty tantrum states.

It is, consequently, not surprising that I have always found the other songs of the album allocated on the other side of ʽThe Great Curveʼ, right past the peak; nothing surpasses the fury of the opening three, and, in fact, despite the obvious greatness of ʻOnce In A Lifetimeʼ, this is clearly the first (and only) song here that fully returns us to the well-accustomed Talking Heads idiom: a somewhat tame funk rhythm guitar instead of the maddening polyrhythms, exclusively male vocals, and a lead singer once again at the forefront of things. I always used to think that ʻOnce In A Lifetimeʼ did not really mix too well with the rest of the album, that it might have been inserted there just because somebody felt a need to have a «proper» Talking Heads single for commercial purposes — well, I mean, it probably was. Which does not make it any less great as a great Talking Heads song (but not a Mother Nature song this time) — and has anybody ever come up with a more friendly, optimistic, philosophically ambiguous song on the subject of ʻNobody Knows You When You're Down And Outʼ, anyway? I don't really think so.

The second side of the album almost inevitably pales in comparison, just because all of the strategy has already been laid out on Side A, and most of the brutal energy has been expended. ʻHouses In Motionʼ does one more good job of building up some «jungle-style paranoia» with clever parallel alignment of reggae and funk guitars, but then we largely get mellow — first, with arguably the record's single weakest number, ʻSeen And Not Seenʼ (atmospheric, but too much keyboard wiggling from Eno, too many talking vocals and not enough hooks), then with the album's only formal «ballad», ʻListening Windʼ, and finally, with its most «Goth-style», «Joy-Division-like» coda, ʻThe Overloadʼ. It is clear why none of these three songs were performed in concert: compared to the lively, if scary, «dance» numbers of Side A, these are slow, subtle, a nasty smoky hangover after the devilish party, something, perhaps, to be played only after a non-stop 12-hour rave party to calm down the nerves of a hysterical crowd. Their charm will probably become more obvious with time, but they do serve their proper function: after playing out the storm, you have to say a few words about the calm, even if it is only relative — ʻThe Overloadʼ, with Eno's pulsating synths and whirring engines and industrial hums, does sound like the equipment could blow apart at any minute, yet it builds up its tension and takes it away with it in a fade-out, rather than ending things with a nuclear blast or something.

Because, you see, Remain In Light is not the announcement of a catastrophe — like most of the band's output, it is a warning, and no other Talking Heads album ends on a more alarming note than Remain In Light. (Is it a coincidence that the band's commercial fortunes only really improved when they began ending their records with shiny optimistic instead of depressing tunes, like ʻThis Must Be The Placeʼ?).

On the whole, the best thing that can be said about the album is that it works equally well as a collection of hooky individual songs (the choruses, the riffs, the polyrhythms — there are so many earworms here, you could catch yourself a boatload of earfish with them) and as a cohesive conceptual thematic suite with a rational internal structure: nervous-hysterical build-up, post-nervous depressed wind-down, and a perfect synthesis of native African stylistics and the Western civilization pop tradition in terms of execution, and by «perfect» I mean one that sounds smooth and fluent and has a reasonable intellectual symbolic interpretation at the same time. You can simply enjoy the hell out of it, or you can subject it to musicological analysis, you can decode and explain its philosophy, and it will all make perfect sense.

Of course, few albums are perfect, and although there is no «filler» as such on Remain In Light (every song has its purpose and loyally fulfills it), every once in a while a song might overstay its welcome, or get a little too lost in atmospheric beeps and bleeps to remember about preserving the hookline. The grooves on Side A are so tight, powerful, and mesmerizing that each of them could go on for 15 minutes and I wouldn't have a care in the world; but ʻThe Overloadʼ should probably have been at least a minute shorter, and I have already indicated that ʻSeen And Not Seenʼ is too much special effects and not enough melody (could it actually be left over from the sessions for My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts? It rather sounds like it belongs on that album, what with all the isolated keyboard pings and spoken vocals). But on the other hand, it is precisely because of all the risks, experiments, and outside collaborators that Remain In Light avoids the common flaws of most other Heads albums —such as they used to be when most of More Songs About Buildings And Food, for instance, used to sound like one interminable macro-song. This is definitely different.

