Prior to 2019 my only familiarity with English group – Pink Floyd – could be found in the songs Wish You Were Here, Comfortably 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 #14: The Division Bell (1994)
For the penultimate leg of our Pink Floyd journey, we leave the 1980s behind and enter the 1990s where music has continued to change with the likes of grunge prevalent at the start of the decade and Brit Pop would follow in the mid-1990s. It had been a while since the last Pink Floyd album but now the group were ready to head back to the recording studio and work on new material.
The tour for A Momentary Lapse of Reason was actually two tours with the first running from September 1987 to August 1988. The second tour lasted from May 1989 to July 1989, so a shorter stint but touring commitments were plentiful and long lasting, finally culminating in a 1990 performance at Knebworth Park. The tours had been profitable and successful for the Floyd, even resulting in the release of a live album, The Delicate Sound of Thunder, in 1988. With live performances now over though, it was time to consider where the band would go next.
After the difficulty of making A Momentary Lapse of Reason and being at legal loggerheads with the now departed Roger Waters, it seemed that David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright were in no hurry to get back into the studio. They pursued other projects at the start of the 1990s. Gilmour and Mason raced in Carrera Panamericana in Mexico with Gilmour crashing out of the race and Mason finishing in the Top 10. A film, La Carrera Panamericana, was made in 1992 with Pink Floyd contributing the soundtrack to the film. This album was made up of previous Floyd tracks and new material but remains unreleased, other than bootleg, so has not found its way onto our pilgrimage here.
At the start of 1993, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright came together at Britannia Row Studios and spent a couple of weeks working on music. After a time, they had come up with numerous pieces so moved to Gilmour’s studio boat, The Astoria, on the River Thames to start fleshing out the music into songs. Bob Ezrin was back as producer and the group called on former acquaintances such as saxophonist, Dick Parry, and producer, Michael Kamen, to help with the new album. Crucially, Richard Wright took on a more prominent role in songwriting this time round, even though he was not contractually a full-time member of Pink Floyd. Another key element of the new album was writer, Polly Sampson. David Gilmour and his wife, Ginger, had divorced in 1990 after fifteen years of marriage, and by the time of The Division Bell he was in a relationship with Sampson. They would later marry in 1994 but she became a pivotal part of the songwriting, contributing lyrics and encouraging Gilmour to tap into his own creativity.
A Momentary Lapse of Reason had sold well but critics and fans were divided by the album. It had been recorded under extreme pressure especially with the legal battles with Roger Waters still in full flow. With The Division Bell the band had a clean slate, the chance to work on new material without any obstacles. The change of approach with Richard Wright having a more prominent role and Polly Sampson playing a crucial part pointed to a band that were trying to go back to their democratic days when all four members contributed, but there is still the need to have others come in and help keep things ticking along. Recording for the album took near the duration of 1993.
The Division Bell was released in March 1994 and was the first Pink Floyd album in seven years, the longest gap fans had had to wait in the group’s history. It was nine years since the departure of Roger Waters and nearly thirty years since Pink Floyd had first rose to prominence under the leadership of Syd Barrett. Now into a new decade, would the group have an album worthy of the Floyd canon or would their music no longer be relevant in a climate constantly changing under new groups and singers?
The opening track on the album is Cluster One which was written by David Gilmour and Richard Wright and lasts around 6 minutes. Apparently this was their first writing collaboration since Obscured By Clouds back in 1972. This instrumental opening track spends the first minute with a series of peculiar sound effects. At one point it sounds like a broken tape, then a breeze seems audible, before it changes again to a transmission of some sort. After the opening minute the music begins with Richard Wright on synthesiser, delicately setting the mood of the piece. This is soon followed by Wright on the piano and this dominates the synthesiser that now shifts into the background. After 2 minutes or so, David Gilmour comes in on guitar. This soon becomes more prominent though the music in general continues to be serene and slow. The guitar and piano now seem to shift back and forth, a sumptuous interplay between them. Approaching 3½ minutes the piano melody briefly changes while Gilmour’s guitar gathers pace. Moments later, the synthesiser also ups the ante. The interchange between piano and guitar continues for a time. Only as we head for 4½ minutes does Nick Mason enter the scene on drums, offering a gentle addition. As we reach 5 minutes Gilmour has one last foray with the guitar before Wright takes over with the piano. Mason joins him and the two see out the remainder of the piece which then segues into the next track.
