Monday, 2 December 2013
"Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies, tongue tied and twisted, just an earthbound misfit I" "There's no sensation to compare with this, suspended animation, a state of bliss" "Invisible transfers, long distance calls, hollow laughter in marble halls, steps have been taken, a silent uproar has unleashed the dogs of war" "We all have a dark side, to say the least" "Don't accept that what's happening is just a case of others suffering, or you'll find that you're joining in with the turning away" "Still this ceaseless murmuring, the babbling that I brook, the seas of faces, eyes upraised, the empty screen, the vacant look" "I have always been here, I have always looked out from behind these eyes, it feels like more than a lifetime" "The sweet smell of a great sorrow lies over the land, plumes of smoke rise and merge into the leaden sky, a man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers, but awakens to a morning with no reason for waking" "There's an unceasing wind that blows through the night, and there's dust in my eyes which blinds my sight, and silence that speaks so much louder than words, of promises broken"
Pink Floyd " Momentary Lapse Of Reason" (1987)
Signs Of Life/Learning To Fly/The Dogs Of War/One Slip/On The Turning Away//Yet Another Movie/Around and Around/A New Machine Part I/Terminal Frost/A New Machine II/Sorrow
When David Gilmour reformed Pink Floyd in 1986, despite the fact that Roger Waters considered the band to be over and finished, they were very afraid that the public at large would agree with them so they allegedly spent weeks trawling up possible names that wouldn't fall neatly into the hands of sarcastic reviewers before thinking 'sod it' and coming up with 'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason' after a line from the track 'One Slip'. Amazingly, none of the reviewers of the day picked up on the title - contemporary reviews were rather kinder to this album than fans have been in the years since. So, 26 years belatedly, here's how those reviews should have read: this album was indeed the biggest 'momentary lapse of reason' in another wise great career (in case anyone thinks I'm Gilmour bashing I'm a big fan of the sequel 'The Division Bell'), abandoned proposed title 'Delusions Of maturity' is an even bigger gift to sarcastic reviewers like me; the opening track and working title shows exactly no 'signs of life' (its only the sound effect of a man in a rowing boat after all), the band can't get off the ground never mind 'learn how to fly', 'Sorrow' is exactly what I felt when I first heard it and realised how ghastly it all is and 'On The Turning Away' is what I expected every other Floydian to be doing after they heard it. I'm sorry but even Roger's comment when the album came out that it was 'a pretty poor forgery' is too kind. 'A Momentary Lapse' isn't just the weakest Pink Floyd album in their great canon, it's the only one close to being a weak album in their canon, a lap down on even the nearest competitor ('Ummagumma' I'm looking at you!) Even I was left thinking that possibly Roger was right and that the rest of the Floyd were a waste of space after this little embarrassment came out, even though it's Rick's and to a lesser extent David's songs I enjoyed the most down the years. As the Floyd's first fully fledged album since 'The Wall' ('The Final Cut' being an adapted set of outtakes updated to take into account the Falklands war) 'Momentary Lapse' should have been fantastic; sadly very little of it even approached being 'good'. To boot, every other Floyd album exists in a magic land called 'timeless' irrespective of when each album actually came out (yes 'Piper At The Gates Of dawn' is as 1967 as psychedelic socks and feedback, but only because it singlehandedly invented so much of that genre): why oh why did the Floyd finally decide it wanted to sound contemporary in 1987 of all years, hardly the most innovative or musical of years.
I've set out where I'm coming in this review then: I don't like this album very much and I can't bring myself to recommend it to anyone except to complete a collection and show up just how great every other Floyd album is by comparison. With that out of the way, let me take another tack and say why I'm amazed this album wasn't worse still and why in some ways it was better than I feared. When Roger Waters effectively called time on the band in 1985, it came at the worst possible time for the other members. Poor financial decisions meant that the band would have sunk for good had 'The Wall' not been the blockbuster hit it was and without Roger in the band (and with the - by Floyd standards - poor sales of 1983's 'Final Cut' ringing in the band's ears) raising money for this album was always going to be an impossible task. But the band had little choice - even Gilmour, the highest profile of the three 'extra' members was cancelling solo dates due to poor ticket sales. It is to both Gilmour and Nick Mason's credit, though, that they refused to give in and let the band lie because had this album gone wrong in sales terms - as so many of their intended backers and old friends asked for money assumed that it would - it would have buried the pair of them. The biggest thrill of this album is that exists at all, that the 'other three' refused to give in to someone else telling them what they could and couldn't do and that they financed the whole album themselves, cutting no corners in terms of expense (indeed, the wonderful Hipgnosis album cover is the priciest yet).
Unfortunately, with Roger gone and Rick having been booted out of the band in 1981 and only cautiously half-returning to the band (on a salaried wage rather than an equal partner, on advice from his lawyers) the band are reliant on David Gilmour to come up with songs (Nick never was much of a writer, although his pair of albums with 10cc's Rick Fenn are deeply under-rated).Again unfortunately, no one told Dave in 1984 that the Floyd were about to break up and he's just used up all the songs he has available on his patchy but under-rated 'About Face' album - a record whose songs are far superior to this album's even if everything sounds slightly muted and under-developed. Gilmour has never been the most prolific of writers (it took 12 years for him to come up with enough material for a third solo album following the last Floyd album 'The Division Bell' and even then it included no less than three instrumentals in its ten songs) and indeed had never ever filled a whole album with 'his' songs before ('David Gilmour' includes a trio of covers - the best things on the album as it happens - and 'About Face' features quite a lot of input from a post-Who Pete Townshend). Writing a whole new album on the hop was a tall order and put an awful lot of pressure on Gilmour, so it's no surprise that 'Momentary Lapse' sounds rushed and recycled in places, however much the band try to disguise this with their huge production.