I do believe that the album is a stunning achievement in the history of modern music — easily the best record of 1980 and, who knows, a good contender even for best album of a decade that had barely started when it came out. It really pointed out a brand new direction that very few (if any) other artists would manage to follow successfully, just because it takes a great deal of time, talent, and tact to properly re-integrate modern musical genres with their «ancient» predecessors. Most importantly, the biggest flaw of «world music» is that it tends to be very pretentious, commanding you to revere and admire it just because it liberally acknowledges the musical merits of our cultural ancestors and faraway brothers. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. The genius of Talking Heads here is that they were the first to show that «world music» can be perfectly relevant and vital in a completely modern setting — not a museum artefact, made bright and shiny by means of neon lights and computer-assisted simulations, but a real artistic weapon that can be used to describe the conflicting, turublent emotions of a contemporary, urbanized, Western (or Eastern, or Northern, or Southern, etc.) human being. Too often, musical synthesis is being carried out just for the sake of synthesizing — as in, we get bored, we put together something that has never been put together before (remember Monty Python's Society For Putting Things On Top Of Other Things?). Remain In Light avoids that trap and, in doing so, remains every bit as vital, inspiring, and relevant today as it was when it first came out.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Paul McCartney: Band On The Run

PAUL McCARTNEY: BAND ON THE RUN (1973)


1) Band On The Run; 2) Jet; 3) Bluebird; 4) Mrs. Vanderbilt; 5) Let Me Roll It; 6) Mamu­nia; 7) No Words; 8) Picasso's Last Words; 9) Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five.

General verdict: Nigerian-inspired stadium pop about jailbreaks, labradors, Picasso, time travel and the meaning of life — we love him when he's crazy like that, don't we?


One of the most unusual aspects of Band On The Run is that, while the bulk of it was created by an even more broken set of «Wings» than Wild Life, in the end it is the first McCartney album that sounds like it was recorded by a real band — on the run, on the fly, on the weed, on the crack, does not really matter. It was the first of a series of records that firmly re-established Paul as a rock artist — we will get around in a minute to discussing what sort of rock it was — and, what might have been even more important for him, it put him at peace with the Seventies, adapting his sound to the trendy vibes of the time and proving that he could at least restore and consolidate his credentials, even if there was no longer any hope of earning the same levels of artistic respect as Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin.

In a way, Band On The Run was a very conscious rebounce from the stylistics of Paul's previous albums, and it is highly likely that he was getting tired of the incessant critical bashing — yes, in retrospect many of us and them have come to getting and enjoying the homely-comfy cuteness and the subtle psychological depths of his early solo efforts, but at the time it was all essentially treated as muzak for housewives, and one can hardly blame the man for not giving us another Ram; besides, the very perspective of going back and forth between Ram and Band On The Run, arguably the only couple of absolutely flawless records in Paul's catalog, is emotionally and intellectually thrilling. Here we are on the porch — next thing you know, here we are in the arena. How many people feel equally comfy in both environments?..

Of course, one important condition of artistic success in such a crossover is that you retain a certain degree of whackiness. For Paul, it all began with the decision to record in the EMI studio in Lagos — where else do you get back in touch with your creative muse, if not in an unfortunate African country torn apart by civil war, dictatorship, poverty, and epidemics? However, it was not so much African music itself that served as Paul's main inspiration (there is an interesting story about an angry Fela Kuti allegedly bursting into the studio to castigate the white man for stealing his continent's cultural heritage, only to discover that nothing of the sort was going on) as the very fact of doing something unpredictable, risky, adventurous, liberating: motives of freedom and escape crop up fairly frequently on the album, except that now they are extra- rather than introvert. The idea of Ram was to get away from too many people into the heart of the country; the idea of Band On The Run is... well, just listen to the title track.

Clearly, this is an album that needed to be loud and brash, and so it is — featuring plenty of deep bass, distorted guitar riffs, vocal overdubs and echoes, intimidating Moogs, and, in some of the most climactic moments, mammoth-level Tony Visconti orchestrations. However, while some­times bordering on heavy rock (and this would become even more pronounced on the next album), Band On The Run never ever threatens to put Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple out of business, not because Paul or Denny Laine lack the necessary instrumental virtuosity, but simply because neither of them is an angry young man at heart. This sometimes leads people to feeling uncom­fortable around tunes such as ʽJetʼ or ʽLet Me Roll Itʼ, which seem to propagate a «let's ROCK!» vibe around them, yet in reality have about as much rocking energy as ʽOb-La-Di Ob-La-Daʼ or ʽMaxwell's Silver Hammerʼ. Perhaps it is for these numbers, really, that the term «power pop» should be reserved — rather than somebody like Cheap Trick, whose pop hooks would be dressed up in a really dirty, sloppy, turbulent rock sound. Personally, I do not see any problem in coming to terms with this type of sound.

