Twenty years ago this Sunday, March 30 1994 in the UK (but not until April 5th in the US), the final Pink Floyd studio album The Division Bell was released to extremely high and impatient expectations. Their previous album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, created a dividing line amongst fans. Original lyricist Roger Waters had left the band, professing it to be the end. With keyboardist Richard Wright having been ousted from the band, this left guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason to declare that they would carry on without Roger. While Roger released the difficult to follow and extremely 80s electronically drenched Radio K.A.O.S., the new Pink Floyd released A Momentary Lapse of Reason soon after. When one picks it apart, AMLoR is essentially a solo David Gilmour album. The drums on the album when they were live were sometimes Mason, and sometimes session musicians. The keyboards were mostly session musicians, including Jon Carin, who would become their touring keyboardist of choice, and for all intents an understudy to Rick Wright. While I’ve still not been able to find the exact songs, it is known that Richard Wright played on very little of the album, despite returning to the fold for the surrounding tour. People have argued until they were blue in the face over which camp was the “real” Pink Floyd while the band had their own battles in court with Roger of rights to the name. It was a tricky situation. Roger’s The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking in 1984 had Eric Clapton on guitar and sounded very much like an offshoot of The Wall and The Final Cut. 1987’s Radio K.A.O.S. sounded nothing like any Pink Floyd album at all. On the flip side, David Gilmour’s guitar and voice could hearken back to the more gentle Wish You Were Here sounds quite easily as well as the abrasiveness of the solos in The Wall, The Final Cut and his solo albums. AMLoR had bits of both, but also used 80s technology and programmed drums on “Learning to Fly” and “One Slip”. The paths started to forge further when Roger Waters dropped the Amused to Death album in 1992. The production was detailed with sound effects, delicate and rough guitar solos, but favored difficult and extremely political lyrics over having much melody. The die-hard Roger fans had still considered it triumph, since AMLoR had co-written lyrics and the songs weren’t written from the same viewpoint Roger provided.
What set The Division Bell apart from this was the way it was created. In 1992, Gilmour, Wright and Mason sat down in Astoria, Gilmour’s houseboat studio on the Thames River, and started jamming on ideas. This method hadn’t been used by the band since around the time of Wish You Were Here. Also present was touring bassist Guy Pratt, who played bass on both the 87-90 tour and the 1994 tour. Piles and piles of tapes of demo ideas had been recorded and then as a band the three members voted on the ones that worked best and developed these. Fairly recently, a handful of these tracks surfaced on a bootleg collection called Secret Rarities. A few of them can be found on a YouTube video below. As a result, the songs had a much more organic feel to them. And most importantly, these new recordings showcased exactly how important Richard Wright was to their overall sound. His style of playing piano and keyboards is one that gives the perfect atmosphere and backdrop to the rest of what’s happening.
So my story is this. In 1994 I was fairly new to Pink Floyd. Previously my uncle Doug had made me a cassette of AMLoR. Other than “Learning to Fly” I wasn’t all that interested. I was 11 years old after all. I bought a crappy quality copy of Dark Side of The Moon on vinyl in a dollar bin in maybe 1991. I never really sat down to play it. I heard “Another Brick In The Wall Pt II” on the radio once in a while but didn’t know the context. I bought the twentieth anniversary version of DSoTM in early 1993, but more because the packaging looked cool and it seemed like a milestone album to have. I liked it, and listened a couple times. It hadn’t truly sunk it yet. In 1993, my sophomore year of high school, I was going through what I can only describe as depression. My parents were in the process of splitting up. My house felt like a war zone. I didn’t fit in with anyone it seemed. I was picked on for every reason in the book. Sexuality in general confused me. I had this idea that I just wouldn’t experience emotional or physical contact with anyone. I stopped caring and just shut down inside. However that was my perception. I was getting to know a guy in two of my classes who was in my eyes the brainy genius kid that some didn’t get. I broke my fear of meeting people by asking him for help with my geometry, and we hit it off as friends. That guy, Dean, became of of my two best friends that got me through that miserable experience called high school. Dean introduced me to his friend Tim, who I immediately bonded with as a fellow music lover who got my obsessions. We quickly became inseparable. One day coming back from lunch we were talking about bizarre movies. Dean mentioned The Wall. I had no idea the movie was significant. I saw it in a video store once and assumed it was simply a longform music video. I was answered with “You haven’t seen THE WALL?!?”, and was told I needed to rent it as soon as I could. I rented it. I didn’t know most of the music. I liked it. But I couldn’t really focus because my mom and dad were on opposite ends of the house arguing. My dad took notice of the fighter planes as he is an aircraft enthusiast.