What's stranger is that, given that this album started off life as David Gilmour solo album number three, there are so few of Gilmour's trademarks here. There are but two guitar solos across the whole record (arguably the most famous aspect of the traditional Floyd sound and much more instantly recognisable than Roger's 'concepts') and even Dave's distinctive voice has been smothered here, whether by production gloss or a whole host of extra voices. And if there's little of Gilmour's DNA here there's even less of what you'd think of as the de facto Pink Floyd sound. The keyboards that wash over this album (played by Dave rather than Rick according to interviews the band gave long afterwards) are artificial and cold, a million miles away from Wright's warm pulsating keyboard washes. The album is big on lyrics but short on concepts, with the first Floyd record not to be linked by a 'theme' since 'Obscured By Clouds' in 1972 even more of a hodge-podge of ideas and styles. There are no songs about isolation here (Roger's favourite theme) for instance, nothing about the differences between human beings, no return to English whimsy full of pixies and goblins from the Syd Barratt era and only one rather bad attempt at capturing the 'paranoia' of past Floyd tracks on 'A New Machine'. Suddenly Roger's line about this album being a 'pretty fair forgery' is wrong - this is an album that seems to do all it can not to sound like any past Floyd album.
In fact, many of this album's lyrics read like poetry rather than a 'proper' song. Denied the chance to work with Roger or Rick for much of the album, Gilmour tried his hand at working with several others writers. Among the ones he ditched early on was an album with 10cc's Eric Stewart, which is a shame (perhaps the fall-out between Eric and Dave's friend Paul McCartney over the 1986 under-rated masterpiece 'Press To Play' was the cause?) Perosnally, I'm surprised Dave didn't simply carry on writing with Pete Townshend as he had on 'About Face' - Pete was at a loose end in 1987 after putting so much effort into his 1985 solo effort 'White City' (which features the third and final Gilmour/Townshend composition) and having such a big name on board would surely have been a huge benefit to the album. Instead Gilmour plumped for the rather scholarly lyricist Anthony Moore and the results are rather mixed. On their own, Moore's work has a marvellous Van Dyke Parks style turn phrase ('tongue tied and twisted, just an earthbound misfit, I') but he tries too hard to be 'intelligent' like Waters always was on his lyrics and in some places really overcooks the lyrics, making them hard to sing. Had Gilmour had more confidence in his music that might not have been so much of a problem, but Dave is perhaps a little too content to leave this things up to his collaborator to bring out the best in most of them. Interestingly, as a post-script to this story, Moore finds his musical soul-mate in none other than Rick Wright, the pair's sole song together ('Wearing The Inside Out' on the Floyd's final album 'The Division Bell') a masterpiece of emotion, feeling and timing. The more reserved Gilmour simply doesn't inspire Moore to write from the heart in quite the same way, even though separately both men are as great a writer as any in the AAA world.
Of course this album was always intended as a David Gilmour solo album first of all and Gilmour may have been looking for a 'new' sound when he wrote most of this material, trying to work on a persona as far away from the Floyd sound as he could manage (as late as Christmas 1986 Gilmour still wasn't sure if this was to be a solo album or carry the Floyd name; things weren't helped by CBS executive Stephen Rabolsky hearing an early playback and claiming 'but this doesn't sound a fucking thing like Pink Floyd!') He has a point. All of the songs on 'A Momentary Lapse' seem almost defiant that they won't sound like the Floyd of old. Instead we get pop songs and heavy rock songs that could have been written by anybody with a vague bit of talent in the mid-1980s: a Michael Jackson style plea for equality ('On The Turning Away') which is almost as silly, heavy metal as done badly by Kiss ('The Dogs Of War'), retro prog rock with 80s stylings as done by Marillion ('A New Machine') and catchy commercial songs heavy on the drum sound (Phil Collins has a lot to answer for). Yes parts of the album do have a slightly Floydian flavour: the vocal chatters on 'Yet Another Movie', the lyrics to 'Learning To Fly' which recall Gilmour's first real work with the band on 'Point Me At The Sky' in `1968 and the one true David Gilmour guitar solo moment at the opening of 'Sorrow' (when the guitar is fed through a stadium's amplifiers and taped in the middle of an auditorium - so the band definitely can't be accused of cutting costs!) but these are snatches not full songs, as if Gilmour has only a tiny space to put his stamp on what should by rights be his biggest platform yet to show what he can do. Sadly a combination of a very 1980s production that makes everything sound artificial and uninteresting and lyrics that are both hard to sing and quite unlike anything else Dave has ever been involved with before ('About Face' is a rocky record with a few ballads thrown in and only comes close to this album on 'Blue Light', a song edited down cleverly from a backing track that ended up sounding nothing like Gilmour's original idea anyway). This seems like an odd thing to do for a band that are trying to reclaim back the 'Pink Floyd' name from their former partner, even fighting court cases in their claim to show that the 'other three' have the biggest claim to the group's identity (a problem that's only resolved, in their favour, almost a year after the release of this album).
Perhaps my biggest regret about the album, though, is that Nick Mason and Rick Wright are barely used. Even allowing for the fact that 'Momentary Lapse' started life as a David Gilmour solo record and that Rick joined the album sessions late, you'd think that a group of people trying to lay claim to a band name would make more use of the people in the band. Nick's characteristic loose drumming is nowhere to be heard and regular session musician Jim Keltner and Carmine Appice's appearance so high up the list of credits is not a good sign. Even granted that the Floyd hadn't played together on tour since 'The Wall' tour in 1980 you'd expect him to play some characteristic drum fills (Mason recorded three albums in the studio during this period, remember, so can't have been a million miles away from being ready, even with his 'confidence shattered by Roger' as Gilmour remembered later). Nick Mason was, apparently, 'in charge' of the many sound effects that appear through the album (thus recalling 'Dark Side Of The Moon') but even that in itself seems sad: surely these should have been decided by the whole band? As for Rick, he only got involved because his wife Franka happened to hear about the album and rang up to ask why her husband (who'd been kicked out the band by Roger in 1980) wasn't invited to play? Surely if Gilmour wanted to strengthen his hand towards being the 'real' Floyd this should have been the first thing he'd done? (Perhaps Dave and Nick felt guilty about the way he left the band in the first place?) Rick's credit for 'vocals' seems like a lie added to strengthen Gilmour's claims that this was a 'band' project and the only place where I can hear his deeply recognisable keyboard work is buried in the rather noisy finale to 'On The Turning Away' (Wikipedia states that originally Rick played the full solo on the song but had it wiped 'because it didn't fit' which is a new one on me. Could it have possibly been worse than the particularly uncharacteristic heavy metal guitar solo that replaced it?) The other keyboards on the album (which are far more 80s than anything Rick would come up with) are most likely played by Pat Leonard, Gilmour or producer Bob Ezrin, which is a shame. Rick had a lot to offer the band still (his three solo albums, two of which were released before and one after this album, might be patchy but at their best show Rick arguably had more of the 'natural' Floyd sound than Gilmour and Waters on their albums!) Surely one song alone featuring Rick and Nick would have done?