Cluster One is a promising opening to The Division Bell. While instrumentals are not as appealing as lyrical Floyd efforts, this one was still delightful. David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason are the only performers here and it feels like a return to the ambient Pink Floyd of the early 1970s. While Wright was a bit player on A Momentary Lapse of Reason, here he takes centre stage alongside Gilmour, demonstrating how vital his musical input is to the group. Nick Mason has also taken on more responsibility here and you feel the benefit for the trio working in tandem. The piano is the most beautiful element of this opening song but the whole instrumentation works very well together.
What Do You Want from Me
The second track on the album is What Do You Want from Me, which was written by David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Polly Samson, and lasts just under 4½ minutes. The song is open to interpretation with the narrator directing the title’s refrain of “what do you want from me” at an unnamed person or group of persons. It potentially sounds like a romantic relationship with the narrator coming across as weary at the demands and expectations of the other person in this story. They offer them a series of things to make this person happy but none of it is enough and the narrator is left wondering what it is they are doing wrong and what they need to do to satisfy this person.
The track immediately opens with David Gilmour on guitar, backed by Nick Mason on drums while Guy Pratt takes up bass duties. Richard Wright is also audible with piano, organ and synthesiser contributions. Gilmour’s guitar soon dominates the music before he opens the first verse around 40 seconds in. On reaching the first minute we have the chorus for the first time and Gilmour is well supported by backing vocalists – Richard Wright, Sam Brown, Durga McBroom, Carol Kenyon, Jackie Sheridan and Rebecca Leigh-White. This chorus of backing singers provide some sumptuous harmonies throughout the song. There are few instrumental breaks as Gilmour works his way through each verse with the backing singers using the title refrain often. We have a brief interlude short of 2 minutes before Gilmour moves into the next verse. On 2½ minutes there are pleasant harmonies from the backing singer, moving into the chorus once more before Gilmour enters the final lyrics as we pass the 3 minutes mark. With 4 minutes on the horizon those harmonies kick back in and with Gilmour the title is uttered one last time before the track fades out.
What Do You Want from Me is a slow and steady rock number from Pink Floyd but it sounds more assured than many of the tracks on A Momentary Lapse of Reason. David Gilmour and Richard Wright composed the music here while Gilmour and Polly Samson wrote the lyrics together. Her influence is already strong as this song, musically and lyrically, is a big improvement on the last album. It doesn’t rival Roger Waters led Floyd tracks but the album overall is off to a good start with the opening two tracks.
The third track on the album is Poles Apart which was written by David Gilmour, Polly Samson and Nick Laird-Clowes and lasts for around 7 minutes. Made up of three verses and no chorus, Poles Apart sees Gilmour look deep within himself and explore his feelings about Pink Floyd and how they changed over the years. The first verse refers to Syd Barrett and how things went wrong for him with the direct result being Gilmour taking his place in the Floyd instead and enjoying the riches, fame and success that came with The Dark Side of the Moon and the albums that followed. This is clearly something Gilmour has felt guilty about, that his good fortune came out of Barrett’s sad fate with drugs and potentially mental illness. The second verse begins with the phrase “hey you” which we know from The Wall and is clearly Gilmour speaking to the now departed Roger Waters, gone almost a decade at this point from the band. Gilmour refers to Waters changing and how he saw through what he was becoming and how it ultimately fractured Pink Floyd, some might say irrevocably. The third verse is more ambiguous with Gilmour looking back at the past once more and finding some comfort. The closing line refers to the light being lost in one’s eyes which sounds like a reference to Syd Barrett once more with those eyes like “black holes in the sky” we heard in Shine On You Crazy Diamond. Some have suggested that Gilmour is remembering his first marriage ending here or that he is thinking of both Waters and Barrett again. It’s hard to say but it’s a poignant reflection nonetheless.
The song opens with acoustic guitar from David Gilmour and an organ accompaniment from Richard Wright that sets the scene nicely. We’re around 40 seconds in when Gilmour sings the opening verse. There is a brief musical interlude before he moves onto the second verse on 1½ minutes. Nick Mason joins the piece at this point, as if Gilmour’s thoughts on Barrett in the opening verse were for him, but then the second verse is for him, Mason and Wright who all were badly affected by Roger Waters. After 2 minutes we have a musical interlude with acoustic guitar and Wright on the synthesiser with the drums out of the picture. At one point we can hear what sounds like fairground noises or the circus, perhaps a metaphor for the circus that is the timeline of Pink Floyd. 3½ minutes in we start to hear church bells in the background, while Nick Mason returns again on drums leading Gilmour back in to sing the third and final verse. As we approach 5½ minutes, the last of the vocals have been performed and it’s time for a Gilmour trademark guitar solo, supported by Wright and Mason, to play out the remainder of the song. It starts to fade as we pass the 6½ minutes and gradually eases down into silence.
