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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.

10 comments:

  1. Are you going to review Identity by Zee, Rick Wright's band?

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    1. No. If I was going to review it, I'd have done so already.

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  2. This album is... okay, I guess. I like it, but that's about it.

    I remember when I was much younger finding out that "One Slip" was available as a single. In retrospect, I'm not sure if that was a great choice. I mean, it's an okay song and all, but isn't there something better to release as a third single? After "Learning to Fly" or "On the Turning Away"?

    Okay, you got me. Maybe not.

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    1. The third single was Dogs of War. At least worldwide. Not sure if in every country was the same. One Slip was the fourth single and not exactly a hit.

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  3. "On the Turning Away" is all right, but man, is this thing a drag. You're talking about it like it's a Swans album or something, but there's a difference between sackcloth and a wet blanket.

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  4. IMO, started the era of releasing and album to support a tour. Unlike the old days when you toured in support of an album. Only to be perfected by the Stones.

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  5. "New-Age-blues"
    Well if we can agree that The Wall was Pink "does Disco" and Animals was Pink "does garage punk" and those were the classic years then this album is not doing anything but business as usual.

    AND between this and The Final Cut. Let me just say solo Gilmour does Pink is far more easy to swallow than solo Waters does Pink. Gilmour wins!

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  6. As far as gloomy 80s records made by rock dinosaurs go, it falls considerably short next to Atomic Rooster's Headline News.

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  7. This is not a Pink Floyd album - without Waters you can't call it as it is (also other band members role is peripheral).

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  8. Laibach's cover of "Dogs of War" redeems the song quite a bit. Just sayin'...

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