One player who does have a big hand in this album - bigger than Wright and Mason's anyway - is Bob Ezrin. Originally a friend of Roger Waters brought in to 'shape' The Wall, the sensitive producer often found himself agreeing with Gilmour in private and it was a huge shock for Roger when he tried to book Ezrin for his own solo album 'The Pros and Cons Of Hitch-Hiking' and found he was busy at work with the band he'd just left (always one to enjoy a good grudge, Waters slipped the line 'every man has a price, Bob, and yours was pretty low' into 'Too Much Rope' from 1992's 'Amused To Death'). Ezrin adds quite a deal to the songs - enough to get a co-writing credit in many cases - and arguably this album is a shared vision between him and Gilmour. The fact that Roger Waters kept 'dropping in' on the album sessions held on Gilmour's houseboat the Astoria (in theory to see how 'old pal' Ezrin was doing) only increased the tensions during this album.
Gilmour himself records that the album 'theme'; was absence, like the man-who-isn't-there on 'Wish You Were Here'. Unlike most Pink Floyd themes, however, this isn't something that grabs you the first time you hear the record. 'Yet Another Movie' does a fairly good job at conjuring up absence ('A face outside the window pane, how did it ever come to this?'), with the narrator of 'A New Machine' a more eccentric take on the same theme from an 'inner voice' subdued by day to day life and a slight hint on 'Sorrow' at something ending. But that's about it. Ezrin's take on the album was that the river setting 'imposed itself on all the songs', in reference to the fact that the band were recording on Gilmour's lovely houseboat The Astoria. However, that doesn't really apply either: yes there are 'Dogs of War' and the album starts with an instrumental-plus-sound-effects of someone in a rowing boat. But there's nothing really that links the ten songs across the album. To my ears the 'real' theme of this album is the elephant in the room (or the houseboat at least), the 'obstacles' that the band went through to make this record despite the toughness of life for all the band during the making of this record. The narrator of 'Learning To Fly' tries hard to enjoy a tranquil moment but finds that, despite all his planning, 'unheeded warnings' leaves him 'unladened, empty and turned to stone'. 'The Dogs Of War' is a sort of sequel to 'Dogs' from 'Animals', about those who survive by taking from others and treat the world as a 'battleground'. 'One Slip' must be the most unromantic love song ever made, regarding the act of falling in love as a 'momentary lapse of reason' and claiming that it's the nastiness of the outside world that draws people together. 'On The Turning Away' is a lecture rather than a song, clearly inspired by Gilmour's very noble and supportive charity work about how those attacked 'by dogs' deserve help and understanding. 'Yet Another Movie' is the moment that a relationship goes wrong frozen in time and how in time even something supportive can become a huge problem. 'A New Machine' is the inner voice of what you could have been silenced by the obstacles of life a whole life long (although 'nobody lives forever'). And 'Sorrow' ends the album with a realisation that modern life with all it's pressures and divisiveness 'is not enough', the album ending with the line that was in the running as the third possible album title 'Of Promises Broken' (which would have been my choice for album title, being not only fitting and Floydian but less open to suggestive remarks from caustic reviewers).
Some songs come close, but 26 years on the only thing about this album that comes close to being iconic and actually adding to the Pink Floyd brand is the wonderful album cover. Hipgnosis - who were passed over by Roger waters for both 'The Wall' and 'The Final Cut' - excel themselves here, picking up on a line from 'Yet Another Movie' about 'the vision of an empty bed' signifying the end of a relationship and Gilmour's request to 'represent a relationship that has left, leaving only echoes'. Exaggerating that feeling of isolation and loneliness, Storm Thorgerson and co come up with hundreds of beds snaking across Saunton Sands in Devon, implying hundreds of broken relationships. As ever with Hipgnosis, the detail is marvellous, including several references to individual songs (such as the glider from 'Learning To Fly' and a pack of 'Dogs' (of war perhaps?) In retrospect it's this very Floydian cover that gave this record the 'feel; of being a 'proper' Pink Floyd work, not the music within.
Overall, then, 'A Momentary Lapse' isn't the great return of one of the greatest bands in the universe, it's the sound of a man who'd never written a whole album before learning to adjust to life without his main collaborator and with only occasional help from his other colleagues. In many ways 'Lapse' is even less of a 'band' album than predecessor 'The Final Cut' and is full of all the mistakes you'd expect from someone trying too hard: the lyrics are often overwritten, the sound is lumpy and contemporary at a period when that was very much a curse not a blessing and there's precious little here that leaps out and screams 'Pink Floyd' at you. It's as if, with Roger gone, Dave has attempted to beat Waters at his own game as a plotter and concept artist, without realising that he already has the 'ace hand' in the 'Which One's Pink?' wars of the 1980s. Had this album simply used Gilmour's distinctive voice up front (without any production treatment), Gilmour and Wright's instantly recognisable harmonies, Gilmour's guitar (which snakes around this album a lot, although the sound is really dominated by the very 80s sounding keyboards) and lyrics that were simpler and more like those in the past then this could have been the best Floyd album in years, utilising everything the band had learnt in a 20-year-career without having to bend their musical ideas to the 'concept' (it had been 15 years since the band had released an album without any great 'link' between the songs). Given the circumstances behind the making of the record, you can't help but applaud this album and those who were involved in it, with Gilmour and Mason especially really showing their courageous side (they didn't have to make a record just then - and while money problems were one of the main motivations to make 'Momentary lapse' they could have got by without ever breathing the 'Pink Floyd' name again). If nothing else 'Momentary Lapse' shows that Gilmour 'got' the Floyd brand a little more than Waters ever did (it's not until 1992's 'Amused To Death' that the bassist makes a record that sounds even remotely like the Floyd of the past) - it's just such a shame for fans that there isn't a little more Pink Floyd here. Not the absolute travesty it could have been, then, but 'A Momentary Lapse' is still a terrible, terrible waste, with bland wordy songs and unnecessary sound effects doing everything they can to divert the ear from the fact that there's not much actual 'music' on here at all. Thank goodness that, in the end, this really was only a 'Momentary Lapse of Reason' as I'd have hated for the band's career to have ended like this....