Poles Apart is an exquisite piece from Pink Floyd. Although David Gilmour wrote this with Polly Samson and Nick Laird-Clowes, it feels like they have helped bring out Gilmour’s thoughts. I’ve often wondered how it must have been for Gilmour, brought in to help Syd Barrett initially then ultimately replacing him. Just five years later Gilmour would be very wealthy while Barrett continued to struggle with his health and could never quite find his musical spark. Gilmour’s thoughts on Roger Waters are also intriguing, seeming to suggest he was all too aware of what Waters was becoming and we know from The Wall that Gilmour fought Waters hard at times but did not have the energy by the time of The Final Cut. Each change of personnel in Pink Floyd has been a tragic one and Poles Apart emphasises how hard it was.
The fourth track on the album is Marooned which was written by David Gilmour and Richard Wright and lasts for around 5½ minutes. An instrumental track, Marooned opens with the sound of seagulls while Wright begins the piece on synthesiser. We can also hear the sound of waves lapping against a shore so we’re either at the coast or, more likely with the title, on a remote island somewhere. We’re 30 seconds in when Gilmour’s guitar first begins and it’s quite a slow tempo he takes to begin with. We can also hear a piano accompaniment from Richard Wright and Guy Pratt is there on bass and Jon Carin supporting with additional keyboards. There is a faint bit of drumming approaching 1½ minutes as the guitar and piano mergence continues. Nick Mason comes in proper on 2½ minutes with some heavy drumming which triggers Gilmour to also up the tempo of the piece as well. The piano soon follows suit and for the remainder of the track we have Gilmour, Wright and Mason, supported by Pratt and Carin, sweeping us along with the music. When we hit 5 minutes the music begins to ease and the track starts its fade out before segueing into the next track.
Marooned is another exquisite instrumental from Pink Floyd, an ambient contribution from David Gilmour and Richard Wright. At times I had a feeling of Echoes with this one but obviously not in the same league as that track. Marooned concludes a strong opening four tracks to The Division Bell, a nice balance of carefully crafted songs from Gilmour and collaborators, along with some much-needed ambience for us just to sit back and take it all in.
A Great Day for Freedom
The fifth track on the album is A Great Day for Freedom which was written by David Gilmour and Polly Samson and lasts just over 4 minutes. The song is a reflection of the fall of the Berlin Wall which saw an end to East and West Germany and the reunion of many friends and family separated for decades. The song begins with hope and the promise of a new dawn but as it progresses we find that nothing much has really changed. The narrator talks of an increasing gulf between him and his lover, the golden days they had hoped for have failed to materialise and they are left consumed only by mutual bitterness. Some have interpreted the song as Pink Floyd celebrating the freedom of leaving Roger Waters behind with the wall being reference to the album Waters dominated, but Gilmour has dismissed this theory as nonsense.
The track begins with the music closing Marooned segueing into this one, the sound of a synthesiser for the opening seconds. David Gilmour’s vocals then come in very quickly. His voice is accompanied by Richard Wright on the piano with a synthesiser lingering in the background. After more than ½ minute the mood from the synthesiser changes slightly but the piano remains a part of the melody. Approaching 1½ minutes we revert back to the opening music with Gilmour continuing to sing throughout the track at this stage. It’s only as we approach the 2 minutes mark that we first hear Nick Mason on the drums and this triggers a building intensity in the song as Gilmour rounds out the last of his vocals. When we reach 2½ minutes Gilmour sings the final line before launching into a guitar solo and leading a musical denouement that continues for the remainder of the song. Background harmonies are just about audible as we near 3½ minutes but the music begins to fade out as soon as we reach the 4 minutes mark.
A Great Day for Freedom is another good showcase for the interchange between David Gilmour and Richard Wright. You really do feel Wright’s presence on this album and it is most welcome, I have to say. The song addresses some key themes and ideas with its depiction of the Berlin Wall and how single moments are potentially symbols of great change but often they do not come to fruition. The song begins with such hope but by the conclusion there only seems to be despair left over.
