Music,  Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd Pilgrimage #13: A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)

Prior to 2019 my only familiarity with English group – Pink Floyd – could be found in the songs Wish You Were HereComfortably Numb, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 and Money. I loved all four songs and have for many years but for some reason I never went further into Floyd’s back catalogue or even the group themselves. I had never listened to an album, never bothered to delve into their history. I had heard the name, Syd Barrett, but knew nothing else of their story. 

If you search for Pink Floyd on YouTube you’ll find their songs, albums, documentaries and hundreds of reaction videos. A new generation of music lovers are discovering their music and having their minds blown by what they hear. Thanks to them I have decided to begin my own journey – a Pink Floyd pilgrimage, you could say – to find out more.

What drew me towards Pink Floyd was the countless comments I had seen from other Floyd enthusiasts, the same messages and appreciation for the group. They insisted that nothing else sounds like Pink Floyd, that listening to an album in its entirety was essential, that their music could help you drift into an alternate plain and that you must, simply MUST, have headphones on when you do listen to the Floyd. It sounded cathartic and I wanted to try for myself as a form of meditation, something I’ve never been good at. I did see plenty of comments suggesting listening to Floyd while high is the way to go, well, I won’t be doing that, dear reader, you will be relieved to hear though I am sure it’s an interesting experience.  

My Pink Floyd pilgrimage began earlier this year by reading two books – Mark Blake’s Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd and Martin Popoff’s Pink Floyd: Album by Album. This gave me an insight into the group’s often turbulent history as well as their extensive discography. I have also watched a few documentaries on YouTube so gained a further insight into their work. There is, however, one thing left for me to do.

Each month I will be listening to a Pink Floyd album in full and writing a reaction on this blog. I will listen multiple times – all the way through – and with headphones on. I will NOT be pausing during a David Gilmour solo and I’ll see if I can figure out which one is Pink! I will begin with The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and conclude with The Endless River (2014). In all, there are 15 studio albums to get through. By November 2020 I will have been through the early days of the band with Syd Barrett as the leader, the middle years where a close-knit quartet gradually fell apart as Roger Waters seized control, and the later years when a more democratic David Gilmour led the group in its twilight years. 

One final thing, dear reader. As far as Pink Floyd are concerned, I am a novice, a mere apprentice and know very little so what I offer here are just my opinions of their music as I take it on board. I will attempt, and likely fail, to rank the albums in order of preference and try – big emphasis on try – to select the best song from each record even though I know they are to be treated as one long piece of music. If you have insights of your own to help me, or just want to share your own love and appreciation of these music legends then please throw a comment my way.   

Time to grab the headphones and go on a journey…

 

Pink Floyd Pilgrimage #13: A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)

The latest stage of our Pink Floyd journey is one of the most difficult and harrowing periods thus far. This chapter would signal the changing of the guard and the emergence of David Gilmour as the leader of the Floyd. We began this odyssey with Syd Barrett at the helm in the first phase, while the second phase saw a democratic quartet of musicians forced to give way to the increasing influence of Roger Waters, but now a new transition was about to unfold.

Background

Having released The Final Cut in 1983, Pink Floyd did not commit to any touring to promote the record and went their separate ways. David Gilmour, mostly resigned to a passenger on the last album, recorded a second solo album – About Face – in 1984. Roger Waters’ wasn’t far behind with his debut solo album – The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking. Waters’ album was pitched as one of two ideas to Pink Floyd back in 1978 with the other being The Wall. Both Gilmour and Waters released their respective albums and toured them but they found something was different. For fans of Pink Floyd, the draw for them to live shows was the whole band and the music that came with it. The prospect of watching the guitarist or the bassist from Pink Floyd doing solo material, maybe with the odd Floyd track thrown in, just wasn’t as appealing. Gilmour and Waters swapped potentially huge venues with Floyd for smaller settings that often didn’t sell out and both had to cancel shows due to low demand. Ironically, a band who had prided themselves on anonymity, letting the music be the star of the show and their elaborate shows and projections drawing the audiences’ attention, now found themselves in the position of being almost unknown on the music scene on their solo ventures. Waters and Gilmour together in a band called Pink Floyd is what fans wanted. Only the avid, puritan Floydites seemed interested in these solo pursuits.

