Monday, February 14, 2011

Pink Floyd 16: A Momentary Lapse Of Reason

While preparing his next solo album, Roger Waters declared that Pink Floyd was over, only to watch the bandmates he left behind carry on for another decade with two wildly successful albums and a handful of even more lucrative tours under the same moniker he tried to quash.
He had a point, of course, having felt that the brand had a high standard to upkeep, thanks to his megalomaniacal hold over the concepts driving their most recent albums and tours. But David Gilmour had ideas too, and once he hooked up with Nick Mason to help him record his third solo album, they decided that since Roger had “left the band”, in their view anyway, they were free to keep going. Knowing full well that a new Pink Floyd album would be a better, faster sell, they brought in Wall co-producer Bob Ezrin and orchestrated the conditional return of Rick Wright to help make it happen.
But putting a photo inside the gatefold and rejigging the credits aren’t enough to make A Momentary Lapse Of Reason sound anything like classic Floyd. Nick’s and Rick’s contributions are minimal, with the drums handled by the likes of Jim Keltner and Carmine Appice, and most of the keyboards having been finished by the time Rick came back. (Nick did tackle some of the sound effects, as he had on The Dark Side Of The Moon.)
The opening “Signs Of Life” is a spooky instrumental accompanied by the sound of a boat being rowed. Any calm is blasted away by the hit single “Learning To Fly”, supposedly an allegory for life without Roger but more specifically more literal than that. The canned percussion and keyboards sounded dated even for 1987. “The Dogs Of War” is even muddier, starting with a robotic beat and culminating in a sax solo, in an attempt to remind us of Dark Side and Wish You Were Here. The lyrics aren’t about to convert anyone to pacifism, either. “One Slip” has its moments, thanks to constantly rising melodies and changes, but the video game-like sounds at the beginning don’t fit at all, except to suggest a bomb about to go off. The concern for the state of the world on the slightly better “On The Turning Away” comes closest yet to the Floyd sound, but goes too far by including a mass choir on the final choruses.
The second side isn’t much better. “Yet Another Movie” takes forever to get going, and doesn’t do much when it does except give Gilmour a chance to solo over loud drums. The placeholder instrumental “Round And Around” pretty much does exactly that, but it would have been nicer to have more of that than the jarring “A New Machine”, which is split in two parts for unknown reasons. In the middle comes the lengthy instrumental “Terminal Frost”, which is fine until the saxophones take over. The big finale of “Sorrow” seems to have been written for the sole purpose of playing it in stadiums, starting from the opening guitar, which was actually recorded at top volume in one.
As Roger would ruefully point out, the title alone of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason illustrates what’s wrong with this album. Perhaps if it had stayed a Gilmour solo album, David wouldn’t have felt so compelled to make it so overblown. But record-buyers didn’t care, and bought the album and concert seats by the millions, leading to the following year’s double live album Delicate Sound Of Thunder, which alternated new songs with predictable Floyd classics played blandly and impeccably by an eleven-piece band. Roger could only stew over the aftermath of his less lucrative Radio K.A.O.S. concept album and tour, which did a better job of demonstrating its antiwar theme, albeit via yet another non-communicative paraplegic protagonist.

Pink Floyd A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987)—2
Pink Floyd Delicate Sound Of Thunder (1988)—2

4 comments:

  1. Oooh, harsh! I think most people would agree that MLoR is not really fully a Pink Floyd album, but I'd rate it at least the equal of the other two Dave Gilmour solo albums.

    I hope you're going to be following Roger's post-Floyd strand as well. To my mind, one of those three albums is hugely better than the other two ... but I won't say which.

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  2. I'm sorry to tell you that Roger's solo albums will likely not get in-depth coverage, mostly because I only have the first two on a Maxell tape somewhere, and I never much got into the third. In the end, I'm a Gilmour fan.

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  3. I always think of MLOR as just another part of that overall trend that occurred in the mid to late 80s of long-established bands/musicians putting out sort of watered down, radio friendly material that didn't have a lot to do with the stuff that made them famous in the first place. Other examples: Genesis, Steve Winwood, the Moody Blues and, as you have pointed out on this blog, David Bowie. On the one hand, I want to say that the 1987 version of Pink Floyd represented the best of those sell-out efforts, but at the same time I think they maybe fell the farthest down from their peak of any of the aforementioned artists.

    And has there ever been a less subtle, more artless message song than "The Dogs of War"? I say no. The lyrics come off like somebody went to one of those corporate HR committees that normally write bland mission statements and sexual harassment policies and asked them to turn out an anti-war song instead.

    Vance

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  4. If I'd been more clever, I'd've worked in a jab at Emerson, Lake & Powell. Genesis made a LOT of money in this period, but I think Phil Collins (or as I like to call him, Mr. Showbiz) had a lot to do with that. The first time I heard "Invisible Touch" I wondered which single from No Jacket Required had a new B-side.

    But I digress. I'm waiting to see if someone will defend Momentary Lapse Of Reason as a work of art, and I doubt that will happen. Meanwhile, stay tuned for the 1994 edition.

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