CK Retro Review: The Division Bell by Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd’s last album was a reunion of sorts, as David Gilmour welcomed Nick Mason, who hardly played on A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, and Rick Wright, who really hadn’t been a full-time group member since The Wall sessions, back into the fold for 1994’s The Division Bell. (Roger Waters still wasn’t on speaking terms with the band.) Even though the album was not quite a return to classic form, it did contain moments of the old hypnotic grandeur and perhaps provided a little bit of closure for fans of this one-of-a-kind band. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

11. “Wearing The Inside Out”- A bit of a throwback as far as the credits are concerned, as Wright gets sole credit for writing the music and takes lead vocals on a Floyd song for the first time in decades, while old Floyd buddy Dick Parry plays the sax. Unfortunately, the sleepy jazz exotica meanders and never ignites.

10. “Cluster One”- One more atmospheric album-opening tone-setter for old time’s sake, with Wright getting a co-writing credit along with Gilmour. Alas, its New Age vibe is a precursor to the lack of edginess that would dog the entire album. A bit of the old mystery creeps in during a stark duet between Gilmour and Wright, but it’s not quite enough to make this memorable.

9. “Poles Apart”- Co-writer Polly Samson (then Gimour’s girlfriend, now his wife) has been quoted as saying that the first verse of the song was directed at Syd Barrett and the second at Roger Waters. That’s all fine and well, but neither of those verses are particularly revealing, which is a problem because the music, marked by directionless acoustic guitars, doesn’t exactly carry the load either. Not even the more aggressive full-band section at the end can bring this one to life.

8. “A Great Day For Freedom”- Gilmour’s lyric-writing, shared again here with Samson, can be frustratingly vague, something that was never a problem with Waters, who could be specific to a fault. On this stately, musically fetching  ballad, he was apparently talking about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the lack of meaningful change that followed it, but the words, while subtly suggestive, still don’t cut anywhere near as deep as the solo that wraps up the track.

THREE STARS

7. “Marooned”- Hey, this one won a Grammy, so that’s something, right? I actually like the way this instrumental feels like it’s always perched on the edge of some sort of breakthrough that never quite comes. And it’s always a kick to hear Gilmour playing those patented piercing high notes that never go out of style.

6. “Coming Back To Life”- This song is half-great and half-frustrating. The first part, with Gilmour pining for a missing love over Wright’s luscious synthesizers, promises a melancholy lullaby. But the groove that kicks in is so clunky and forgettable that it drags down everything around it. Had the band kept it sleek and seductive, it could have been a classic.

5. “Lost For Words”- Gilmour, again with an assist from Samson, gets a bit more aggressive on this track; it’s a stunner when he drops the F-bomb with that seemingly unaffected voice toward the end of the song. I know people go looking for evidence of digs at Waters in Floyd’s last two albums; if there are any, they are probably in this song. The melody is nice, but a bit more musical punch would have suited the lyrical feistiness a bit better.

4. “Keep Talking”- The spirit of experimentation that is such a big part of the group’s history is evident here, what with a cameo from Stephen Hawking and some cool effects throughout from Gilmour’s bag of tricks. It probably doesn’t justify the song’s length; come to think of it, most of the songs on the album could have been edited more judiciously to keep things sharp. Still, it’s striking in a moody way.

3. “High Hopes”- Again, this closing track like a missed opportunity of sorts. The music is ambitious and features some nifty reminders of the past, like Wright’s “Echoes”-like, icy piano notes to Michael Kamen’s stirring orchestration which sounds a lot like some of the grandiose moments on The Wall. Still, the lyrics are cumbersome and strain for the kind of impact that the music makes with little effort.

2. “What Do You Want From Me”- It’s got a wonderful groove, albeit one rehashed pretty brazenly from “Have A Cigar.” I also like the fact that Gilmour’s deviates from his fall-back vocal setting of placid dreaminess to let some emotion show through, and, as always, the backing vocalists are well-utilized. Plus, it’s nice to hear the old Gilmour/Wright harmonies in the bridge.

FOUR STARS

1. “Take It Back”- So what if it sounds more like late-period Moody Blues than classic Floyd. This track still has the focus and melodic punch that is sorely lacking elsewhere. Gilmour sings it beautifully, and those walled female backing vocals are strong. I’m not sure if Gimour is singing to a lover or to the Earth; I just know it’s the one song on the album that neither wanders off the path nor wears out its welcome, which, for a six-minute track, is no faint praise.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For books based on material which originated on this site, check out the links below.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bruce-Springsteen-Finest/dp/1442230657

 

 

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