By 1985, two years after The Final Cut, it was time for the members of Pink Floyd to address their future. The last album had been a nightmare to record for all members, even Roger Waters, whose dominance of the group had done little to ease his anger and frustration. Waters decided that in his words Pink Floyd were “a spent force creatively” and he informed manager, Steve O’Rourke, to discuss the problem of future royalty payments. Pink Floyd had contractual obligations to continue releasing albums and Waters wished to sever himself from these commitments. When O’Rourke informed Gilmour and Nick Mason of his meeting, Waters dismissed O’Rourke as his manager and turned to Peter Rudge to help him. The beginnings of a legal tussle now emerged between Waters, Gilmour and Mason. Waters informed EMI and Columbia that he was leaving Pink Floyd and wanted to be released from his contract. He would later state that being bound to a contract and not meeting it would jeopardise future royalty payments and that Gilmour and Mason were primed to sue him for not continuing with the band. The trio’s partnership, for what it was, meant Waters could be outvoted 2:1. The case ended up in the High Court with Waters wanting to dissolve Pink Floyd, only for his lawyers to find any kind of partnership had never been officially documented. Waters then tried to prevent the use of the Pink Floyd name in any future projects but Gilmour responded with a press release confirming the group would continue. Waters reflected years later that he had not understood the complexities of the legal system and had no right to stop his former bandmates from continuing with Pink Floyd. 

In 1986, with the legal wranglings with Roger Waters still going on, David Gilmour pushed on with working on new music. At this stage it wasn’t clear whether he was preparing for a solo album or for a Pink Floyd record. With songwriting never his strong point, Gilmour worked with various people to try and find a spark to get a new project going. Gilmour eventually worked with songwriter, Anthony Moore, and began recording on The Astoria, his houseboat on the River Thames that had been turned into a studio. When the decision was made to pursue a new Pink Floyd record, Gilmour had Nick Mason back in and they also agreed to the return of Richard Wright after his wife requested that they include him. Legal difficulties meant Wright was not an official member of Pink Floyd but he was back in the inner circle. Kind of. Gilmour also contacted Bob Ezrin who had worked with the group on The Wall. Strangely enough, Ezrin had also been contacted by Roger Waters who wanted the producer’s help with his second solo album, Radio K.A.O.S. and was now apologetic for how he had treated Ezrin during The Wall. There are conflicting stories about what happened but Ezrin ended up working with Pink Floyd rather than Waters. 

What became A Momentary Lapse of Reason was recorded from November 1986 and into March 1987. With the additional help recruited, David Gilmour made no secret of the fact that without Roger Waters, Pink Floyd struggled creatively. Waters had been their de facto leader, even back on The Dark Side of the Moon, so without him the sessions were difficult. Richard Wright and Nick Mason were out of practice with the latter working mainly on sound effects and having session musicians record his drum parts. There was a lot of anxiety about what the project would turn out like and how it would be received. Gilmour wanted to take Floyd back to a previous time before the likes of The Wall and The Final Cut. Musically, they had the components to do that but without Roger Waters’ lyrics it would not be the same. In the end, Gilmour and Anthony Moore had to step up and write the songs. The remaining members of Pink Floyd knew as they completed the album that they would face intense scrutiny from the press, their fans and Roger Waters who was unlikely to bite his tongue. 

A Momentary Lapse of Reason was released in September 1987 but had involved months of struggle with legal disputes, songwriting headaches and lack of inspiration. Still, Pink Floyd had managed to record an album without the influence of Roger Waters, albeit with great difficulty. Would it be another essential instalment in the Floyd catalogue or would a David Gilmour driven Pink Floyd turn out be a disaster?

 

SIDE ONE

Signs of Life

The opening track on the album is Signs of Life which was written by David Gilmour and Bob Ezrin and lasts just under 4½ minutes. This opening song is actually an instrumental track with the only lyrics of note being spoken dialogue from Nick Mason, a recitation of a couple of lines from a poem. Signs of Life opens with the soothing sound of water followed by the creaking of a boat, bobbing up and down on the surface. There is a dripping effect in the background as the water continues to caress the boat on its journey. We’re 40 seconds in before we hear the first bit of music and it is a synthesiser that starts us off. The melody switches around early on, a brief jingle heard 1 minute in before the synthesiser takes on an eerie mood. A few seconds later we hear Nick Mason’s recitation but this is soon lost with the rising of the music. Approaching two minutes we have what sounds like an orchestra coming in to back the synthesiser work. This continues for a time before the atmosphere changes again 2½ minutes into the song. At this point David Gilmour is discernible with his guitar, his light touch on the strings seeing the melody blend in with the background music. The guitar slowly becomes the most prominent sound and this continues for the remainder of the track. The music begins to fade with around 5 seconds to go but doesn’t completely diminish as it segues into the next track. 

