Review Summary: So ya, thought ya, might like to go to the show?
No matter how many times I try (and believe me you, I've tried quite a few times), I still cannot manage to completely shake the feeling that Pink Floyd's The Wall
is an extremely overrated album (a controversial statement, I know, but hear me out).
In making this record, the Floyd chose to dispense completely with their trademark side-long songs (which had long characterized their earlier releases like Wish You Were Here
, and even Meddle
) so they could better tell the tale of Pink the isolated and disillusioned rock-star. Unfortunately, in doing this, there is a sense that they went a bit too far - for not only did they manage to get rid of their style of producing marathon-length tracks, but they also managed to do away with one of the biggest cornerstones of their previous albums (or indeed, any good music album at all): actually making music.
This left audiences with a compendium of loosely-bound tracks that are utterly ordinary musically ("In The Flesh", "The Thin Ice"), near-impossible to enjoy ("Vera", "Don't Leave Me Now"), or dreadfully uninspired and a chore just to sit through ("Goodbye Cruel World", "Bring The Boys Back Home"). Although all these shortcomings are tempered somewhat by a couple of truly bright moments in the album's 81-minute span (recall fantastic pieces like "Comfortably Numb", "Run Like Hell", or "Young Lust"), these highlights don't come nearly as often enough - indeed they only appear when the band actually stop trying to write concept songs and instead focus on making music for music's sake. Ultimately, the Floyd ended up spawning a monster that - although conceptually brilliant (especially for its time) - contains precious few listenable moments, and is saddled with the misfortune of being driven by one of the most navel-gazing plot-lines of all time.
But even in its inception The Wall
was always conceived as a studio album, a film, and a stage show all at once; so it stands to reason that a live performance of the album might yield a dynamic that was otherwise missing from the original studio recording. Indeed, this is exactly what Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980-1981
proves (and rather spectacularly at that): there is something utterly different about The Wall
when it is the Floyd themselves onstage, actually asking if there are "any queers in the theater tonight?". As it turns out, even on an audio-only CD (and therefore without the benefit of actual stage props and visuals), the presence of the "live" factor - along with several other visceral performance-based aspects - allow The Wall Live 1980-1981
to make a compelling claim towards being the definitive version of one of the greatest-selling double albums of all time.
The first thing that one notices about The Wall Live 1980-1981
is that it is a full 24 minutes longer than the original studio version. More importantly, these additional minutes aren't just repeated bars of aimless doodling; they are, in fact, (surprisingly) truly remarkable additions to the original songs. Many classic songs from The Wall
- like "Another Brick In The Wall Part II", Mother", or even "Outside The Wall" - are given extended solos, significant instrumental interludes, and/or additional lyrics, making them much more melodic, meaningful, and - for lack of a better term - easier to "rock-out" to. Indeed, a constant problem that plagues the original is the fact that too many songs were over even before they had gotten started - making them harder to both appreciate and enjoy. The Wall Live 1980-1981
remedies this by featuring performances which build on the bare-boned original musical sketches and then expanding upon them to create a much more accessible listening experience.
Equally as notable as these extended interludes is the presence of two additional songs that are not available on the original record: "What Shall We Do Now?" and "The Last Few Bricks". Both tracks can both be found on Side 1, and were actually only included in the setlist for the purpose of buying stage workers more time to complete the cardboard wall that was being constructed around the Floyd as they performed. Despite their less-than-illustrious origins, these two tracks (which altogether account for just over five minutes worth of new material) are an utterly addictive and welcome addition to the set: the pulsing throttle of "What Shall We Do Now?" is particularly riveting, as Waters and Gilmour combine their vocal talent to belt out frantic lines like, "Bury bones?/Break up homes?/Send flowers by phone?/Take to drink?/Go to shrinks?/Give up meat?/Rarely sleep?" amidst a powerfully throbbing bassline. The reprise of riffs from "Empty Spaces" and "The Happiest Days Of Our Lives" in "The Last Few Bricks" also provides some form of self-sustaining structure for the album - acting as a form of musical foil for the metaphorical wall being constructed in the background.
The live setting is itself an extremely entertaining presence, and indeed there is no better reminder of this than the Earls Court audience - who apparently decided that simple cheering and applauding were some sort of civic duty. They erupt at all the right moments, roaring their approval when the surrogate band take to the stage at the beginning of "In The Flesh?", and rupturing into mad applause when Gilmour appears atop the cardboard wall to belt out the first solo to "Comfortably Numb". The emotional weight to some already memorable lines like, "We don't need no education", and "Mother do you think they'll like this song?" is also further improved when their very delivery elicits a strong, positive reception from the crowd. Most importantly, the presence of a very appreciative audience also spectacularly rescues mundane tracks like "Vera" and "Bring The Boys Back Home", making them appear to be an entirely necessary part of Pink's back-story - as opposed to a couple of clumsy and poorly-placed filler tracks, which was the case in the original.
The Floyd's performance of the rest of The Wall
is also a prime example of fantastic showmanship: David Gilmour in particular is in top form, hitting all of the necessary guitar and vocal notes whilst still operating in perfect tandem with bassist Roger Waters. Of particular note are the pair's admirably cohesive performances of "Waiting For The Worms", "Run Like Hell", and - of course - "Comfortably Numb", where they somehow manage to sound completely at ease with each other (which of course, couldn't be further from the truth at that point in time). To Floyd devotees and students of the band's history, it is a bittersweet representation of all that the four-piece was, and all that they could have been had they only stayed together for just a little while longer.
Ultimately, The Wall Live 1980-1981
should be the only version of The Wall that you own - or at least regularly listen to. Although the original themes of self-imposed isolation are presented in much the same form, the version present here is infinitely superior to the original in design, and filled to the brim with amazing live performances that single-handedly rescue what was truly a musically mediocre album.
In other words - this one's
Author's Note: This review can also be found on my personal blog (at the address http://snuffleupagush.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/we-dont-need-no-thought-control/).