Wearing the Inside Out
The sixth track on the album is Wearing the Inside Out which was written by Richard Wright and Anthony Moore and lasts for just under 7 minutes. The lyrics were written by Moore but potentially capture the struggles that Richard Wright endured as a member of Pink Floyd, especially when Roger Waters came to dominate the group. The song itself seems to be one of isolation, someone shut away from the world but they are gradually coming back into the light of existence, one careful step at a time. They can now be heard whereas before they were silent and lost in the darkness. This sounds like Wright when his gradual lack of contributions to the Floyd, coupled with suspected depression, left him distant and withdrawn from the group at a time when divisions were already pushing the four members apart. With the shadow of Roger Waters now behind them, Wright appears to be thriving once more, a hesitant supporter on A Momentary Lapse of Reason but now a key player on The Division Bell.
The song opens with some splendid saxophone from Dick Parry, a welcome contributor on many a Floyd track. We also have synthesiser, piano and organ accompaniments all from Richard Wright. Around 1 minute into the track we hear the vocals for the first time and it is not David Gilmour, it is Richard Wright on singing duties. These are Wright’s first vocals since The Dark Side of the Moon, 21 years before. Nick Mason has now come in on the drums and supports Wright as he confidently delivers his vocals. Around 1½ minutes into the song we hear backing harmonies from Gilmour, Sam Brown, Durga McBroom, Carol Kenyon, Jackie Sheridan and Rebecca Leigh-White. Gilmour’s guitar is faint but audible in the background as the song progresses. There is a brief musical interlude just after 2½ minutes but Wright is soon back on vocals and it sounds like Gilmour is backing him this time, another great combination from the two men. Just after 3 minutes we have solos from Gilmour and Parry on guitar and saxophone respectively. Gilmour briefly takes the lead vocals as we approach 4 minutes but soon hands them back to Wright. As we head past 4½ minutes the backing harmonies return before Wright concludes his singing duties. He hands over to Gilmour to play out a guitar solo, ably supported by drums and piano. The music briefly becomes heavier as 6 minutes dawns on us but then comes down a few levels. By the time we hit the 6½ minutes mark the music begins to fade out completely.
I thoroughly enjoyed Wearing the Inside Out. It felt like a real trip down memory lane with the shared vocals between Richard Wright and David Gilmour, not to mention Dick Parry back again on saxophone. It’s almost like The Dark Side of the Moon days but the absence of Roger Waters, of course, prevents that. Wright and Gilmour combine so well vocally with Echoes, Time, Us and Them and now Wearing the Inside Out being examples of their vocal resonance with one another. What a shame they did not have more collaborations like this. The song does showcase a Richard Wright who sounds more confident with his contributions and that can only be a good thing,
Take It Back
The seventh track on the album is Take It Back which was written by David Gilmour, Polly Samson, Bob Ezrin and Nick Laird-Clowes. The song is about Mother Nature with the narrator personifying her as a lover frequently scorned. The narrator talks blissfully of being with her in the opening verse but in the second he mistreats her, pushes her hard and tests the limits and boundaries of what she is willing to endure. In the third and final verse it appears that Mother Nature has had enough and the narrator laments his inability to be aware of the warning signs. The song’s refrain of “take it back” is Mother Nature turning her wrath upon mankind for she is more powerful than we are when it comes to natural disasters that we are helpless against.
The song opens with David Gilmour on guitar and Richard Wright on keyboard or organ. Nick Mason isn’t far behind and the song builds steadily for the opening minute. When Mason’s drumming gets heavier after 1 minute, the rest of the group follows suit and Gilmour launches into the opening verse. When he reaches the chorus he is supported by Sam Brown, Durga McBroom, Carol Kenyon, Jackie Sheridan and Rebecca Leigh-White with backing harmonies once more. As we reach 2 minutes Gilmour moves into the second verse with backing vocals following soon after. As we reach the 3 minutes mark we have a musical interlude but in the background are the audible voices singing “Ring a Ring o’ Roses”, a popular nursery rhyme from school. As the music continues, Gilmour’s guitar dominates but the rest of the band are right there with him. As we approach 4 minutes, Mason’s drumming intensifies leading Gilmour into the final verse of the song. There are then three repetitions of the chorus with the backing harmonies before the music takes over as we near 5½ minutes. The track begins to fade after 6 minutes and quietly segues into the next song.