Signs of Life begins what sounds like a very different Pink Floyd to what we had on Animals, The Wall and The Final Cut. This is more aligned with the ambient Floyd that could still be heard on Wish You Were Here with Shine on You Crazy Diamond. The boat on the water sets the scene nicely, its symbolism or metaphor unclear at this early stage but it leaves me intrigued. The music that follows the introductory segment leaves one feeling somewhat maladjusted. There is an uneasy feeling to the mood being conveyed by the group here, perhaps the aftermath of the difficult break up with Roger Waters. Perhaps the next tracks will offer more enlightenment. 

 

Learning to Fly

The second track on the album is Learning to Fly which was written by David Gilmour, Anthony Moore, Bob Ezrin and Jon Carin, and lasts just under 5 minutes. The song is multi-faceted when it comes to its definition. Both David Gimour and Nick Mason had pursued flying as a hobby at this point and achieved their pilot licenses. The song is seen as a projection of that passion and the title suggests as much while the lyrics point to an inexplicable pull of energy, guiding the narrator down a new path. This, in turn, has seen the song being interpreted as Gilmour’s feelings about stepping out of the shadow of Roger Waters and proceeding to take leadership of Pink Floyd himself. It’s already been clear that being in charge was not something Gilmour found easy and thus delegation was brought in with various people to help. Learning to Fly has also been seen as a spiritual experience and a later verse talks of donning a halo and powering through the skies which has a celestial feel to it. As with many Floyd tracks, ambiguity reigns here. 

Learning to Fly leads straight on from Signs of Life and the music kicks in immediately. We can hear drums and a guitar riff that will be prominent throughout the track. We’re nearly 30 seconds in before David Gilmour begins his first vocals. The same rhythm continues as Gilmour takes us through the opening verse. 1 minute into the track Gilmour is joined by backing vocalists as we visit the chorus for the first time. There is a brief musical interlude and some delightful guitar work from Gilmour before he launches straight into the second verse. After the second verse and a revisit of the chorus, we’re past 2 minutes into the track when the music takes over with Gilmour’s guitar being prevalent. We are also party to some dialogue from Nick Mason in the background though his words are difficult to discern. This pattern continues for a minute or so before Gilmour’s vocals return. The music is faint here, Gilmour’s voice projecting as if from a great height. After more than 3½ minutes we are taken back through the song’s chorus once more. Passing the 4 minute mark the song reverts to a musical interlude with Gilmour playing out the remainder of the track with a guitar solo. After 4½ minutes the music gradually begins to fade out and leads us into the next track.  

Learning to Fly would be the leading single from A Momentary Lapse of Reason and you could certainly imagine this as a radio friendly hit, especially in the 1980s. It has the ingredients of a typical Pink Floyd song with a decent Gilmour vocal, guitar solos and some background sound effects. By no means a bad song, there is something that doesn’t feel quite right about the track though I am struggling to put into words exactly what it is.  

 

The Dogs of War

The third track on the album is The Dogs of War which was written by David Gilmour and Anthony Moore. An anti-war song, The Dogs of War refers to those individuals such as politicians that start and continue wars, gladly sacrificing the thousands of soldiers they send into battle while they themselves sit comfortably at home and await news of the latest progress. The song is uncompromising in its depiction of these “dogs”, reflecting how they will gladly sacrifice the lives of others for their own self-preservation. The title is said to come from a line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, but I also couldn’t help but think of the other “dogs” that Pink Floyd sang about back on Animals, those being the ruthless businessmen while in that concept it was the “pigs” that were the politicians and people of influence that handed out the orders. In the end, we have “dogs of war”, motivated purely by greed and money, with little concern for the welfare of innocent people and focused only on strengthening their own position.

The track opens somewhat eerily with what sounds like a hammond organ or even an orchestral flavour. The same rhythm continues for a time before David Gilmour sings his opening vocals around 50 seconds in. The music remains unchanged for a time as Gilmour tells us of the “dogs of war”. He is joined briefly by backing vocalists – Darlene Koldenhaven, Carmen Twillie, Phyllis St. James and Donnie Gerrard – just after 1½ minutes, and the same singers return once more around a minute later. Musically, not much is happening beyond the opening beat but when we hit the 3 minutes mark the track explodes into life with the drums and Gilmour’s guitar finally appearing. Backing harmonies are still discernible but we become lost in a Gilmour solo. Gradually the backing harmonies become more distinct and on 4 minutes the song becomes more intricate as saxophones now join in the melodies. Around 4½ minutes in the song slows down and revisits the earlier music that began the song. Drums and saxophone are still there though and moments later Gilmour comes back to sing the remaining lyrics. The backing vocals are once more discernible 5½ minutes in while the drumming and saxophone become more prominent. The track continues towards the 6 minutes mark with no fade out. Instead, it segues smoothly into the next song. 