'Signs Of Life' tries hard to sign like what the band remember 'Dark Side Of The Moon' sounded like. A moody scene-setting instrumental with a few rowing boat sound effects lightly drizzled over the top, it even sounds a bit like the 'Great Gig In The Sky' scream that punctuates the end of 'Speak To Me' on that album. The thing is, though, 'Speak To Me' was a compact medley of all the sights and sounds you'll experience over the next 40 odd minutes all mixed together in a 90 second burst of attention-grabbing interest. 'Signs Of Life' is a 4:30 instrumental that has almost nothing in common with the rest of the album and where every newcomer to Pink Floyd is going to have switched off after about three minutes. Worse yet, it's not until some two and a half minutes, when Gilmour's guitar finally puts in an appearance, that any of the band even feature: surely with so many people waiting to pounce on this album (from Roger Waters down) giving away that this is an ersatz line-up of the band this early on is a recipe for disaster? The closest thing to a redeeming feature about this song is Nick Mason's use of sound effects, presumably capturing the sound outside the very houseboat the band are recording on and all the ambience that goes with it. But surely this would have been better used without the instrumental to go with it because it really doesn't fit (indeed, the opening keyboard riff sounds like the one Dudley Simpson used every time The Master made an appearance in 'classic' Dr Who, not the sound one usually associates with a quiet day's boating on the river. That's Nick Mason speaking a made-up 'poem' near the beginning by the way, but this one is even harder to hear than the 'Psalm' in 'Sheep' (from 1977's 'Animals'), so you wonder why they bothered. Period life performances of the song used a specially shot film of David Gilmour's caretaker Landgley Iddens rowing towards his houseboat The Astoria, by the way.
'Learning To Fly' is a little more promising, an unexpected return to the late 1960s when Pink Floyd were a 'singles' band, writing catchy material that mixed a similar sense of foreboding and optimism to this song. David Gilmour doesn't quite have the lightness of touch that Syd Barrett had, but this song about Dave and Nick's shared love of flying, written to commemorate Gilmour getting his pilot license, does at least have a catchy chorus and a vague feel of old Pink Floyd. As we pointed out above, whether intentional or not this song also makes for a neat sequel to David Gilmour's first recorded song for the band in 1968 'Point Me At The Sky', which is particularly suitable seeing as that song was dreaming about what the future might be like and now, 20 years on, the narrator is looking back on his past from 'on high'. Anthony Moore's best set of lyrics for the album is still a little too wordy('My grubby halo, a vapour trail on the air') but the humble chorus line, with the narrator 'an earthbound misfit' waiting for the moment he can go back into the air, is probably the most memorable moment on the record. Some fans have seen this song as being about Gilmour's 'new' role as the chief caretaker of the Floyd after Waters' departure, which makes for a nice idea and 'proper' start to the album too, although the lyrics are just vague enough to be about anything. There's a nice moment when Nick Mason runs through the 'checks' needed before take-off, thus giving him something to do on this record and is easily the best use of sound effects on this album (usually more of a Rogers Waters forte, although he seems to have lost the knack too on his contemporary album 'Radio KAOS'). Still, though, the booming drumming sounds wrong on this song, musically weighing down the aeroplane as it's meant to be soaring (surely Nick Mason's drumming couldn't have been worse than this, even with being out of practice?!) and the song is arguably 90 seconds and one verse too long. 'Learning To Fly' is still a strong song, though and one of the album highlights, deservedly becoming a hit single although coming far short both artistically and commercially of the previous Pink Floyd 45 'Another Brick In The Wall Part Two'.
'The Dogs Of War' seems deeply wrong for the Floyd, though. Gilmour is clearly trying to tap into the edgier, darker Waters-era songs here with this tale of nasty mercenaries and law-breakers who get away with it, but without Roger's sarcasm or lightness of touch all it ends up sounding like is someone shouting about nothing (there's even a line written with Roger in mind: 'WE all have a dark side, to say the least'). One of my Pink Floyd books (the excellent 'Rough Guide to Pink Floyd') quite rightly claims that the 1980s setting of heavy drums and very period synths prematurely ages David Gilmour by about 50 years, which makes this the most middle-aged song on what is quite a middle-aged album. Musically, this song tries hard to be a second 'Money', with a sudden shift from a chugging 12/8 time to a straightforward 4/4 for the - God help us - saxophone solo. On 'Dark Side Of The Moon' this is sudden shift is chilling, even when you know the album well, signifying the sudden moment when the rich pulling the strings of world Governments finally stop playing games and zoom in for control. On 'Dogs Of War' you can hear the change signposted a mile away and it simply sounds as if the band have gotten out of step with each other. Regularly listed as the 'worst Pink Floyd song ever' in fan polls, the strange thing is that taken on their own Anthony Moore's lyrics aren't bad: they are perhaps a tad bland but have a certain poetic feel about them: 'Hollow laughter in marble halls' indeed. You can also view them as a sort-of sequel to 'Dogs' from 'Animals', with the characters working outside the law, although you suspect that Waters was rather fond of 'dogs' on his lyric while Gilmour and Moore aren't (is this another sly put-down of Waters, who clearly associates himself with 'Dogs'?!) The trouble is, though, that these lyrics are still closer to the 'Pigs' from 'Animals', the real power-behind-the-throne types who have no insight into real life but thing they can set all the rules for people to follow anyway. No, the problem comes instead, unusually, from Gilmour's music. This song doesn't have a melody line, instead it simply chugs along, with Gilmour's really unsuitable shouty vocal sung largely on one note. The fact that the title is taken from a particularly awful speech from Shakespeare's worst play 'Julius Casear' - and the fact that this is supposed to impress us - says much about the fake intellectualism about much of this album.