I did find Take It Back to be ambiguous with its meaning and only upon researching further did the link to Mother Nature make more sense. As with other tracks on the album, this one feels like it’s performed by a group who are very relaxed and at ease in the studio. It’s not the strongest song on the album but makes excellent use of the assortment of performers that take part in it.
Coming Back to Life
The eighth track on the album is Coming Back to Life which was written by David Gilmour and clocks in at just over 6 minutes. Gilmour has made no secret of the fact that this song is a tribute to his wife, Polly Samson. The lyrics talk of Gilmour’s dark days, presumably encompassing the difficult fallout with Roger Waters, his drug addiction during A Momentary Lapse of Reason and divorce from his first wife, Ginger. Through all of these struggles, Gilmour asks the question of Polly about where she was when he was in such a terrible place. He seems to suggest that she too was struggling, potentially in a relationship of her own that she hoped would bring joy but did not. In the end, Gilmour has found Samson and she has made him feel alive once more.
The song has a fade in from the previous track with a synthesiser initially starting the build up. Unsurprisingly, David Gilmour soon comes in on guitar and the melody is respectful and gentle as he prepares to unburden his feelings about Samson. The synthesiser remains in the background but this is all about the guitar which continues to dominate the piece. It’s 1½ minutes into the song before Gilmour delivers his first vocals. The synthesiser continues with Gilmour’s singing, capturing the poignant mood of the piece. We’re more than 2½ minutes into the song when Nick Mason’s drums up the tempo. Gilmour breaks off briefly before quickly returning with the next verse. The track is more intense now, Gilmour giving full flight to his feelings. We’re nearing 4 minutes when an inevitable Gilmour guitar solo appears. He interrupts this only once on 4½ minutes to sing the final lines before launching back into another solo. This carries us through the remainder of the track which starts to fade out after we pass 6 minutes.
Coming Back to Life is one of the strongest tracks on The Division Bell and a welcome sight with it being solely credited to David Gilmour. We know he’ll never be as strong a lyricist as Roger Waters, no shame there, but this song sees Gilmour digging deep to manifest in music what Polly Samson means to him. It’s the traditional darkness turned to light story but still beautifully conveyed through the music and Gilmour’s heartfelt vocals.
The ninth track on the album is Keep Talking which was written by David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Polly Samson and lasts for around 6 minutes. As the title suggests, the song is a study of communication and the detrimental effects to be had without it. In the song the narrator is in the dark, silent and confused but eager to reach out to someone. They can’t seem to find the words though. They don’t know what the other person is thinking and this only adds to the feeling of maladjustment and paranoia. The song is notable for the use of dialogue from the late, renowned professor, Stephen Hawking, lifted from a BT advert that Gilmour was moved to tears by. The underlying message is that we simply have to communicate with one another and not shut ourselves off from those that may be able to help. Isolation certainly did Pink no good back in The Wall, did it?
The track begins with a synthesiser and guitar combination, setting the scene slowly and carefully. We’re 1 minute in when the track begins to build. Moments later we hear the first dialogue from Stephen Hawking, talking about how mankind evolved and began to talk. 1½ minutes into the track David Gilmour begins his first vocals. Nick Mason has now joined in on the drums and the music has now gathered momentum. As Gilmour continues his vocals, he takes part in a back and forth with backing vocalists – Sam Brown, Durga McBroom, Carol Kenyon, Jackie Sheridan and Rebecca Leigh-White. The supporting harmonies once again complement Gilmour well, as the quintet have done throughout The Division Bell. As we reach 2½ minutes there is a musical interlude with Stephen Hawking’s voice once again appearing briefly. Moments later Gilmour launches into a guitar solo but Richard Wright is audible on the hammond organ as well. After 3½ minutes the organ gradually takes over the piece before Gilmour and the backing singers return briefly after 4 minutes to exchange vocals. It’s at this point that Gilmour makes use of a talk box and interchanges with the backing singers before launching into another solo as we close on 5 minutes. We hear two more snippets of Stephen Hawking and Gilmour briefly with the talkbox before the track starts to fade after more than 5½ minutes.
Keep Talking demonstrates the Floyd trademark with use of dialogue and sound effects to great effect. Lyrically the song doesn’t have as much substance as some of the other tracks but it is a thought-provoking piece all the same, especially with the inclusion of the dialogue from Stephen Hawking. I can vaguely recall the BT advert that David Gilmour was inspired by. Though it didn’t move me to tears, I still appreciate the sentiment. Communication is vital and something mankind should be grateful for in our evolution.