Listening to The Dogs of War and then reading about the personnel involved creates a similar sense of discomfort to some of the tracks on The Final Cut. Richard Wright did not perform on the track for instance. Carmine Appice took on drums duty even though Nick Mason was in the studio. Mason would lament that he was too rusty to be recording drums so in essence we have David Gilmour solo here, backed by a range of musicians. I felt the track was stronger in the second half when Gilmour’s guitar came in, the drumming kicked things into life and the saxophone accompaniment was wonderful. The opening three minutes do become a little repetitive though Gilmour is giving us his all with the vocal work. The song works as an anti-war piece but it doesn’t have the bite or venom of Roger Waters’ musings on the subject. I do get a feel of Pink Floyd here but Mason and Wright’s lack of involvement makes me understand how this album is considered by some to be a Gilmour solo album in a similar way that The Final Cut is regarded as a Waters’ solo record.  

 

One Slip

The fourth track on the album is One Slip which was written by David Gilmour and Phil Manzanera, guitarist with the band – Roxy Music. The song concerns the consequences of acting on impulses without thinking things through. It describes how a man and woman meet at what sounds like a party and end up spending the night together. This strong desire for one another is acted upon, which is all good, but the problem is it sounds like no contraception is involved and thus this one night stand results in a pregnancy. The song includes the line, “a momentary lapse of reason”, which was used for the title of the album and could have meant various things but here it is the regret of acting so swiftly on one’s sexual need. This is a mistake that ultimately delivers a lifetime consequence and the refrain of “one slip” is used to emphasise this. 

The track opens with what sounds like keyboards or synthesisers and soon includes some peculiar sound effects. There is a beeping sound as if we’re in a hospital listening to medical equipment of some sort monitoring a patient. The machinery then sounds as if it has developed a fault before an alarm triggers 30 seconds into the song. Moments later we hear the first piece of drumming from Nick Mason. After the opening minute we perceive Gilmour’s guitar coming into play and shortly afterwards he begins to sing. The track becomes much heavier and pronounced now with the music. Gilmour’s vocals continue with the chorus coming in after the 2 minutes mark, coupled with backing harmonies provided by Darlene Koldenhaven, Carmen Twillie, Phyllis St. James and Donnie Gerrard once more. Approaching the 3 minutes mark we have a musical interlude with a myriad of instruments seemingly being used at this stage. Gilmour returns on vocals after 3½ minutes or so and takes us through the final verse with the chorus coming in for the last time just before the 4½ minutes mark. Once Gilmour’s final refrain of “one slip” has been uttered the track fades out completely with no segue effect into the next song. 

One Slip felt like a marked improvement on the previous two tracks, again having some of the Floyd elements I have become accustomed to but the music was more effective here than on Dogs of War. The premise to the track is an interesting and universal one as well. Many of us will make mistakes that we spend a lifetime regretting. The one here is an awkward one with a seemingly unwanted pregnancy. If this would-be couple do go through with it and have this baby I fear some tricky conversations in the years to come. I felt the mixture of music and lyrics was better with One Slip than Learning to Fly or Dogs of War. Nick Mason does feature on this track as do a wide range of performers including Bob Ezrin but, alas, no Richard Wright. This does still feel very un-Floyd like but it’s definitely a stronger track on the album.  

 

On the Turning Away

The fifth track on the album and the closing song on Side One is On the Turning Away which was written by David Gilmour and Anthony Moore and clocks in at just over 5½ minutes. This song is a protest track and taps into the zeitgeist of the time with Gilmour and Moore’s observations of an uneven and unequal world. On the Turning Away refers to those individuals that either turn a blind eye or go so far as to turn their backs on the impoverished and destitute in the world. The song iterates that there is a clear imbalance in the world especially when it comes to the gulf in wealth that can be found across all countries. I don’t know the statistics but I have read that only a tiny portion of the world’s population has the vast majority of the wealth safely tucked away in their bank accounts, whereas the rest of the population has to manage as best they can with many millions facing the very real threat of starvation or dying of exposure on the cold streets at night. On the Turning Away laments this injustice and calls on those guilty of “turning away” to face the reality that is before their eyes. In the closing segment the song even dares to dream of a time when no one will turn away again. Suffice to say, more than 30 years after this track was released the complexion of society remains sadly unchanged.  