Thankfully 'One Slip' is much better, a U2 style song with choppy chords that belatedly add some life into this album. Perhaps the first overt 'love song' on a Pink Floyd album since at least 1972 and 'Stay', 'One Slips' is a close cousin of 10cc's 'I'm Not In Love', suggesting that Dave did end up working with Eric Stewart after all (the song is credited to him solo, though, which seems odd: his lyrics here are far superior than any of the 'guest lyricists' used on this album). The setting for love is deeply unromantic ('A restless eye across a weary room' is how the song starts and it goes downhill from there), with Gilmour's narrator questioning what made him fall in love in the first place (is this a reflection on his rather troubled marriage with first wife Ginger?) Putting the act down to a 'momentary lapse of reason that binds a life to a life', Gilmour writes some clever lyrics here about how true love means doing things 'without a thought of the consequence' and how even though the couple in the song are growing apart 'neither one wanted to remain alone'. Roxy Music' Phil Manzanera's (howon earth did he and Gilmour ever get together?!) bouncy tune is clever too, suggesting it was written after the lyrics, caught somewhere on the one hand between genuine bounce and being caught up in the moment and on the other a weary tiredness and a feeling that the song is heading equally inevitably into collapse at the song's end as the riff gradually unwinds itself. The only problem comes from yet another grotty 1980s production where the drums seem to matter more than anything else and where Guy Pratt's bass work - technically better but far less suitable than what Roger used to play - sounds so 'right on' and 1987 it wouldn't surprise if me if he was doing Michael Jackson's moonwalk while recording it. Another of the album highlights, it's a shame the rest of the album isn't up to this standard because this kind of mature pop song sounds like the sort of genre the Floyd sound most comfortable in tackling across this album.
'On The Turning Away' is a prime case of a nice song trying a little too hard. As lyrically inane as any charity single, this song doesn't even have the 'raising money for good causes so who cares?' element to it. What's odd is that, of all the AAA stars, Gilmour has probably done more for charity than anyone and not just in money terms either: adopting troubled children, selling his 'second house' to raise money for a homeless shelter, desperately keeping most of what he does out of the public eye: David Gilmour is one of life's good guys and I can't fault his values for one second. The difficulty is, this song - which urges all of us not to 'turn away' the next time we see someone in trouble - is so smug and pitying you just want to slap it in the face. There's a moment near the end where a huge great chorus of voices come in and join in that's just so tacky you can't quite believe it's happening: this song would never ever have had a hope of getting through the band's inner quality control on any other album. This is the sort of thing the likes of Michael Jackson write, when they think they're above everyone who needs help but wants to seem 'a part' of things - frankly Gilmour's seen all this suffering first hand so he should know first hand how patronising this song feels. Even the music is poor, delivered in that sort of slow weary chug that all charity singles seem to enjoy, with an emphasis given to every single blooming uninteresting word. Only the performances half-rescue this one: Gilmour's much belated first proper guitar solo for the album adds any passion into this song and even that sounds slightly wrong in context, with the full drama of the solo from 'Comfortably Numb' added to a song that's actually so light and fluffy a father would knock it over; Rick's only true accompaniment on the album, which in a slap of a face is all too clearly a repeat of what Roger asked him to play during 'The Wall' rather than his favoured style and yet he Rick still beats anything the other anonymous synth players manage on this album hands down. Perhaps I'd have been fonder of this song if Pink Floyd hadn't already got a song about the 'haves' and 'have nots' of the world spot on already on 'Us and Them' from 'Dark Side Of The Moon'. The fact that that was a Wright-Waters song, with no input from Gilmour except his superb vocal, rather says it all.
'Yet Another Movie' opens with a truly peculiar casio keyboard thump, which might have sounded all new worldly in 1987 but in 2013 just sounds like something a five year old with a keyboard in his bedroom makes up for fun. This takes up a full minute before anything interesting happens, but thankfully the song when it comes is one of the better songs on the album. Whilst I'm not sure I'd agree with Nick Mason (who considers this song a Pink Floyd classic), this collaboration between Gilmour and Pat Leonard is easily the most Pink Floyd-like on the record. Singing in clipped sentences ('Brain Damage/Eclipse' style), Gilmour's lyrics do a good job of painting a story without any dialogue on another song that's clearly about his crumbling marriage (again, why did he see the need to use outside lyricists? His words are easily are the best on the album!) Picturing a couple in disarray, the couple only really see each other 'through window panes' and the girl's absence from the narrator's house is a very Pink Floyd idea, although the central verse where Gilmour's narrator admits he's only human ('he's not the worst, he's not the best') is not something you'd ever hear Waters admit to. It's hard not to get choked up yourself as you hear the last verse, where ' a pointless life has run it's course...as he fades into the setting sun'. Even the idea of the narrator distancing himself by pretending it's not really happening to him but is 'just another movie' is an IQ several levels above everything else on this album. Musically and lyrically, this is very similar to CSN's 'House Of Broken Dreams' from 1989's 'Live It Up' - which is interesting, given that Graham Nash wrote that song based on something David Gilmour said to him around this period. Again, though, a limp production that makes Gilmour sound as if he's singing through fog lets the song down, although at least here that 'distance' does seem somewhat apt. The spoken word passages are a bit odd too - they're taken from the film 'Casablanca' and is clearly Gilmour's attempt to do a 'Waters' on 'Nobody's Home' (where a TV babbles endlessly on past Pink's unseeing eyes), but a line actually telling us that would have been nice. I'm less keen on the curious instrumental 'Around and Around' that ends the song too (and indexed as either the second half of the same track or on its own, depending what era CD you own) - and it's probably just as well that the band decided not to use a five minute version of the song they'd recorded in the end! Still 'Yet Another Movie' is one of only two songs here that really add a lot to the Pink Floyd canon and does deserve to be better known by fans I think.
