Review Summary: The Dark Side of the Moon is an album that's stood the test of time because of its scathing criticisms of Western society that were as relevant in 1973 as they are in 2019. Combining witty lyricism with atmospheric and highly-textured produced, it's a ver
To many, The Dark Side of the Moon is a revelatory album. Call it entry-level, call it basic, call it bloated, call it outdated; some of these criticisms are correct, but for millions of people, it's a unique album that genuinely has the power to change people's lives and their perceptions of music. Back when this rapidly shot up to #1 in 1973, and today in a drastically different culture of music in 2019, this album is still powerful and massive. It's timeless for a variety of reasons, but largely because a. this sounds like a product of its times, combining the psychedelia of the late '60s/early '70s with the psuedo-philosophical bull*** of early '70s prog rock, yet it still sounds like something polished and well-furnished enough to be modern, and b. because it covers topics that really haven't changed a lot since 1973, like depression, aimlessness, the problems of modern life, and the question of what life really is supposed to be about. These themes connect with everybody, it seems, from the 13-year old in the YouTube comment sections deriding modern pop to your grandfather as he's boasting of his record collection to that lonely, depressed college student who's just discovering music to your town's resident druggie who's gotten baked to this album more times than you've gotten laid. Even those who deride this album have to admit of its classic status, and for a canonized classic rock album, this has survived quite well into the '10s because, as mentioned before, it sounds like something more modern and futuristic, even though it has strong flourishes of its time. And for the third best-selling studio album of all time, this showed many people the wonders and pretenses of art rock; although it's designed as a fairly conventional pop album, it still has meaning and depth to it, unlike most albums with 30+ million sales.
The Dark Side of the Moon is a great album that's difficult to talk about because it's been acclaimed to death, its status won't change anytime soon, and everything that can be talked about it has already been talked about before. While I've had a bit of a reactionary phase against most classic rock and gone back and forth from giving this a perfect score to a decent one, I must admit that this album is still genuinely great. To me, it's one of those rare records where I have a deep and personal history with; I will touch upon that near the end of the review. Even though I like it a lot, certainly enough to be in my canon of favorite albums, I have a fair amount of reservations about it, most regarding the music, some regarding its hype. First, what's good about this album?
A lot. Most importantly, The Dark Side of the Moon gets its points across. Here, I will quickly distinguish between a conceptual album and a thematic album, because this gets tossed around as a concept album way too much for me to not say anything about it. A concept album is an album that follows a general concept or plot; it doesn't need to be specific, down-to-the-wire and linear, but it's an album that often progresses and evolves with the story and stays within its concept's framework(s). Pink Floyd helped pioneer the concept album... it's just not here. It's later on in the '70s. Hey, even one in the early '80s! The Dark Side of the Moon is a thematic album, because it follows general themes that help guide the album and point its songs in directions, but not following a specific story or concept. While the transitions here are tremendous and its atmosphere doesn't undergo radical changes, where's the story or concept? It follows general themes of loneliness, worthlessness, pessimism, philosophy, greed, etc. It plays like a concept album, with fantastic transitions, good interludes, and sequencing that lets it run as a unified and cohesive album. But there's not a ton of evolution or progress here throughout, and its songs are guided by individual themes moreso than any story.
The Dark Side of the Moon is an album set out to illustrate the modern world and reflect on its problems and the general lack of satisfaction, and yes, it's intended to provoke the audience. And that it does. Because not only are these songs well-written regarding lyrics (some see the lyricism here as pretentious prose, but it's actually really great; read the sheets for "Time", the rhyme schemes and irony of "Money", or the slow and gentle poetry of "Us and Them"), but the music is also quite rich. It's consistently atmospheric, and while its atmospheres slightly fluctuate (the moaning pains of "The Great Gig in the Sky" versus the playful jazz of "Money"), each song is still designed to express the issues of the modern world and reflect on them, whether it's by sulking or through sarcasm, and because these themes are still relevant today, it's no wonder why these lyrics are a bit more long-lasting than say, oh I don't know, "All You Need Is Love". And I guess it works well as a thematic album, as each song handles a new concept or theme that falls under the umbrella of 'hey, society is ***ed'. "On The Run" is a ***ing instrumental, unfairly criticized I must add, that expresses the feelings of being chased and rushed, invoking paranoia and feelings of powerlessness, only to flow right into "Time", which captures the feeling of not having enough time and living an unfulfilling and pointless life. "Us and Them", a title that's still relevant to today's divisions, covers war and how nothing seems to make sense, and its massive piano and organ during the choruses seems to highlight everything there is, and it's a wonderful and sparse track; it was originally designed as a part of a soundtrack, but was rejecting for being "beautiful, but too sad...". A fair description. Even the more instrumental and fluid tracks, like "Any Colour You Like" and the opener, still represent something, and the album's flow and running themes are too good to ignore.