I got the cassette of The Wall from the library and listened. It was a bit different from the movie version. But I liked it. I listened a couple times. I was drawn in. I started to understand the story that unfolded. I rented the movie again. This time I watched it late at night after everyone was in bed. When it got to the scene in “Comfortably Numb“ where Pink’s flesh starts to melt into ooze and he is peeling it off screaming only to reveal the “evil Pink” underneath, I was transfixed. It was like a lightning bolt hit me. I was turning apathetic and letting myself become Pink. No I wasn’t terrorizing people or trashing hotel rooms. I hadn’t become a drug addict trying to numb away my pain. I hadn’t yet turned on those who cared about me. But I could envision myself wanting to play those scenes out and going down that path. This wasn’t me. I wanted it to stop. I was a long ways away from tearing down my own wall, but I learned to instead start removing a few bricks at a time so I could see more clearly.
I became OBSESSED. I had to hear it all. I bought each album I could get in the used bins at Orbit Music. In an odd order. At this point I had The Wall, DSoTM, AMLoR, The Final Cut and Wish You Were Here. The news broke that a new album was coming, and they were touring. I had only seen a couple concerts at this point. Mostly small shows of classic rock bands with a couple remaining members (Survivor and Night Ranger at a local bingo hall made into a club for the night). Then I got tickets to see ZZ Top on the Antenna tour – but this hadn’t happened yet. My first big show with all the frills. When I did go Pink Floyd was still a month away. I could only imagine what Pink Floyd must be like after that. I didn’t know much about buying tickets so I didn’t get there when they went on sale. So I got “limited view” tickets. Who cares! I was going to see *them*. At that moment they were everything to me. Their words and music carried things I couldn’t get out. That same day, I bought Animals. I wrote about this album previously, but I couldn’t understand why I had never heard about Animals. By the time The Division Bell came out I had also acquired the Shine On box set, and Ummagumma.
I heard “Keep Talking” on the radio one day after school. By 1993 my tastes had shifted away from dance pop, r&b and rap that I was into mainly from about 1989 forward. Rap got dark and stoned. It wasn’t fun anymore. Pop radio slowed down into adult contemporary sludge. I was only starting to get into what many others were into in 1992… Nirvana, Pearl Jam… I was leary of anything that was overplayed on MTV 20 times a day. My curiosity was starting to rise about classic rock. Its links to 90s rock were so obvious that these two being intertwined in my mind at the time felt natural. At the time I had turned away from the pop stations and started listening to 95 WAOR, our album rock station. It was a glorious time for AOR stations. They blended the best of late 60s, 70s and 80s album rock with current rock. I miss that so much. It was a normal thing for them to feature new music by classic artists, something that no longer happens. So when I first heard “Keep Talking”, it sounded modern and classic at the same time. The guitar sounded like a more menacing cousin to “Another Brick In The Wall Part I”. The percussion details grabbed me right away. It was very obvious to me the idea of the song was that communication breakdowns only happen when we let them happen. That solo was the audio cry of the frustration of the miscommunication. I couldn’t hold my excitement for the new album!
So back to the album. My impression on day one was the same one I have today. This was a true album. A piece of art. It was meant to be enjoyed as a whole. The cover artwork was an illusion. You either see two faces facing each other, or one solitary face. Storm Thorgerson’s art graced many Pink Floyd album covers, and always looked like something from a bizarre dream. This was no exception. Sure it wasn’t a deliberate concept album, but the theme of communication wove its way through all of the songs. “Cluster One”, a beautiful instrumental starts with the sounds of the earth’s crust shifting, melding into Wright’s textured keyboard layers and delicate piano. This was about the earth communicating to us in a way that we need technology to decipher. The bluesy and moody “What Do You Want From Me” was both about miscommunication between an artist and their fans and between quarreling lovers. “Poles Apart” was about the regret that follows years after losing communication with those once close to you. In this case the song pondered “losing” Syd Barrett and Roger Waters in separate verses. I will never forget the goosebumps of hearing that creepy midsection for the first time. “Marooned” is a gorgeous instrumental. I felt then and still do that sometimes Gilmour could say more with his guitar than he could with written words. This one was about the lack of communication in being stranded and alone. Maybe it’s because I was feeling it at the time, but I got all of that from the solo.
“A Great Day for Freedom” was said to be about the disappointment of the lack of forward communication after the Berlin wall came down in 1990. It was also seen as a thinly veiled reflection on the bitter feud between Gilmour and Waters, although Gilmour emphatically denied this. “Wearing The Inside Out” was one of my favorites. It was the return of Rick Wright as vocalist. Lyrics written by Wright and friend Anthony Moore told of Wright’s “creeping back to life, my nervous system all awry”. I keep coming back to this song. I think this song says more about what Wright went through after being ousted from the band than he ever said in public.