'A New Machine' however, is truly dreadful and really really really doesn't deserve the 'sequel' it gets in a couple of tracks' time. It does in fact - and here I quote - seem like 'more than a lifetime' as David Gilmour has fun with the 1987 version of the vocoder Pink Floyd last used in 1977 but doesn't bother to write any actual music. The result makes Mr Gilmour sound as if he's talking to himself. Certainly no one else can possibly be interested in three verses that were best left unsaid. The paranoid inner voice that always dreams of escaping and disrupting the bland everyday activities of man, the song tries hard to build up a sense of fear with the threat 'nobody lives forever!' but instead just sounds as if the band have got ever so slightly mad. Roger Waters must have been laughing his socks off that the rest of the band thought that this was an acceptable substitute for this presence. Even the hint back at 'Welcome To The Machine' in the title falls apart, given that this song is determined that 'I've always been here'. Goodness only knows What Gilmour was thinking!
I could accept the two parts of this song (the second simply adds that 'its only a lifetime') had the song in between them had any link with what comes before or after it, but no - 'Terminal Frost' is just a rather moody uninteresting instrumental. On the plus side, it's nice to hear Tom Scott back with the band (and his sax playing here is a lot more suitable than Scott Page's was on 'Dogs Of War'), the interplay between Gilmour and Wright/Jon Carin (depending on the section of the song) has much more of the Pink Floyd DNA inside it than any of the spoof Roger Waters style songs on this album and at least this song has an actual bona fide tune, unlike 'Signs Of Life'. On the otherhand, though, there's nothing all that distinctive about this song, nothing interesting enough to excuse the 6:30 running time (did nobody like editing anything on this album?!) and compared to the much more stunning Gilmour-Wright interplay coming up on 'The Division Bell' this instrumental sounds hopeless. By the way, this sounds to me the track that comes closest to Nick Mason's playing, but all the players involved are adamant that this song uses a drum machine instead. Did they programme it so sound like Mason then? Or are we actually hearing a composite of the two? Apparently this was a Gilmour outtake he'd kept since 1978 and never got round to adding words to - that explains a lot because it would have fitted on Dave's debut eponymous album well and it certainly deserves better than to have sat in a vault for nine years, but really - is this the best the band could do?! As for the female singers - ouch!
Thankfully the album ends on a promising note with 'Sorrow', easily the best song on the album which adds some belated emotion to this rather flimsy album. Gilmour's opening solo - which reverberates around the halls of the LA Sports Memorial, hired especially for the occasion - is delicious, the only example on this album where thinking big is genuinely better. The stately solo, which sounds like a memoriam for some lost opportunity, sets the tone for a song that sounds more angry than it does sad. Again, Gilmour writes all the lyrics here and while they're as OTT as Anthony Moore's lines often are ('He talks to the river of lost love and dedication!') they are nevertheless good enough to get the message of heartbreak across. The idea of 'an outbreak of sorrow stretching over the land' is a strong one too, while the opening lyrics with the narrator dreaming of his past in 'green fields and rivers' harks both backwards (to Gilmour's 'breakthrough' song 'Grantchester Meadows', a real place in Cambridge) and forward (to 'High Hopes', which deals even more with losing the places of one's childhood. Syd Barratt would have been proud to hear his influence on this song too, not only with the nods to childhood and fantasy but with the squealing guitar work, so much looser than Gilmour's usual style. I would have liked more variation here and the unusual structure means that instead of a chorus we simply get a rather uninspired sounding middle eight in the middle ('One world! One Soul! Time Pass! Rivers Roll!' which again is uncomfortably close to Michael Jackson's 'Earth Song'). Still, I'm nit picking now - the opening is genuinely ear-catching and moving for anyone who admires Gilmour's guitar playing (in fact his performance here matches anything on the better regarded early 0s Floyd LPs, even if the production lets him down again) and the rest of the song, while not quite up to the start, still impresses with its gloomy lyrics and the room it offers the band to stretch out. Had the band put a tenth as much hard work into the other songs on this album as this 'Momentary Lapse' then this album would have been magnificent.