Lost for Words
The tenth track on the album is Lost for Words which was written by David Gilmour and Polly Samson and lasts just over 5 minutes. The song is said to be directed at Roger Waters and the difficulties that took place between him and the surviving members of Pink Floyd after 1985. Gilmour describes being in a world of uncertainty without Waters and being a “martyr” to “caution”. He recognises this is not a good approach and in the second verse decides to do something about it. The song makes reference to “enemies”, presumably manifest as Roger Waters, and Gilmour reveals that he tries to extend the hand of friendship to Waters but is told to “go fuck myself.” This is said to refer to Gilmour inviting Waters to work on The Division Bell with the album in mind as the last one Pink Floyd would record but Waters was never going to take up such an offer. I have seen suggestions that the song’s title may also refer to the absence of Roger Waters’ lyrical input to Pink Floyd, a key component missing on A Momentary Lapse of Reason and, to some extent, here with The Division Bell.
The track opens with Richard Wright on synthesiser and we can also hear the sound of footsteps before what appears to be a door slamming, possibly symbolic of Waters walking out on the group. Nick Mason soon joins in on the drums while the synthesiser shifts into a sombre mood. David Gilmour comes in periodically on guitar before remaining permanently as we approach the opening minute, his playing reminiscent of the intro to Wish You Were Here back in 1975. We’re 1½ minutes in when Gilmour begins the opening verse. There is no chorus here but after 2½ minutes we have an interlude beginning with church bells, before Wright takes over on synthesiser, with Gilmour carefully coming back in on guitar. We begin to discern some dialogue in the background and after 3 minutes we can hear an announcement at a boxing match with the winner having secured victory by knockout, a dig at Waters clearly? Gilmour begins the second verse soon after, delivering those closing lines of Roger Waters’ rebuke before instrumentals play out the rest of the track, beginning around 4 minutes in. The track begins to fade out around 5 minutes into the song and as the music recedes we hear first birdsong and then the sound of church bells, guiding us to the closing track on the album.
It was kind of inevitable that we’d have a song from Pink Floyd that would be a less than subtle dig at Roger Waters. Didn’t Paul McCartney and John Lennon do something similar when they parted ways after The Beatles disbanded? Poles Apart seemed to be a sombre look back at Syd Barrett and Roger Waters, but Lost for Words portrays a hostile situation between Gilmour and Waters, one that Gilmour does try to bridge in the end but his efforts are in vain. The more I think about the demise of Pink Floyd in the mid-1980s, the sadder it makes me feel. If only the four men could have settled their differences. What more could that quartet have achieved?
The eleventh and final track on the album is High Hopes which was written by David Gilmour and Polly Samson. The song is all about nostalgia, a chance for David Gilmour to reminisce about his childhood and growing up in days of carefree idleness and innocence in Cambridge. The song seems to make reference to Pink Floyd as well and their history. We hear mention of a “ragged band” and later Gilmour talks of watching embers from burned bridges, presumably the severance of the band from Roger Waters in 1985. The final verse talks of “desire” and also of “ambition”, perhaps the pursuit of glory that the Floyd were part of but when it came with The Dark Side of the Moon in 1973 it not only ruined them but left them under constant pressure to deliver more of the same. Through all of these moments, Gilmour continues to look to the distant horizon and long for the days of innocence when everything looked and tasted so much better. I see this as a lament to maturity and, edging ever closer to my 40th year, I find myself empathising with this yearning for simpler days when life’s challenges did not worry you so much.