Could Band On The Run be regarded as a conceptual album? It does seem to run a full circle, fading out on a reprise of the refrain from the opening title track — and it has quite a few leit­motifs that crop up all over the place, most openly so on ʽPicasso's Last Wordsʼ, whose free-flowing second half reprises the hooks from both ʽJetʼ and ʽMrs. Vanderbiltʼ. Yet this is no more of a concept than was Sgt. Pepper: just a simple editing device, you could say, to artificially increase the cohesiveness of the LP. And yet again, it has always seemed to me that there are two main themes on the record — freedom and loss — pulling it in opposing directions of joy and sorrow and somehow merging into one towards the end, making the album as a whole a far more emotionally rewarding experience than anything Paul would record after that.

For one thing, there is no other album in his catalog that kicks things off with not one, but two inspiring sing-along anthems to freedom in a row. With its three-part structure, ʽBand On The Runʼ might be said to take a cue from the prog-rock movement, but I actually find a much more startling structural similarity to ʽHappiness Is A Warm Gunʼ (no wonder that even John found some kind words to say about the album) — this is simply the good old Beatles tradition of keeping things ever-changing and unpredictable, and the build-up, from the slow "stuck inside these four walls" miserable section to the grim "if we ever get out of here" brooding section and to the climactic «escape» part is a splash of calculated brilliance. Of course, it is all a game: see something like Thin Lizzy's ʽJailbreakʼ for a more titillating and less comfortable use of the escape-from-prison metaphor. Paul never forgets to explicitly hint to us that he is viewing it all from a kid's perspective ("I hope you're having fun" is, after all, hardly the first thing that a break­out convict would say to his mate). But then, we do not necessarily want to associate ourselves with real convicts, do we? All we want to do is to sing that "band on the run!" bit and hear the teasingly infectious, arrogantly gamy, deliciously curvy little guitar riff that echoes the vocal bit. Is there a better song, overall, in the pop catalog that conveys the feel of freedom and happiness after a long period of isolation and boredom than this one, within just five minutes' time?..

With ʽJetʼ, the situation gets more complex. It introduces the all-too-familiar element of Paul's lyrical nonsense ("I thought the major was a little lady suffragette"), and both its arena-rock sound and its relationship-oriented lyrics (yes, it is about another one of Paul's dogs, or horses, or buffaloes, but who knows? who cares?) seem to carry us away in different directions, but ultima­tely, it, too, is about freedom and escape ("climb on my back and we'll go for a ride in the sky"), with psychedelic overtones as well, skilfully conveyed by the synthesizer parts. Just like ʽBand On The Runʼ, actually, the song's main hook and power vibe «emerge» out of its blocky, hin­dered, stuttering intro, which almost seems to be mocking a reggae rhythm — before launching into a wild one-chord riff which only needs to be sped up and «crunched up» a bit to form the basis for a bona fide Ramones tune. Most of the song is spent in that wild-ride mode, and it seems only too appropriate for somebody who has just made a dashing prison break, even if it's only make-believe and all that.

But while ʽBand On The Runʼ and ʽJetʼ wnet on to become deservedly acclaimed and popular stadium-rock anthems, never to be missed at any of Paul's live shows, their presence alone does not turn Band On The Run into a great album, worthy of a real master. A new level of magic begins to operate with ʽMrs. Vanderbiltʼ, and culminates with the album's last three songs — a level of magic that, I am afraid to suggest, perhaps even Paul himself had not been planning upon, and I may be reading some of my own thoughts and interpretations into these songs, but isn't the fact that this is possible, in itself, an indication of greatness?

After the first two songs and the pleasant you-and-me-and-nobody-else-and-it's-happy-sad ballad­ry of ʽBluebirdʼ, ʽMrs. Vanderbiltʼ comes along and completely derails the record. It returns us to one of Paul's favorite subjects — boredom and depression — but this time, spices things up with an unusually fast tempo and elements of a «work song» (ho, hey-ho!) that is almost like the complete antithesis to the message of ʽBand On The Runʼ. Nobody is having fun here: "what's the use of worrying, what's the use of everything?" — and the steady, unnerving, unchanging, emo­tionless chugging rhythm just drives that point home, over and over and over, only occasionally giving way to desperate weeping chorus outbursts, only to be immediately choked up by another series of pseudo-uplifting ho, hey-hos. Who is Mrs. Vanderbilt? Who is Mrs. Washington? Are they symbolic representations of the oppressive elite? Are they socialites who happened to get on Paul's nerves at one time or another? Again, who really cares? All that matters is the Sisyphian vibe that the song conveys so well.