The track opens with a subdued synthesiser or hammond organ piece. We have Richard Wright in here on the organ so it may well be him that starts us off. David Gilmour soon comes in with the opening verse but no sign of any guitar from the maestro at this stage. Instead, the music remains largely the same for the opening minute, distant, giving more clarity to Gilmour’s vocals, for the conveyance of the song’s important message. As we approach the first minute, the music begins to change. Gilmour’s guitar quietly creeps into the fold. 1½ minutes in the drums appear and the music soars. Backing vocals from Richard Wright are just about discernible here as well. On two minutes we get our first Gilmour guitar solo accompanied by some heavy drumming from Jim Keltner. Again, Nick Mason steps aside from drumming duties but does provide percussion on the track. We’re 2½ minutes in when the music starts to ease with the synthesiser/hammond organ remaining audible. Gilmour comes back moments later for the final verse and the music is loud and varied once more. On 3½ minutes Gilmour concludes his vocal duties and switches to another sublime guitar solo to play out the remainder of the track. After 4 minutes the drums gather intensity but this section is all about the guitar. After 5 minutes the music gradually begins to fade and with a handful of seconds left it has receded completely, leaving momentary (see what I did there!) silence to finish off Side One.     

On the Turning Away is, like One Slip, one of the stronger tracks on Side One of the album. The music is often exquisite here, the mood being gently introduced early on but the guitar solos from Gilmour are the real highlight. Lyrically, the track gets across its message of the injustice in the world and how more of us need to not turn away from the suffering that is visible right in front of us. The approach is quite generalised so it doesn’t cut as deeply as Roger Waters would had he penned the lyrics here. I understand from my research that Gilmour wrote the music first and Anthony Moore then wrote the lyrics to the track. I feel that this changing of the guard is what is impacting on this album. Even when Roger Waters had taken control of Pink Floyd there were no new collaborators brought in in terms of songwriting duties. The Waters’ void left here is glaring based on the opening half of the album.

 

SIDE TWO

 

Yet Another Movie

The sixth track on the album and the opening song on Side Two is Yet Another Movie which was written by David Gilmour and Patrick Leonard and lasts just over 6 minutes. The premise to Yet Another Movie is not straightforward to decipher. Gilmour himself once described it as one of his most complex compositions and as a result even he is not fully sure what it is all about. Each verse seems to tell a series of different stories and scenarios, such as “A man in black on a snow white horse” or “A girl who heard, a voice that lied”. My inkling is that we have various images and plotlines that appear in celluloid, some being themes that are used over and over again but still retain their appeal. Other ideas are more elusive and appear less frequently on the big screen. I have read through the lyrics a few times and do think we are dealing with a multitude of tales here rather than one consistent and distinct narrative.  

Yet Another Movie opens with synthesiser work from co-writer Patrick Leonard that builds up slowly through the first minute of the track. This one takes its time to get going, setting the mood and carving out the atmosphere, as if we are watching a film in the cinema ourselves. There is an eerie feeling to the music as it gradually gathers pace, accelerating as we approach that first minute. After the first minute has passed the music starts to build and we can make out background dialogue which was lifted from the 1942 film, Casablanca, well worth seeing, if you haven’t already of course. We’re 1½ minutes in when the drumming appears, shared between Nick Mason and Jim Keltner. Again, we have no Richard Wright contributing here. Gilmour’s guitar becomes audible and soon after he begins singing the opening verse. His voice sounds somewhat distorted and blends in with the varied music around him. On 2½ minutes we get our first Gilmour guitar solo, something that is always welcome. It’s only a brief one though before we’re onto the second verse. On 3½ minutes the second verse ends and we launch into a musical interlude with the synthesiser taking prominence once more. Approaching 4 minutes the drums and guitar work their way back into contention before we begin the third and final verse on 4½ minutes. When Gilmour has sung the closing line of the track, he launches into another guitar solo, accompanied by more dialogue from Casablanca including Humphrey Bogart’s message to his lover later in the film. Instead of the track fading out, the music seems to gather momentum as we approach 6 minutes with some powerful guitar work from Gilmour leading us directly into the next song.    

