Review Summary: The Division Bell is an epic soundtrack for daydreams, reminiscent and introspective, and despite the flaws, it's a fitting closing chapter.
It seems, to me, that most of the hate surrounding The Division Bell is misguided. The discussion turns to “Roger Waters isn’t there, it sucks” pretty much immediately. A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the first post-Roger Waters album, was pretty awful, and Gilmour bringing in tons of guest musicians didn’t help that album’s case very much in the first place. However, The Division Bell was a bit different, as Nick Mason and Richard Wright have a massive influence on the album, and this album actually sounds like Pink Floyd. Much like many bands, greatness comes from the chemistry between the band members. Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright together had the uncanny ability to pretty much craft perfection. Roger Waters couldn’t do it alone (see The Final Cut), and David Gilmour can’t do it his own (see A Momentary Lapse of Reason), however, ¾ of that successful group teamed up on The Division Bell, and The Division Bell ends up being about ¾ perfect.
The compositions, atmospheres, and musicality of The Division Bell is as excellent as it always was. The lyrics, themes, and vocals aren’t-and that’s the album’s flaw. High Hopes, the album’s closing masterpiece is one of Floyd’s best tracks and Take it Back is one of the most enveloping Floyd performances on record. And while The Division Bell lacks lyrically and thematically, Gilmour’s prowess at creating beautiful atmosphere and songs is at top game. Its laid back, deep, layered, and has a very airy, spacey theme throughout the entirety of the album. Marooned, the Grammy winning instrumental from this album, is truly an experience through headphones. Wright’s keyboards are thinly layered in a lush backdrop as Gilmour’s piercing guitar moves through the track. All the tracks are very poppy and reliant on the ambience Wright’s keyboards create. And, outside of Gilmour’s bitter What Do You Want From Me, the songs rarely rise to levels that could be considered loud. This, could be another reason The Division Bell was so highly debated.
Floyd has carried a very distinctive sound throughout their post Ummagumma days, more than likely due to the combination of Wright’s keyboard work and Gilmour’s guitar playing. Many felt this album didn’t really sound like Pink Floyd, and I’d have to wholefully disagree. The intricate slow growth and the mournful piano mixed with the quiet, nearly-whispering vocals of High Hopes easily could have found it’s place on Wish You Were Here. Wearing the Inside Out’s slow quiet organ and saxophone is reminiscent of tracks from Meddle. Every track is instantly distinguishable as a track from this era of Pink Floyd, but it still sounds like Pink Floyd should. However, Gilmour seemingly went a bit overboard in attempt to make this album sound progressive-the entire middle section of Poles Apart nearly ruins the introspective beginning, and Steven Hawking’s talkbox vocals sounds stupid as hell in the classic rock groove of Keep Talking. The female choir that randomly returns throughout nearly dooms the album into the dreaded adult alternative genre. And not to mention, the sardonic, antagonistic yet thought-provoking lyrics Waters penned (classics like “And by the way, Which one’s Pink?” or “You gotta be able to pick out the easy meat with your ears closed) has been replaced with Gilmour’s less intellectual lines like “She [mother earth] can take it back some day”. Not to mention the incessant complaining about Waters’ departure and fan backlash gets old after a while. Gilmour's voice loses its magic too, as another perk to Floyd in the past was the uncanny singing duo of Waters and Gilmour.
The downfalls are forgivable because Gilmour’s guitar work is better than ever, so are his vocals, and Wright creates a soundtrack to daydreams. So many songs are anthemic to the core, itching for lighters in a concert venue like the sing-a-long Lost for Words. And High Hopes’ pure emotion is enough to inspire anyone. It comes in, pounding on the piano with reflective anger and lush instrumentation, complemented by Gilmour’s best guitar solo and the resurgent bell in the background, fading away like an allegory of Pink Floyd. The Division Bell is a fitting ending to the chapter of the band that turned music into an art. The beauty, self-reflection, and atmosphere rides up and down through every emotion as Gilmour croons mournfully through lots of the songs. Yes, it’s sad, but it’s also hopeful, reminiscent, and memorable; what else can you ask for from a Pink Floyd album? It’s just another one of Pink Floyd’s endless string of great albums, but is David Gilmour’s crowning jewel.