After ʽMrs. Vanderbiltʼ, things are never quite the same again. There is a dark and sinister strain to the lyrically straightforward ʽLet Me Roll Itʼ, for instance — most of the song is spent in a call-and-response session between Paul's minimalistic bassline and Laine's hard rock riff, a repe­titive and strange dialog that they must have found so intriguing themselves, they did not even bother to overdub a proper solo on top of it. ʽMamuniaʼ is one of the few songs here with some obvious African influences (a «nativist» ode to rain), and it tries to lighten things up with an acoustic vibe that is slightly reminiscent of ʽMother Nature's Sonʼ; but after that, the album rolls into even deeper depressed territory — ʽNo Wordsʼ, marking Laine's first serious credit as a song­writer within the band, is a short and powerful song about the impossibility of communica­tion between two loving hearts that manages, in its measly two minutes, to feature both the album's most heartbroken symphonic passage and its most hysterical guitar solo.

Many people justifiedly dismiss ʽPicasso's Last Wordsʼ as filler — after all, its main theme was quickly thrown together on a dare with Dustin Hoffman — but I find its structure delightfully Abbey Road-ish, and it seems as if Paul was actually thinking along the lines of «what would it take to make a proper musical equivalent of Picasso's art?» Perhaps «throwing together a couple of orchestrated reprises of songs already recorded for the album» was not quite the right answer, but at least it was a fun one. Essentially, it is just Paul taking on the mission to drink to Picasso's health, because the latter can't drink any more. It is weird, sad, and touching.

But the album's greatest musical triumph, one of the most underrated and most cathartic moments in Paul's entire catalog, is ʽ1985ʼ. Again, I do not know the «real» meaning of the song, but every time I listen to it, the gut feeling is the same. Normally, in fast tempo songs like these you get the feeling of moving — zipping through space, riding on a speed train, rolling down Hell's highway, whatever. ʽ1985ʼ, particularly when it gets to the final section, is a song that makes you feel like you are standing (at best, running on the spot), and it is the universe, in a grand irony of relativity, that is hurling everything at its disposal at you. Like a time machine to 1985, where "no one is left alive", which operates in such a way that spacetime is sucked into you at a terrifying speed, rather than vice versa. People sometimes technically describe the song's main piano theme as "(proto-)disco piano pop", but slow that piano riff down and you will get a somber funeral march — which is why the sudden transitions between the fast «dance» part and the slow choral requiem part are less ad hoc than they might seem, and why Paul's frantic and terrified screams, howls, and moans in the final section also sound so natural: if you were forced to stand your ground and be battered and bruised by flying saucers, gamma rays, and all the crystal balls from 1973 to 1985, you'd probably want to howl and moan, too.

So why, exactly, do we have to do this full circle, and emerge from this headspinning vortex with a reprise of ʽBand On The Runʼ? Was it all a bad dream? Did Paul think that the coda might sound too terrifying, and decide, at the last moment, to counterbalance it with a bit more of that uplifting mood from the start? Or was it just a random «conceptualizing» mood (the more reprises, the merrier)? Perhaps we should not even ask these questions with McCartney records, where the proverbial gut-feel is always more important than whatever symbolism or conceptualism one might discover, or claim to discover. But it is nice to know that at least such questions can be asked — there is so much that is strange, barely comprehensible about Band On The Run; an ability to mystify and befuddle that Paul would be gradually losing over the next decade before completely parting ways with it sometime around the mid-Eighties.

Above all, it is a dense, «jungly» album, one where, for the first time, Paul's own personality seems to matter less than the big joys, sorrows, and surprises that the amazing, terrifying, and perplexing universe throws at you. Perhaps this, actually, is the record's biggest difference from Ram: it is de-personalized, with Paul's voice very rarely being at the center of things (often, it is either very distant, as in ʽJetʼ, or muffled, as on ʽMamuniaʼ), and occasionally swamped and subdued by things, as on ʽ1985ʼ. However, with this level of inspired songwriting, such de-personali­zation is not only not a problem, but a virtue — it makes the whole thing feel as if it is about man's being caught up in the thick of it, enjoying the benefits of freedom but still helpless against trouble, toil, death, and the march of time.