I already covered transitions, didn't I? What's similar to transitions? Oh right, the production. I don't think there is a better Pink Floyd album in terms of production, because it makes this album that esteemed classic that (some) people love. With production any less polished or less dynamic, this would fall apart. Its sonic details are outstanding, and its fusion of progressive rock with jazz and psychedelia really works here. Some favorite moments of mine? The dazzling synths on "Any Colour You Like". The ticking leading into a huge wall of noise only to revert back into haunting solitude in the intro of "Time"; seriously, it's a great song as it is, but are there many intros better than that? "Us and Them"'s crescendo, where there are elements of free jazz and a filthy, moaning sax. The spoken word bits in "Speak to Me" and also "Us and Them". These are some of my favorites, but my main point is that the production highlights small sonic details like these that makes for a very fulfilling and grand experience, for those who smoke and those who don't smoke. Nothing feels muddy or over-compressed, and everything is mixed very well here. When an instrument needs to feel dynamic, it feels dynamic as hell, adding to that massive feel.
Lastly, it's a cohesive album that also has standout individual tracks. Whether it's a massive prog album like Thick as a Brick or a stripped album like Pink Flag, there are always going to be albums that have a lot of density and run well as albums, but in terms of individual tracks, often aren't that strong. Not that I don't love those two albums; one is one of my top 20 most beloved albums, the other is one of my favorite prog albums of all time, but both fit well into the sphere of what an album should actually be. The Dark Side of the Moon both runs as a comprehensive and fulfilling album, but also has individual cuts that can work well on their own and are worthy of special acclaim. "Time", "Us and Them" and "Money" are the big three. As said before, the intro to "Time" is unbelievably good, and the rest is also really great; the lyrics are wonderfully written and the song really evolves and progresses as all good prog rock should (most doesn't progress enough), and it's a rich and atmospheric song with a cutting-edge guitar solo. "Us and Them" is sparse for most of its run time, but worth it for the organ playing and the crescendo/climax. "Money" is a song I'm sick of hearing on the radio stations, but I don't have anything bad to say about it. It has a bass line that every artist in 1973 envied Floyd for, and its use of an odd time signature works very well. It's bouncy and more upbeat than everything before it, and the sarcasm is fun and all. But the second half's jazz section is great, and I really mean great, because it's what bumps it up from a merely pretty good track to a perfect one.
And for the reservations: I don't like this album a ton, although I have a lot to praise it for. Going off of the songs, there are a lot of songs here that are good, most great, that I really don't care for. "Breathe" and "Brain Damage/Eclipse" are really great tracks that I don't want to listen to if I'm not listening to the album. It's not just because they're largely instrumental parts to the album's cohesion, it's just that I've listened to them so many times before that they don't stick out among the crowd. Even the three highlighted cuts are tracks I don't listen to all too much because I've heard them and I don't have particularly pleasant memories with the album-something I'll highlight later on in this long, long review. There aren't any bad cuts here, and even the worst song (the opener) is still pretty good. And as the album's iconoclasts love pointing out, it's a tiring album that can be a bit boring. I don't listen to it much because there aren't many times where I really want to, and there aren't many where it really hits the spot. And while it's an excellent album, I admit that there are times where it just feels boring or just not my cup of tea. And even when I'm in the mood, there are better albums I'd prefer to listen to. If I listened to this everyday like I did when I was 14, I would eventually grow tired of it, which is why I only put this on every few months. And it hits the spot when I do. But I guess it's why I lashed out against "Money" a while ago (classic rock radio made me turn against a lot of canon songs, actually, but I still can't criticize Money). If I want a spacey nocturnal album, I can put on In a Silent Way. If I want an album critical of society that contrasts depressing music with more upbeat conventional stuff, there's OK Computer. If I want to curl up in a blanket drinking early grey tea at night to reflect on everything that's gone wrong with my life, I might pick this. Or I could play "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" on repeat.