In the end 'A Momentary Lapse' did everything it needed to. The album sold well - much better than the band were expecting actually - and thanks to their longest tour yet made Gilmour, Mason and Wright richer than they'd ever been following their better known and higher profile releases. They'd also proved that they could release an album without Roger's input - whatever you think of it, the fact this album got finished in such trying circumstances is quite an achievement - and made the release of a new Floyd album a big event again ('The Final Cut' hadn't got half as much press as this one, but then there wasn't really a 'band' still around to promote it). The real victory here is that the album was made at all and good on the band for achieving it- it's just sad for us all these years on that what happened to be on the album seems to have been a bit of an afterthought for everybody involved. Ultimately, though, you have to measure an album by how well it stands up to everything else an artist did and 'A Momentary Lapse' is still the worst Floyd album and arguably the weakest David Gilmour solo record if you want to look at it that way too. Yes 'Learning To Fly' 'One Slip' and 'Yet Another Movie' have some clever moments and 'Sorrow' comes closest to reaching the Floyd's own high standards, but the other six songs aren't even a pretty fair forgery, they're an atrocity which should never have been released. Thank goodness the band do much better with their next and final album 'The Division Bell', divided as that album is in more ways than one...Overall rating 3/10
Other Pink Floyd review you might be interested in reading:
'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-13-pink-floyd-piper-at-gates-of.html
'A Saucerful Of Secrets' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/news-views-and-music-issue-118-pink.html
'Ummagumma' (1969) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/news-views-and-music-issue-90-pink.html
'Atom Heart Mother' (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/01/news-views-and-music-issue-18-pink.html
'The Madcap Laughs' (Barratt) (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/news-views-and-music-issue-101-syd.html
'Meddle' (1971) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-50-pink-floyd-meddle-1971.html
‘Obscured By Clouds’ (1972) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/pink-floyd-obscured-by-clouds-1972_3681.html
‘Animals’ (1977) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/pink-floyd-animals-1977.html
'The Wall' (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-76-pink-floyd-wall-1979.html
'Amused To Death' (Waters) (1992) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-96-roger-watters-amused-to-death.html
'The Division Bell' (1994) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/news-views-and-music-issue-47-pink.html
'Immersion' Box Sets (Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall) (2011/2012) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/news-views-and-music-issue-144-pink.html
Rick Wright Obituary and Tribute: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008_09_07_archive.html
This week's top ten is quite 'novel' because this week we're 'wrapped up in books' - or literature to be precise as a few poems have sneaked into our list. Every so often an AAA member will take on a literary theme, taking inspiration from a work of literature. Sometimes it's a whole album, sometimes it's just a song. Sometimes it's a novel that's causing a huge fuss at the time an album is released - sometimes it's an album released hundreds of years before the group was born. Sometimes two AAA bands take inspiration from the same work of art. Anyway, we think we've caught them all but as ever let us know if there's any AAA examples we've missed! Happy, err, reading! The ten listings are given here in the order the books were written. By the way, David Crosby still hasn't revealed which book gave him the inspiration to write 'Page 43'...
1) Unknown "The I Ching" (3-2 BC)
The I Ching, a fortune telling device, is one of the earliest texts in human history. Possibly created by Chinese Emperor Fu Xi, but probably not, the origins of the hexagrams offering words of wisdom designed to fit the caster's situation are shrouded in mystery. Hmm, mystery and seeing into the future - no wonder Syd Barrat chose this as the inspiration for one of his songs as it's his interests all over! Syd wrote the Pink Floyd song 'Chapter 24' (from the first Pink Floyd album 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn') after casting this hexagram for himself. Called 'The Returning', the lyrics to the song are taken almost verbatim and are used in the song to express hope after troubled times now that the summer of love is here. The beginning of the text actually runs 'Change, return success, going out and coming in without error, friends come without blame...' Of course, as we now sadly know, the year after the summer of love was a turbulent year, full of Vietnam, riots and the assassination of Martin Luther King and Syd has only about six months himself before sliding into a decline he never escaped right up until his death in 2006. The line about 'friends coming without blame' is especially wrong, given that the rest of Pink Floyd gradually ease David Gilmour into the band as his replacement. Then again the end of the hexagram reads 'Danger - no blame' which is about as close to Syd's sorry destiny as you can get. Perhaps chapter 23 'Splitting Apart' would have been more apt - but then that chapter wouldn't have inspired such a wonderfully warm hopeful glow of psychedelia. By the way the name of that first Pink Floyd album ('Piper') was taken by Syd from another of his favourite books, Kenneth Grahame's 'Wind In The Willows', where it is the title of chapter seven.
2 Various "The Bible" (2BC-1500 AD)
Where to start? So many bands have been inspired by The Bible - or at least the short extracts doled out to them during Sunday school/assemblies/RE lessons. Chief amongst these, amazingly, seem to be those hippie outlaws The Grateful Dead, who quote from the bible in Bob Weir's solo song 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' ('Ace' 1974) and re-tell the whole of the passage about 'Samson and Delilah' on their 'Terrapin Station' album (1977) (huh, to think they had the audacity to say longhair in the 1960s was a sign of the devil when this passage is all about overthrowing evil tyrants by gaining strength from your hair!) Another taker is Paul Simon, whose film/soundtrack album 'One Trick Pony' about a fading one-hit wonder futilely trying to carry on as a musician when no one wants to know is deliberately named 'Jonah' after the biblical sailor swallowed by a whale. The parallels between the two are huge - both are hapless figures who can't see the bigger picture and hang on to what they think they should be doing long past the point when their respective industries have spit them out (quite literally in the bible's case); as Paul puts it 'They say Jonah was swallowed by a whale, but I know there's no truth to that tale, I know Jonah was swallowed by a song'.
3) Lewis Carroll "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland" (1865 AD)
As Grace Slick once put it, the drug taking of the 1960s were inevitable after some of the Victorian novels children were given to read. Her most famous song for the Jefferson Airplane, 'White Rabbit', takes directly from this novel (and even more from the sequel 'Alice Through The Looking Glass') mentioning 'hookah smoking caterpillars', pills that change your sense of perception (making Alice 'big' or 'small') and copious references to 'mushrooms'. Why if 'Alice' had come out in 1967, like the song, it would surely have been banned - because everything in the lyrics took place in the book the censors couldn't very well censor Grace's song and so 'White Rabbit' became an anthem for the underground drug culture of the summer of love. John Lennon, meanwhile, was inspired more by the wordplay ('Alice' was one of his favourite books, inspiring 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' among others). However inspiration isn't enough for this top ten so we've plumped for The Beatles' 'I Am The Walrus', which makes references to the chapter 'The Walrus and the Carpenter'. Lennon only half-remembered the work when he sat down to wrote his song (which, contrary to popular opinion, is not gobbledegook but his rage at his teachers for telling him his writing was 'nonsense' and then having the gall to set his book 'In His Own Write' as a set text at Quarry Bank School) and later admitted that he got the song wrong, casting himself as the 'baddy' (both the walrus and the carpenter are trying to murder innocent clams by pretending to be nice and take them home with them). Goo goo ga joob indeed.