As with other tracks on the album, Yet Another Movie thrives more on the music as opposed to the lyrics. This was one of Gilmour’s objectives with the album, to redress the balance between lyrics and music, as he felt Roger Waters’ words had begun to take on more precedence. Gilmour has admitted himself that he isn’t 100% sure what this song is about but some of the imagery presented is intriguing to say the least. A lot of the track works well but, collectively, it doesn’t quite soar as you want it to, even though the music is often delightful. Again, Gilmour is the only one from Pink Floyd really driving this with Richard Wright absent again and Nick Mason on shared drumming duties. You can’t fault Gilmour’s dedication but we do have a variety of musicians on board here and that comes through in the sound and feel of the piece compared to Floyd’s other work.  

 

Round and Around

The seventh track on the album is Round and Around which was written by David Gilmour and lasts just over 1 minute. This instrumental track leads directly on from Yet Another Movie with the guitar piece that closed out that track being the opener to this one. We get some keyboard work here from John Carin while Tony Levin supports Gilmour with a smooth bass line in the background. The piece has barely got going before a fade out begins less than a minute into the track and soon descends into silence as we play out the final few seconds.

This is more a companion piece to Yet Another Movie than a song in its own right but it is listed separately on the tracks so has been considered as such. It’s a pleasant enough instrumental piece but it doesn’t have the intrigue of On the Run or Any Colour You Like from The Dark Side of the Moon. Also, we once again have David Gilmour and collaborators here rather than utilising Nick Mason or Richard Wright so we’re clinging on to the main pieces of the Floyd. 

 

A New Machine Part 1

The eighth track on the album is A New Machine Part 1 which was written by David Gilmour and lasts just under two minutes. The song seems to be a reflection of old age. The narrator describes the many years they have spent in one body, their interaction with the world all coming from the same place. They are weary of this existence now and find themselves waiting for the end to come. They ask the listener if they too are weary of the same waiting and offer the consolation that it will one day end for all of us. Sounds pretty bleak.

This short piece opens with vocal harmonies from David Gilmour before he sings the opening segment. The track is an experimental one with Gilmour’s voice distorted using a vocoder. He is joined on the track by Patrick Leonard on the synthesiser but the song is very much driven by Gilmour. The distorted vocals and synth arrangements are interspersed with moments of silence and this pattern continues for the song’s duration. As it reaches the closing seconds, A New Machine Part 1 segues straight into the next track.

A New Machine Part 1 demonstrates David Gilmour’s avant garde side and it is refreshing to hear him trying out new things. The track is interesting with the distortion of the vocals and the ethereal mood created with the support of the synthesiser. At less than two minutes though it’s all over far too quickly and as with other tracks we’ve had thus far there is no input from Richard Wright or Nick Mason here. It was interesting to learn from research that this was Gilmour’s first solo composition for Pink Floyd in 15 years, the previous being Childhood’s End on Obscured by Clouds back in 1972. 

 

Terminal Frost

The ninth track on the album is Terminal Frost which was written by David Gilmour and clocks in at just over six minutes. This instrumental piece opens with drum machine work from Nick Mason and we have keyboards and synthesisers with contributors to the track including Richard Wright, Bob Ezrin and John Carin. Gilmour soon comes in on guitar and there is a back and forth between him and the keyboards/piano. Around 1 minute in we can perceive saxophone segments with Tom Scott and John Helliwell being the players. The saxophone is particularly prominent 2 minutes into the piece. The melody becomes more intense and the pace picks up 2½ minutes in before a saxophone solo as we approach 3 minutes. On 3½ minutes we seem to revert back to the melody that opened the track. The music eases somewhat more than 4 minutes in and we can discern voices in the background but the words are not clear. As we reach 5½ minutes the music begins to slowly fade though chaotic noises now reverberate in the background. As we pass 6 minutes, the music ceases and we move into the next song.   

This was an enjoyable instrumental that builds steadily for a couple of minutes before bursting into life. Unlike some of the previous songs, we do have contributions from Nick Mason and Richard Wright this time and I do feel their input makes a difference. A large list of contributors are still to be found on Terminal Frost though, another reflection of the struggles the group had putting this album together. That said, the saxophone pieces are simply delightful here. David Gilmour has apparently stated the music was written years before this album was put together, perhaps when the Floyd were still a quartet.  

