Pink Floyd suffers a momentary lapse of originality
THE DIVISION BELL
Columbia Records.By Scott Deskin
Associate Arts Editor
Though diehard fans may object, the newest album from Pink Floyd, entitled The Division Bell, is not a product of nominal leader David Gilmour's musical "genius;" it is simply an attempt to recapture the group's superstardom of the '70s. The stylish symphonic structures and synthesizer elements that have become Pink Floyd's trademarks seem to overwhelm the music. The songs just aren't as good as most of their '70s output, or even A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987), which at least could boast "Learning to Fly" as a radio-playlist highlight.
Part of the problem may be the band itself. With former bassist/songwriter Roger Waters having departed the band a decade ago (under unpleasant circumstances), guitarist David Gilmour has been forced to take up the slack. Gilmour (who shared many of the band's better-known songwriting credits with Waters, including "Wish You Were Here" and "Comfortably Numb"), is more talented as a musician than a lyricist, and many of The Division Bell's songs are indistinguishable: the themes of ambivalence -- sexual, emotional, and political -- tend to go stale after prolonged listenings.
The melodies are passable, and even a few lyrics are interesting, but it sounds as though the members of Pink Floyd are becoming too complacent for their own good. They are living off of their marketable past, which becomes quite apparent on some songs. "A Great Day for Freedom" is topical, which appropriates use of "the wall" (the Berlin Wall?) coming down to comment on the tide of a new world order turning from optimism to hypocrisy, but it doesn't really have much else to say. "Keep Talking," the first single off the album, uses a Stephen Hawking guest vocal to comment on the advent of mankind amidst a sinking relationship between two people, displaying the technological kitsch and female vocals that first surfaced on Dark Side of the Moon (1973). Sadly, the album (with considerably less success) falls prey to the atmospheric heaviness that opened and closed Dark Side of the Moon, and even lifts a whole chord progression in "High Hopes," the last song, from "Welcome to the Machine." It seems that the group has completed the metamorphosis from musical innovator to nostalgia act.
If it sounds like The Division Bell is a complete failure, it should be the reviewer's obligation to acknowledge the album for what it is: a musical effort from a "progressive" rock group which will serve as fodder for its summer tour. In an arena-like setting with huge speakers and laser exhibitions within the performance, it's likely that any fan of Pink Floyd (this reviewer included) would be willing to accept and appreciate the new cuts alongside the old classics. And it's probably unrealistic to see Pink Floyd issuing any revelatory rock experiences to their built-in audience. The aging remaining band members (David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright) have been successful for so long that they don't need to break any new ground to be hailed by their adoring public as pop icons.
All told, however, The Division Bell is a disappointment. The music will most likely strike old Pink Floyd fans as comforting and soothing, a throwback to the canny studio effects and sweeping statements of the past. But for overall musical achievement, it's best to stick with Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here (1975, their best studio album), and maybe even the somewhat overblown musical concept of The Wall (1979). Whereas those albums carried emotional resonance through the songs, the new album tries to work that formula in reverse by forging coherent songwriting through emotional concept -- and fails. It's not a disgraceful performance, but admittedly a somewhat forgettable one.