The second half started with the song picked for a single, “Take It Back”. It was odd to me that the guitars reminded me of The Edge from U2. Then I start thinking how The Edge kind of sounds like classic Floyd riffs. It all makes sense. The song seemed at the surface to be *gasp*.. a love song?? This was not the case. The *she* is Mother Nature, trying to communicate to us about how our ignorance of that around us will destroy us. The video, by Storm Thorgerson was beautiful and made this point clear. But it barely got played. The song fades into the sparkling first notes of “Coming Back To Life”. If I could pick one song Gilmour wrote post-Roger Waters as my favorite set of lyrics, it is probably this song. To be fair, it was co-written. All of the lyrics by Gilmour share a co-credit with his not-yet-wife at the time Polly Sampson. She was a journalist and had a knack for helping Gilmour form his ideas into the write words. Many hated this, and saw her as his Yoko Ono. But I disagree. Hats off to her because I love the lyrics on this album. “While you were hanging yourself on someone else’s words, dying to believe in what you’d heard… I was staring straight into the shining sun”. Don’t let negative communication pull you down.
Next was “Keep Talking” as I talked about earlier, which was followed with the stark “Lost For Words”. What to do when communication breaks down? Try to repair it? Still no? “Sometimes you just can’t win”. The grand finale, and fitting last Floyd album closer was the pensive and reflective “High Hopes”. Everything about this song seemed to be perfection. The lyrics conjured so many images. Storm Thorgerson’s film for the track displayed these images in a dream-like way. The song was melancholy yet warm. The solo at the end was one of Gilmour’s finest. And then hidden quietly at the end of the album, the band’s manager Steve O’Rourke calling Polly Sampson’s infant son Charlie on the phone. He hangs up. Communication once again broken. The end.
I could go on for days about how much this album has influenced me. Over the years this has been that album that you aren’t supposed to like if you are a true Roger Waters fan. I never subscribed to that. I found the paths that all of the different members took to be fascinating, as they each had some cosmically strong quality they brought to the whole. The themes, the lyrics, the music… all of these have stuck with me over the past 20 years. I still break this album out every now and then am am still amazed at its beauty.
Oh and that concert? Well my friend Dean couldn’t go at the last minute, so it was me, my cousin Scott, and another buddy Jake from school that was in our history class. We had the worst seats in the building, Indianapolis’ gargantuan Hoosierdome. Faaaaaar up high left of the stage. No view of the screen. Face level with the inflatable evil pig when that surprised us halfway through the show, with flames shooting out of the stage so hot we could feel it waaay up there. Still one of the best concerts I have ever experienced in my life. That many thousand people being moved by such great music was something to behold. The band sounded so clear even in our awful seats. The sense of community we experienced with complete strangers that were also obsessive fans made me feel like I belonged to *something* for the first time. Sure there were drunken idiots who were bored at the mostly 1987-forward first half of the show. Their loss! There was the guy that tried to sell us acid before the show. Later we saw he was seated a short distance from us. He literally thought the inflatable pig was going to kill him. I laughed my ass off! I must have been floating for a week after it was all over. My obsession with Pink Floyd over the years has taken vacations and then come back raving and drooling (ugh.. yes, I actually said that). But it never went away. Their music will always being one of the building blocks… or the foundational bricks… of my music obsession.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Division Bell, I tracked down clips for all of the album’s songs (except “Cluster One”) on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. One is a music video by Storm Thorgerson, and several are from the stellar DVD P*U*L*S*E, culled from one of their Earl’s Court London shows. Some of the songs weren’t played that night, and I’ve included bootleg clips. In the case of “Wearing The Inside Out”, it was played on David Gilmour’s 2006 tour featuring Rick Wright on keys and vocals. I just had to include that as it wasn’t played in 1994. I also included a video that has many of the demos from the album. The full Secret Rarities collection can be found doing a search on the torrent site Yeeshkul! (see my previous stories about Yeeshkul! for more details).
Sit back, pour a glass of something and enjoy…
“What Do You Want From Me” (Live 1994):
“Poles Apart” (Live 1994):
“Marooned” (David Gilmour from The Strat Pack concert DVD 2006):
“A Great Day For Freedom” (David Gilmour with Rick Wright from Live in Gdasnk 2006):
“Wearing the Inside Out” (David Gilmour with Richard Wright Live 2006):
“Take It Back” (Official Video):
“Coming Back To Life” (Live from P*U*L*S*E 1994):
“Keep Talking” (PPV Special vs P*U*L*S*E video 1994):
“Lost For Words” (Live in Arizona, 1994):
“High Hopes” (Live from P*U*L*S*E 1994):
aaaaaand… some of The Division Bell instrumental demos:
Pick up the 20th Anniversary CD/Blu-Ray Audio/Vinyl Box Set HERE!