 

A New Machine Part 2

The tenth track on the album is A New Machine Part 2 which was written by David Gilmour and lasts less than a minute. Following on from the theme of Part 1 with old age and mortality, Part 2 has just a few lines with the narrator stating that his existence will go on, he will always have these experiences but reflects that it’s “only a lifetime.” Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing isn’t explicitly stated. 

A New Machine Part 2 follows the same pattern as Part 1 with Gilmour’s voice being distorted using a vocoder. Gilmour is on his own here, recording the vocals and doing the synthesiser work as well. We have moments of singing and music with short pauses in between before the song soon starts to segue into the album’s final track.

A New Machine Part 1 & Part 2 form a bookend to Terminal Frost but it feels like an unusual step on this second side to the album. Terminal Frost was a pleasant instrumental in its own right and would have stood well as a self-contained track. While I salute David Gilmour for the experimental approach to both parts of A New Machine, I think the pieces are too short to have any significant impact which is a shame. This section of A Momentary Lapse of Reason is coming across as muddled and inconsistent with what we have had before. Perhaps I’ve just grown too used to the Floyd doing concept albums. 

 

Sorrow

The eleventh and final track on the album is Sorrow which was written by David Gilmour and lasts just under 9 minutes. The song began as a poem Gilmour wrote before adding in the music. The lyrics draw on John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The opening verse describes a troubled landscape and residing within is a man haunted by the past. The second verse describes how the man is weakened by the truth. What truth this is we are not party to, nor do we know what it is from the past that troubles him so gravely. In the final verse the man interacts with the uninviting landscape which points to the sorrow of the title and doesn’t offer the respite of Mother Nature at its finest. This seems to be a song about regrets and lost opportunities with all that remains being the chance to mourn these moments that might have been. 

The longest track on the album by far, Sorrow opens with a synthesiser from Richard Wright which sets the mood of the piece. David Gilmour soon comes in on guitar, Tony Levin is on bass and John Carin offers keyboard support. We have the privilege of some early guitar solo work from Gilmour which eases us into the song. After more than 1 minute, Wright’s synthesiser grows more pronounced and blends in well with Gilmour’s guitar. After more than 1½ minutes we have a drum accompaniment though this is Gilmour using a drum machine rather than Nick Mason to complete the trio of Pink Floyd members. In fact, Mason is absent again on this song. Shame. We’re more than 2 minutes into the track before Gilmour’s first vocals, setting the scene for the unnamed man consumed by sorrow. We have a brief guitar solo from Gilmour on 3 minutes before he returns with the next verse. Backing harmonies from Darlene Koldenhaven, Carmen Twillie, Phyllis St. James and Donnie Gerrard are audible after 4 minutes before the track sweeps into an instrumental interval. After 4½ minutes the melody changes slightly with the interchange between Gilmour and Wright on guitar and synthesiser respectively. After more than 5 minutes Gilmour returns to sing the final verse of the song. The remainder of the track is devoted to music with a lengthy guitar solo from Gilmour, heavy drumming after 7 minutes to accompany the guitar work with the intensity showing no signs of abating. When we reach 8½ minutes the music gradually begins to fade and we slowly see out the remaining seconds of Sorrow and with it A Momentary Lapse of Reason.  

Although Nick Mason is absent from the song, Sorrow feels more like a group effort between the band members than some of the other tracks on the album. I did appreciate how this one took its time with the build up before Gilmour committed to his first vocals. The back and forth between Gilmour and Wright really strengthens the cause of this song. Lyrically it’s ambiguous but some of the imagery is striking and Gilmour himself has said it’s one of his better compositions where lyrics have never been his strong point. This is comparable to Gilmour’s own masterpiece from Atom Heart MotherFat Old Sun. It’s a strong and welcome conclusion to the album.

 

Overall Thoughts

A Momentary Lapse of Reason was always going to be a difficult album, not just to make, but for Floyd fans to receive. The fallout from Roger Waters’ departure from the group, coupled with the legal disputes that existed between him, David Gilmour and Nick Mason, inevitably cast a shadow over the whole production of the Floyd’s thirteenth album. Having made the decision to soldier on with the group, David Gilmour stepped up to be the lead man, the creative outlet for the band’s material but this proved to be a big ask. The album is full of contributions from other artists with Gilmour sharing writing credits on six of the eleven songs. It was inevitable that this would sound different to what Floyd fans were used to. Musically, there are some strong moments and a feel of the ambient Floyd of the early 1970s is evident. Instrumentals are only half of the song though and this is where the album struggles. David Gilmour is not a bad lyricist but he has admitted himself that he has no confidence with written words and it shows. Gilmour had co-writers on some of the tracks and the reality is that none of them match up to Roger Waters as a lyricist. Waters had written all of the band’s lyrics across The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall and The Final Cut. The glory years of Pink Floyd owed a lot to Waters though he couldn’t have done it without Gilmour, Wright and Mason in support. Gilmour, in particular, was crucial. However, take Roger Waters away and you have songs that are pleasant enough to listen to but are simply not memorable. Even in the early years of the band, it was Roger Waters coming up with the goods with songs such as Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun and Grantchester Meadows

