Having turned 40 on March 1st, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon proves the power of the concept album: a form that portrays a bigger picture when every track works together, rather than individually. Floyd’s experimental, progressive style and the concept album were bricks that came together, built up, and fell apart. Their evolution of the form will remain, in my opinion, groundbreaking and unbeatable. Whilst I’d love to ramble about Floyd until I’m Lost For Words (or back up a couple of their less appreciated albums), this article will follow three of the greats: Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall.
The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
The lights of the late 1960s psychedelic era and the new wave, electronic phrase of the 1970s meet the prism of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side, and fragment into a rainbow of larger concepts that evoke contemplation of the delivery of sound and philosophical ideas. While many tracks stand brilliantly individually, the 44-minute Odyssey lifts the listener into the abstract realm of space with a doppler dynamic of chilling lifts and soothing melodies, such as ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’. However, the heights reached are balanced in a foundation of the ominous passage of time and life, provided by the “tolling of the iron bell” which best describes the sound-collage of frantic clocks opening ‘Time’. The theme of madness feeds into the concept to tribute founding member Syd Barrett’s mental illness and thus loss from the band (particularly in my personal favourite track ‘Brain Damage’). Contributed to by multi-track recording, tape loops, analogue synthesizers, and the insertion of various sound effects, a unique sound was formulated by then-new technologies.
Playing around with audio space, a fascinating way of regarding Dark Side is to notice what isn’t played or vocalised. In the heart of the album, interludes of long instrumental passages concentrate the lyrical insertion of thoughts and ideas to certain points in a way that the use of spoken recordings echo. Rebuffing the album’s title at the end of ‘Eclipse’, “There is no dark side of the moon, really…” is articulated over a heartbeat, creating an ouroboros cycle back to the heartbeat that opens ‘Speak To Me’.
Wish You Were Here (1975)
Whilst the heir to Dark Side lacks the dynamic pizazz, its taut tension reverses the amorphously abstract prism’s rainbow to drive the point home, with a more coherent narrative. Roger Waters’ motif of bookending the three smaller tracks with the 26-minute ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ celebrates mad genius/‘crazy diamond’ Barrett, who wasn’t a part of the band long enough to share in the success they’d reached by 1975. David Gilmour’s four-note guitar riff is known as “Syd’s Theme”, pervading the continued presence of their founding member.
A bitingly sarcastic critique of capitalism cries out of ‘Welcome To The Machine’, grounded in a controlled nuance provided by the steady succession of synthesisers from keyboardist Rick Wright. The concept of consumerism, particularly within the music industry, is elaborated in the satire sung by guest vocalist Roy Harper in ‘Have A Cigar’. A mimicry of ignorance “Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?” is reeled off the most forthrightly rock-oriented track of the album. This is counterpointed by the acoustic nostalgia of the title track’s expression of alienation, channelled by a return to reminiscing about Barrett. As an ode to the fear of how life and realities have the potential to redirect the paths of significant friendships, Wish You Were Here envelopes a universally relatable experience.
The Wall (1979)
Albeit flaring with almost theatrical compositions, increasingly morbid ideas, and thus saturated in the growing pompousness of their bassist & songwriter – The Wall contains some memorable tracks and is inarguably a diligent masterpiece. As the final delivery from the quartet consisting of Waters, Mason, Gilmour and Wright (the latter of whom was fired during the creation of the album by Waters), The Wall’s unique storytelling traces fictional rockstar Pink Floyd’s alienation, which is embodied by a metaphorical wall. Its protagonist – based on Waters and Barrett – is driven into cycles of self-imposed isolation by social systems, the Second World War, family issues and stardom.
Co-written with guitarist Gilmour, ‘Comfortably Numb’ delivers a sensitive acceptance of self-imposed detachment as a contrast to the more bitter tracks, incorporating what is arguably the finest Floyd guitar solo. ‘Another Brick In The Wall Pt. II’ is an anarchistic anthem that infamously attacks the education system, ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ delivers a haunting melancholic eulogy to a world damaged by the Second World War, ‘Hey You’ pleas for human connections from behind the wall, whilst the fascist angst of ‘Run Like Hell’ darkens the album considerably.
A fascinating concept that spreads across 26 tracks is wrapped by the cryptic spoken message at the very beginning/end. Before inflating, ‘In The Flesh?’ opens with a subtle, “…we came in?”, whilst anti-climactic ‘Outside The Wall’ abruptly cuts off with “Isn’t this where…”. At the end of Pink’s story, we are left with a microcosmic self-reflection that also transgresses to the macrocosm of the audience and society; “Isn’t this where we came in?”. Although Pink experiences a cycle of personal decay that will possibly restart with building another wall after he has just overcome the last one, he provides a cautionary tale to those who are on the precipice of following his path.
Too bad that Pink’s non-fiction alter-ego didn’t take heed, and the wall of friction between members of the band led to their collapse. Despite the immediate glory of Floyd burning out, the legacy of their art continues to be appreciated generations later. Shining on like their tribute to Barrett, their eclipse will “…bask in the shadow / Of yesterday’s triumph”.
By Heather Grant