Now, before I start overthinking it all to a crisp, let me just conclude that if you have a copy of the album that includes ʽHelen Wheelsʼ on it, please relegate it to its rightful position of a bonus track. It is a fun little rocker, but it has no depth to it, its travelog lyrics are largely incompatible with the rest of the album, and its references to "never will be found" make it seem like a poor cousin of ʽBand On The Runʼ. If you really want to bring the album to a glorious completion, replace it with ʽJunior's Farmʼ — one of Paul's greatest singles whose musical and lyrical content is completely in line with Band On The Run. But since it postdates the album rather than predates it, perhaps we should save a more detailed discussion for the next review.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Pink Floyd: A Momentary Lapse Of Reason

PINK FLOYD: A MOMENTARY LAPSE OF REASON (1987)

1) Signs Of Life; 2) Learning To Fly; 3) The Dogs Of War; 4) One Slip; 5) On The Turning Away; 6) Yet Another Movie; 7) A New Machine, Pt. 1; 8) Terminal Frost; 9) A New Machine, Pt. 2; 10) Sorrow.

General verdict: Curiously, «Dave Floyd» gets better with age. Moral lesson: if you cannot write interesting songs, save up your despair and just smoke 'em in it.


Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I am about as old now myself as David was when he agreed that his next solo album could and should be marketed as a «Pink Floyd» product — but, curiously, I no longer feel those feelings of disgust and disappointment, listening to A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, as I did nearly twenty years ago, nor can I share the feelings etched in Web-stone by fellow reviewers around that time. It is not a matter of slapping generic qualitative labels like ʽgoodʼ or ʽgreatʼ onto the product — it is more a matter of intentionally or unintentionally alienating yourself from the material, depending on which particular side of it gets particularly clearly exposed to you at a given period in your life... well, you know.

I am fairly sure that, had the record been credited to David Gilmour rather than «Pink Floyd», our reaction would never have been that brutal. Even on a purely formal level, this is not Pink Floyd: Nick Mason, who had been seriously out of practice by 1987, is largely responsible here for sound effects rather than drumming — and although the recording process did result in Rick Wright returning to his old band, he is only present here on a few tracks and was not even listed as a band member in the original credits (though this was more of a legal thing). In place of Nick and Rick, there are about 18 different session musicians — drummers, keyboardists, brass players, back vocalists — helping Gilmour out, much as it happened on About Face, although the personnel is largely different. From this point of view, this is about as «Pink Floyd» as Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio is «The Beatles».

But at the same time, A Momentary Lapse Of Reason is also decidedly different in tone and style from About Face. The latter was a collection of sometimes atmospheric, sometimes embar­rassing pop songs; the former is a cohesive suite of grim, tense, sonically ambitious compositions that clearly strives to earn its labeling as Pink Floyd — regardless of whether one thinks that it does or does not achieve that goal. If anything, Gilmour went slightly over the top here, putting together the most depressingly depressed record so far in Floyd history: bleak and hopeless through and through, Lapse Of Reason is the perfect soundtrack for your average nuclear survivor, emerging from his bunker twenty years after the rest of humanity has burned away and investigating all the rubble and ashes. Play it back-to-back with Radio K.A.O.S., released the same year, and Roger's bitter, sarcastic, venomous vision of human nature will seem like Stevie Wonder in comparison. No signs of any turning tides on here, for sure. (With the exception of ʽOn The Turning Awayʼ, but even that is not a very hopeful song).

Just because the conceptual nature of the record is so clear, I would never stoop to accusing Gilmour of simply releasing the album «for the money» — it is an artistic statement, and one that is essentially true to the legacy and backstory of Pink Floyd as a band. The problems lie mainly in the spheres of songwriting and execution: Dave is a cool human being and a great guitarist, but he is not a master of thrills and hooks, he does not possess the natural eccentricity and turbulence of Waters, and, quite significantly, he does not have immunity to the sonic diseases characterizing the Eighties (although, to be fair, that flaw he shares in common with his former bandmate). All of this seriously hurts the album — a situation made even worse by the fact that most people already feel biased against a Waters-less record that dares to call itself «Pink Floyd».