There is the feeling of more harmony in A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the harmony of a group more united than during The Final Cut. Richard Wright was back in the fold but not legally part of the band. As good as it was to have him return, both Wright and Mason are absent from much of the album with no writing credits and four of the songs don’t feature either of the two men. Mason was out of practice so other musicians covered for him, while Wright slotted in alongside other performers on keyboards and synthesisers. A lot of the time, this is purely Gilmour’s baby, it feels like a solo album in places. Not every album needs to have a concept, as Roger Waters favours, but this album feels disjointed in places with some songs stronger than others. The first side is probably the stronger of the two with the latter half feeling like the group were wilting creatively before finishing in style with the closing track. I admire David Gilmour greatly as a terrific singer, a brilliant guitarist and creatively he has many gifts given his collaborations with Roger Waters such as Wish You Were Here and Comfortably Numb. I feel like everything was against him with this album though and he reluctantly took charge of the project. It was a brave decision and Gilmour should be showered with praise and respect for it but in the end the album is sadly disappointing compared to what we’ve had before. Losing Roger Waters was such a big blow to Pink Floyd.

 

Best Song

Although my overview of the album seems to be dismissive, there are some good songs on here and many of the instrumental segments are wonderful. Learning to Fly was the album’s lead single but I don’t feel this is the strongest part of the record. The instrumentals – Signs of Life and Terminal Frost – leave one nostalgic for the ambience of long ago Pink Floyd, while One Slip was the highlight track from Side One in my opinion. Side Two was a mixed bag for me but the closing track – Sorrow – proved to be the best one on the whole album. Written by David Gilmour, it has the best lyrics and blends vocals and long stretches of music together wonderfully. An album full of tracks such as Sorrow would have been amazing.  

 

Aftermath

A Momentary Lapse of Reason sold well upon release but the critics were divided. Many praised the album and applauded David Gilmour for steering the Floyd vessel as competently as he had. Others felt the music was great but that the lyrics were not up to the standard of the group’s previous albums. Roger Waters inevitably had something to say about the album and regarded it as “a clever forgery” but was brutally dismissive of his former bandmates’ efforts. It was Gilmour who had the last laugh in some respects though as A Momentary Lapse of Reason sold better than The Final Cut which is arguably a Roger Waters solo album, disguised as a Pink Floyd record. The same argument can be applied to A Momentary Lapse of Reason being a Gilmour solo album.  

It hadn’t been an easy few years for Pink Floyd but despite being largely silenced on The Final Cut, David Gilmour had stood up to Roger Waters and managed to continue the band while his former ally, now nemesis, pursued a less successful solo career. Even in a colourful and varied decade for music like the 1980s, there was still a desire for Pink Floyd. When it came to touring, Roger Waters tried to put a spanner in the works for the band by threatening to sue venues that hosted them and even tried to prevent them using inflatable pigs in their shows. How did Floyd get round this? Simple. They attached a giant penis to the pig to make it slightly different to Waters’ original concept. There you go. If in doubt, attach a giant penis and you get around libel. In the end, Waters knew he was fighting a losing battle and at the end of 1987 he met with Gilmour and the two men agreed to settle some of their differences. Gilmour and Mason were free to continue as Pink Floyd while Roger Waters gained exclusive access to some of his creative output, The Wall being the most notable. As the band entered 1988 the shadow of Roger Waters was now lifted and David Glmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright could continue as a trio known as Pink Floyd. Having released a divisive but big selling album, the question was how the band would fare when it came to their next record?

 

 

Pink Floyd Roll of Honour

1) Wish You Were Here (1975)

2) The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

3) The Wall (1979)

4) Animals (1977)

5) Meddle (1971)

6) The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

7) A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)

8) Atom Heart Mother (1970)

9) The Final Cut (1983)

10) Obscured by Clouds (1972)

11) More (1969)

12) A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)

13) Ummagumma (1969)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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