4) Rudyard Kipling "Gunga Din" (1892)
Gene Parsons' wonderful song for The Byrds 'Gunga Din' ('The Ballad Of Easy Rider' 1969) updates Kipling's Victorian parable about a soldier who bullies a native boy who then sacrifices his life for the soldier for the present day, with the band 'hippie sacrifices' that are suddenly being celebrated as Vietnam changes the ideals of so many of the 'parent' generation that peace might not be such a bad thing after all. Parsons writes the song as a letter home, 'aboard a DC8' jet taking him to America, 'chasing the sun back to L.A.' and wondering what he can wear instead of a leather jacket because 'I know that it's a sin'. Of course there's always the answer to that perennial question 'do you like Kipling?' The correct answer is 'I don't know - I've never kippled'.
5) Edwin Arlington Robinson "Richard Cory" (1897)
As we covered just a few issues ago, Paul Simon drew greatly on Robinson's Victorian poem for the Simon and Garfunkel classic 'Richard Cory' ('Sounds Of Silence' 1966). However the original 'Richard Cory' is a bit of a mouthful ('Whenever Richard went to town...he was a gentleman from sole to crown') and Simon changes all of the lyrics, whilst keeping the same theme of 'distance' between the disenfranchised workers in the factory sweating buckets for no money and the pressures of manager Cory's life that lead him to commit suicide in the last verse. Simon adds the twist ending, though, where even death seems like a better option for the overworked workers, however, who envy him even that.
6) H G Wells "War Of The Worlds" (1898)
When Justin Hayward was roped into doing Jeff Wayne's full double disc concept album based on the HG Wells album his first thought was 'I'll never hear about this again'. Indeed, the album sessions for the album took so long that it was about two years after recording his vocal that Justin suddenly found himself on Top Of The Pops at number one, singing 'Forever Autumn'. Now, there's not a single line in Wells' influential science-fiction novel about martian aliens felled by human viruses that mentions 'Forever Autumn' and just a sole line about the narrator's wife Carrie, which shows you how many changes Wayne made to the work. Still, the beginning middle and end of the book are there, even if some of the characters are changed. Ooooo-lah!
7) James Joyce "Ulysses" (1918-20)
We're back to Grace Slick again, who got so tired of reading reviews of the Jefferson Airplane's work that called them 'uneducated' that she set out to prove them wrong on the band's third LP 'After Bathing At Baxters'. Having read and enjoyed 'Ulysses', a work so difficult she knew most of her critics wouldn't have read it (note - it's probably Joyce's weakest work but his short stories are well worth reading), Grace then condensed arguably the longest single story from Western Europe into a four minute song, calling it 'ReJoyce'. The song really does do a good job at condensing the day-in-the-life of Leopold Bloom and the parallels of his life in Ireland with the Greek King Ulysses (better known by the name Odysseus, a key player in the Trojan War). Grace even gets the stream-of-consciousness feel of the work down pat ('Saxon's sick on the holy dregs' 'Molly's gone to blazes').
8) George Orwell "Animal Farm" (1945)
There are two main AAA players to have been influenced by Orwell's seminal work, a fairytale parable that's all too clearly based on contemporary cold war events and Stalin's manipulation of communism (which was actually a pretty good idea under Lenin and Trotsky until Uncle Joe got his hands on it...all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others...') The first is The Kinks, with the song 'Animal Farm' ending up on their seminal 1968 album 'The Village Green Preservation Society'. A song about escape in the country, this song doesn't have all that much to do with the novel but is clearly in Ray's mind as he comes in with those grumpy opening words 'The world is big and wild and half insane...' The other AAA album is Pink Floyd's 'Animals', which extends Orwell's metaphor by dividing the world up into 'dogs' (outsiders usually on the run from the law for speaking out), 'pigs' (the ones in charge with their snouts in the trough) and the sheep (everyone else content to live as slaves under the rules of pigs). The parallels between the two works aren't actually as close as some fans make out (there aren't any sheep in Orwell's work - instead that role is taken up by the hard-working horses who give their life to their masters and whose bodies are then sold for glue; two of the three main songs on the album began life as different songs entirely before Roger Waters had the idea of how to link the songs together). Still, you can hear Orwell's influence in almost everything Waters ever wrote - his socialist upbringing meant that Orwell's liberal leanings made him a hero in his household; no doubt his own conscientious objector father, who died at Anzio in 1943 after being forced to fight against his will, would have identified with 'Animal Farm' only too well.
9) Dylan Thomas "Under Milk Wood" (1954)
Ray Davies must have been quite a bookworm in 1968, because here's another song from the same period (which ended up as a B-side to Klassik Kinks single 'Days'). Dylan Thomas' epic work,. which tells the story of a simple mining village in Wales, tries to give equal space to all the characters. Ray, though, is more interested in 'Pollyanna Garter'. Intrigued by how much this slightly wayward youth from the 1950s seems to point the way forward to the 1960s, Ray updates the story to let her 'try and make the swinging city swing' and turns her story into yet another tale of the innocent maiden from the country hoodwinked by the pretty city lights and disreputable characters (this is Ray's favourite theme between 1966 and 1968). Polly ends up back home in the arms of her mother, promising never to stray again - but her eyes have been opened to the world now...
10) Alan Sillitoe "The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner" (1959)
Sillitoe's short story is a prototype for 'Billy Elliott' where a poor working class kid from Nottingham escapes his poverty and his street's predilection for petty crime by running long distances - as much to 'run away' from his problems as anything else. Despite being a fairly later-period Belle and Sebastian song (B-side to their 2001 single 'Jonathan David'), I'm convinced this song dates from Stuart Murdoch's days confined to bed with chronic fatigue syndrome, wishing he could run at all, never mind run away from his problems. The narrator barely mentions running: instead he's more concerned in letting his kind run away with him, 'spending the day in stories and dreaming of the time we are on stage'. Note too that despite the song's title the lyrics refer to himself as a 'middle distance runner' who knows he won't be able to get away with doing this forever.
Well, if you're in love with reading too then you've to the right place - there'll be more eyesight-reducing AAA articles and news, views and music next week!