It does not help that the opening instrumental almost sounds like a weak parody on the opening part of ʽShine On You Crazy Diamondʼ — same weepy blues guitar ringing against kaleidoscopic keyboards, except that the guitar licks are nowhere near as expressive and memorable, and the keyboards are simplistically glued into sticky sonic muck, rather than into sparkling, scattering diamonds; and the symbolism of the opening sound effect of oars lazily rowing across some unspecified water basin is most probably lost on the listener anyway, even if it was there in the first place. Calling this uninspired New-Age-blues piece ʽSigns Of Lifeʼ should have taken a prize in the category of «unintentional self-irony».

But it does get better. ʽLearning To Flyʼ reflects one of Gilmour's better ideas of the decade — turning his passion for flight into a metaphor for searching for a new beginning; and although there is little to recommend the song for other than its vocal melody, it should be sufficient — the optimistic buildup, the heartfelt tone, even the lyrics that get the point across so well, and yet, at the same time, a certain melancholic air implicitly felt in the chords and in the quiet, prayer-like vocal performance. It is the most cheerful song on the album, yet it is only cheerful enough to suggest an escapist way of thinking — and even that, not for too long.

After ʽLearning To Flyʼ, which seems to have survived as the only favorite of the average picky fan on this record, the territory becomes very tricky. ʽThe Dogs Of Warʼ is a typical target for criticism — its title and some of its sonic tactics are reminiscent of Animals, but the song is really just a generic slow blues-rock number, clumsily disguised as art-rock with its synth bass, keyboard explosions, generally icy production, and doom-laden atmosphere. Its lyrics are more Geezer Butler than Roger Waters ("they will take and you will give / and you must die so that they may live" is as straightforward as it comes), and its angry pathos just does not seem to come naturally to Gilmour — the man seems to be more a fan of the merciless hand of fate than of the criminal wrongdoings of evil puppeteers, and the song is more of a consciously preoccupied effort to out-Roger Roger than to follow one's own muse.

But if ʽDogs Of Warʼ is largely irredeemable, I now find it easier to tolerate and warm up to other wannabe-epic numbers such as ʽOn The Turning Awayʼ and ʽYet Another Movieʼ. Not because they are great compositions — I think that there are thousands of arena-rock exercises from the decade that are equally comparable to them and forgettable in terms of melody — but because there is something grimly seductive about their dark, grimy, ashy production, on top of which you get Gilmour's always-intelligently-moving singing and guitar playing. No excuse, however, for the lite jazz of ʽTerminal Frostʼ, with bland-as-heck sax noodling and an elevator-ish keyboard riff twirling it on the spot, or for its intro-outro parts in which Gilmour tries to give voice to his ʽNew Machineʼ; all I can say is that it would be awesome to see a true AI synthesizing its own R&B manner of singing, but it is pretty ugly to have a human being doing this work for it.

All said, though, I insist that the album goes out with a bang. Just as ʽLearning To Flyʼ gave it a great start, ʽSorrowʼ gives it an even more haunting finale. Again, it might be easier to appreciate the song in live performance — check out, for instance, the version from the 2016 Pompeii con­cert, finally liberated from its silly, dated, metronomic Casio keyboard backbone — but even in its original incarnation, ʽSorrowʼ was the blackest, the dreariest finale to a Floyd record so far (and I am not sure that Gilmour managed to top it with ʽHigh Hopesʼ, which would be much more gentle and lyrical). I could easily live without its ghostly "one world, one soul" chorus, but the relentlessly grim, merciless verse flow, totally uncompromising, shutting out any chances at a single ray of light, is at least worthy of artistic respect.

Ultimately, I think that the album's poor artistic reputation has to be remedied. It is nowhere near Floyd's classic run, yet it is more of a result of reasonably graceful artistic aging than a total fuckin' disaster, let alone a «sellout», as it has been frequently branded. You do have to be a very big admirer of David's voice, words, and guitar in general to forgive A Momentary Lapse Of Reason all of its numerous sins — many of which were simply the side effect of time and circum­stances, though relative lack of creative songwriting can hardly be excused at any time. But it is more memorable and meaningful than any of Dave's preceding solo albums, and I guess the same should go for Roger's, too. And all those hospital beds on the beach were a great touch as well — come to think of it, this might be the most intimidating that Storm Thorgerson ever got with a Pink Floyd album cover.