The track opens with the church bells that ended Lost for Words and continue this way for a time before a piano begins to play, a light and gentle tap of the keys opens the melody. The church bells continue in the background. We’re nearly 1 minute in before David Gilmour begins to sing the opening verse. The piano and church bells accompaniment remains alongside Gilmour’s voice. As we approach 1½ minutes, the music intensifies for a time before quickly dropping back as Gilmour continues his vocals. The chorus begins as we descend on 2 minutes and there is little in the way of a break in between before Gilmour sweeps straight into the next verse. When we reach 3 minutes Gilmour’s guitar is audible for the first time and begins to dominate. The intensity of the melody continues to rise before coming full circle back to the piano and church bells segment from the beginning. Upon reaching 4 minutes Gilmour begins the third and final verse. His final performance of the chorus is an extended segment beginning around 4½ minutes into the song and lasting almost one further minute. When the last of Gilmour’s vocals have sounded, he launches into a guitar solo and is backed by the rest of the group, including an orchestral arrangement for good measure. Why not? The intense melody continues for much of the remainder of the song. When we reach 7 minutes the track begins to fade. Soon the music is gone and the church bells that began the track remain. Before we’ve reached 8 minutes the church bells have also subsided leaving a lingering silence. Towards the end of the track we can hear a faint piece of dialogue which is hard to discern. This is actually a recorded conversation between Pink Floyd manager, Steve O’Rourke, and David Gilmour’s stepson, Charlie. A strange way to end things but then the Floyd are not known for doing things the common way, are they?
High Hopes is a strong way to end The Division Bell. It starts really slowly but the piano piece with the church bells is thoroughly absorbing. The song boasts one of Gilmour’s strongest vocals as well. The lyrics are excellent too though Gilmour wrote them with Polly Samson and her creative influence clearly rubbed off on her partner, later husband. High Hopes made me think of my favourite Pink Floyd song, Time, with its mention of the past and longing for simpler days, whereas Time focused on how we take such moments for granted and only regret them when they have passed us by. This is a powerful way to end the album, a significant improvement on A Momentary Lapse of Reason.
The Division Bell came seven years after A Momentary Lapse of Reason which is a long gap by Pink Floyd’s standards. The wait was worth it though. The album irons out many of the mistakes made with the previous effort. Richard Wright and Nick Mason are more visible this time, Wright especially, and the difference in the music is amazing. Not only are the trio of Floyd members more pronounced, they sound fresh and more confident in what they are doing. The ghost of Roger Waters’ influence has clearly been put to rest here and they are now just a band moving forward and doing things their way.
The other revelation is the emergence of David Gilmour’s then partner, now wife, Polly Samson. Having started a relationship with Samson, Gilmour was clearly in a much better place here, physically and mentally, than on the previous album. Samson’s contributions to the album can not go without mention. Writing with Gilmour she clearly helped honed his lyrics and the result is some of his strongest songs. Does The Division Bell rival the Floyd albums of the 1970s? Not even close. The absence of Roger Waters is still felt even though the lyrical efforts here are substantially improved. What we do have from Pink Floyd is a solid album in The Division Bell. This more than makes up for the disappointment of A Momentary Lapse of Reason and to make that kind of progress deserves huge credit.
This is actually quite tricky with the album being so much more confident and accessible than A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Poles Apart I found deeply moving as Gilmour searched his soul and battled the demons of Syd Barrett and Roger Waters from his past. Wearing the Inside Out was very poignant as we were able to revisit how great a musician Richard Wright was and what a great singer as well. The Wright/Gilmour combo is not something we heard enough of in Pink Floyd. Coming Back to Life was also a strong contender, Gilmour’s heartfelt ode to Polly Samson and what a difference she has made in him compared to the previous album. All of that said, the plaudits have to go to High Hopes which is 8 minutes or so of pure magnificence. Carefully paced, beautifully performed and well written. An album full of tracks of equal standard would have rivalled Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of the Moon…well, almost.
Upon release The Division Bell received mixed reviews from the critics with some feeling the band were long since out of creative steam, but other feedback was favourable. The big test came with the fans and the album topped the charts in the UK and in the US so nearly 30 years after their debut album, there was still a taste and a market for Pink Floyd. Nearly ten years since his departure from the Floyd, Roger Waters was once again dismissive of his former bandmates efforts, having nothing nice to say about the album, nor about Gilmour’s partner, Polly Samson, writing songs with him. Thankfully for the group, Waters’ criticisms were largely ignored by the buying public. No sooner had the album been released than the band hit the road to begin a world tour.
The Division Bell had been another huge undertaking for Pink Floyd but the gambles had paid off with strong sales and toppin music charts. The record company would have been happy at the very least. The prospect of a world tour now lay ahead for David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason. After that, thoughts would inevitably turn to the future of the band and to the next album. A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell had both been hard slogs without Roger Waters. The question was, could Pink Floyd rouse themselves to go back to the studio once more?
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 Division Bell (1994)
10) The Final Cut (1983)
11) Obscured by Clouds (1972)
12) More (1969)
13) A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
14) Ummagumma (1969)