Perhaps my biggest issue is that it's an unbelievably entry-level and basic album. I guess it's cool that the third best-selling studio album of all time falls under prog rock, and it definitely exposed the masses to a genre which wasn't too popular at the time, but it's simply inferior to many great albums in the prog rock sphere-both canonized and more obscure-and there were more ambitious and interesting albums that received far less acclaim and commercial harvesting. Even for 1973's standards, this undermines a ton of fantastic albums: my personal favorite of all time, For Your Pleasure, an amazing art rock album that combined glam with prog, Larks' Tongues in Aspic, a more chaotic and ambitious progressive rock record that's unbelievably better, Selling England by the Pound, a career high for Genesis that's a greatly fun prog record, Future Days, an ambient-meets-Krautrock record which is more fun and easygoing, Innervisions, a psychedelic soul masterpiece which also works with jazz a lot, Paris 1919, an album which partially criticizes society but in a far more exciting and fresh sound, and a last example, Faust IV, which is another example of studio pioneering. Now, I prefer most of these albums, but even those that are inferior to The Dark Side of the Moon still are often overlooked in its shadow and their prospects of the 'best of the year' accolade are cancelled. Sad, really. For progressive rock's standards, this is one of the best, but there are many better ones. Yes, King Crimson are a unique band in the prog sphere, but for good reasons: their improvisational and avant-garde style of prog is far more interesting and rewarding, and sometimes words are very unnecessary. The more playful, and sometimes technical, prog is generally better and far less dull than this, which drags at times. The jazz rock flourishes here I do quite like, and I wish more prog included, so it does have a one-up on most prog records because of that. But for its status as the biggest prog record, this is a bit pathetic because it was beat before its foundation and after its foundation. At least, in my opinion.
To transition into the final section of this unbearably long review, this album doesn't provoke particularly fond or sunny memories in me, and it has some brutal reminders that I don't want to think about when I listen to it. This will make more sense to those who read my reviews for The Wall and Wish You Were Here. Recapping seems silly because this album is where I began my personal connection to Pink Floyd's music.
Anyways, The Dark Side of the Moon marks the period of when my depression really began to develop. Actually, it had already developed by the time I started really listening to this. I reckon, June 2014? But it was still developing and growing worse. I don't know how I discovered this album, but I did, and it didn't help anything. My social isolation and my bottling up of emotions (needless to say, therapy wasn't really helpful at this point) kept making everything worse, and I had few outlets besides running (which reinforced my low self-esteem because I sucked at running and my social anxiety got worse with a team) and this album. And I can understand why people call it a life-changing masterpiece, and that's partially true in my case. I listened to this all the time because it represented my philosophy: the modern world has issues, I felt isolated, depressed, lonely, and felt there was no direction or genuine purpose to life, and this album was just overwhelmingly fit for me. Basic and entry-level? Definitely. But there wasn't much else that made as big of an impact on me. It made me more depressed, convinced me to isolate myself even more, and as my depression grew more severe and sporadic as bipolar disorder erupted, this album was in even heavier rotation. This was before I became obsessed with The Wall, which was rock bottom for me in every ***ing way possible, but I could feel every note of this album, between the emotional and soul-filled vocals on "The Great Gig in the Sky" to Waters' scathing and bitterly pessimistic lyrics on "Time", which I vibed with completely then. I can go into more depth, I won't though. While the album has a lot of passion and soul in it, it's not uplifting and didn't do anything to help my feelings that life was aimless and had no meaning. It marked the beginning of the end; I say end because ***, my life did almost end. But this wasn't rock bottom. I don't mind telling my story with mental illness because it's important to break the stigma, and I had a more distant friend commit suicide in April 2018 whose death could have been prevented by breaking the stigma, and I don't want anybody going through mental illness by themselves like I did for a while. But spending a long time focusing on it and what could've gone differently is still not something I feel comfortable about, and this album focuses on these memories for 43 minutes, which is too long for me. I can listen to it, but dwelling on these memories for that long without using it as background music is not something I ever want to do. It reminds me of one of the worst eras in my lifetime, and there's better depressing music that doesn't give me these memories. So, part of my reservations is that it amplifies past trauma and reminds me that I almost died, and the album likely made things worse. I'm done writing about this for now.
So, it's a great album, but not the greatest of all time, not a masterpiece, and not an album I can listen to a lot and still remain interested. Its highs are pretty fulfilling, and it doesn't have any major low points, and it's a very cohesive album that hits the issues with modern life quite well. It's a testament to the mess that was '70s Britain, but also connects quite well with most places in the West today; greed, aimlessness, confusion, paranoia, etc. I think that OK Computer did it better with more interesting music, but they're both fairly different records. My rating on this will likely fluctuate, but it's a great album that I can never dislike.