Roger Waters left Pink Floyd in 1985. In his mind the band was a “spent force” creatively. Perhaps with him still in the band, it was. He wrote all the songs on The Final Cut. Rick Wright was out of the band after The Wall shows were complete in 1981. David Gilmour’s guitar provides little more than a cameo to most of the songs, and he sings lead on only Not Now John. Nick Mason was replaced by Andy Newmark for the album finale, Two Suns in the Sunset. Gilmour wanted to wait so he could contribute songs to The Final Cut, but Waters didn’t want to wait. In essence, The Final Cut was Roger Waters’ first solo album. It didn’t sound like a Pink Floyd album at all.
Both David Gilmour and Roger Waters put out solo records in 1984 [About Face and The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, respectively]. Kurt Loder reviewed both albums for Rolling Stone magazine. He concluded About Face showed that Gilmour had the patent on the Pink Floyd sound. Gilmour and Mason decided to make more music under the Pink Floyd banner. They even brought back Rick Wright to drive that point home. Although both Mason’s and Wright’s names appeared in the album credits for A Momentary Lapse of Reason, neither played very much on the record. The album was essentially a David Gilmour solo album as there were lots of outside studio musicians on the album. Like The Final Cut, A Momentary Lapse of Reason didn’t sound like a Pink Floyd album. But since Gilmour was still in Pink Floyd and Waters was not, Gilmour had another opportunity to make a Pink Floyd album that sounded like Pink Floyd. With The Division Bell, released eighteen years ago this week, Gilmour succeeded in making that album. The Division Bell turned out to be the last Pink Floyd studio album [the live album PULSE came out the in 1995].
Cluster One – The Division Bell begins with this Gilmour/Wright piano/guitar duet. Unlike Signs of Life from A Momentary Lapse of Reason, this isn’t an overture. Cluster One just goes on its own merry way until…
What Do You Want From Me – This song from Gilmour/Wright shows something one rarely finds in David Gilmour’s recorded work – anger, mixed in with a heavy dose of frustration. Gilmour asks his listening public what they want from him – should he sing until he can’t sing anymore, should he play until his hands bleed? Should he play in the rain for them? The guitar work is some of the nastiest on the album, reminiscent of another song from a different time [Have a Cigar from Wish You Were Here]. Where Have a Cigar was a jaundiced look at the music business and all that is wrong with it from Roger Waters, David Gilmour has an equally jaundiced view of his audience, at least in this instance anyway. Rick Wright’s keyboards makes one think this is a Wish You Were Here outtake. It definitely has that WYWH sound.
Poles Apart – I don’t know why, but I don’t like this one – I never did. It annoys me.
Marooned – Another instrumental which won a Grammy.® Gilmour communicates with bats on his lap steel.
A Great Day For Freedom – Whenever one hears a David Gilmour or Pink Floyd song with a reference to a “wall” one is tempted to think “A-ha! This one is directed at Roger Waters.” Sorry folks, but the wall in question here was the Berlin Wall. On the day the wall came down they threw the locks onto the ground, and with glasses high we raised a cry for freedom had arrived… But as the celebration of freedom goes on in Berlin, conflict is brewing anew in another land – Yugoslavia. Now life devalues day by day as friends and neighbors turned away, and there’s a change that even with regret cannot be undone… Now frontiers shift like desert sands as nations while wash their bloodied hands, of loyalty, of history in shades of grey… Gilmour sang this at the Solidarity celebration in Gdansk, Poland in 2006.
Wearing the Inside Out – For the first time since Dark Side of the Moon, Rick Wright sings on a Pink Floyd album. He describes himself as a burned out shell of his former self that crawled into a state of self-imposed isolation. But he’s better now; he’s able to speak for the first time in many years. This is perhaps the emotional core of The Division Bell. There’s some very bluesy playing from Gilmour. Dick Perry returns to play sax on a Pink Floyd album for the first time since Wish You Were Here.
Take It Back – A new guitar sound for a Pink Floyd album – the E-bow. After four songs at a very laid back tempo, the Floyd pick up the pace with this one. I saw the video for the song which suggests it’s about the environment. But how does one account for the following line - So I spy on her, I lie to her, I make promises I cannot keep. To me it’s more about the pushing the boundaries within a relationship. Consider the following - Her love rains on me easy as the breeze, I listen to her breathing it sounds like the waves on the sea, I was thinkin' all about her, burning with rage and desire. So I chalk this up as another ode to the future Mrs. Gilmour.
Coming Back to Life – Where were you when I was burned and broken? Where were you when I was hurt and I was helpless? Because the things you say and the things you do surround me…Was this directed at the woman who eventually became Gilmour’s second wife? Had he met her while she was with someone else? Was he biding his time while she was waiting for someone else? While you were hanging yourself on someone else's words dying to believe in what you heard… This song is like a companion piece to Wearing the Inside Out. Both songs have that theme of coming from being an emotional cripple to becoming a functional human being once more. The guitar tone here is clean without any distortion at all. There’s a long guitar introduction, then the singing bit, concluded by a lot of guitar playing, all of it superb. If there is one complaint I have about this song, it’s that there is “too much cowbell.” J The story has a happy ending – Gilmour got the girl.
Keep Talking – At the time of The Division Bell’s release, it had been seven years since the previous Floyd album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason. So when I heard this Gilmour/Wright gem on the radio [I still listened to radio then before it turned to complete shit…], to my ears it sounded more Floydian than anything since The Wall. “About damn time” I thought…This sounded like Pink Floyd the band, not Pink Floyd the brand name. What was missing from previous efforts? The answer is simple – Rick Wright. He provides the atmospherics throughout the song that gives it the Floydian feel. In addition to Gilmour’s stellar guitar playing, we’re also treated to a solo from Rick Wright [the first since Run Like Hell]. Rick is also playing the Hammond B-3 throughout. When The Division Bell came out, David Gilmour was asked if there was a concept for the album. His response was there was no real concept, but there was an underlying them about the inability to communicate with others. This exchange between Gilmour and the female singers underlines this point:
Gilmour: I think I should speak now…
Female voices: Why won’t you talk to me?
Gilmour: I can’t seem to speak now…
Female voices: You never talk to me!
Gilmour: My words won’t come out right…
Female voices: What are you thinking?
Gilmour: I feel like I’m drowning…
Female voices: What are you feeling?
Gilmour: I’m feeling weak now…
Female voices: Why won’t you talk to me?
Gilmour: But I can’t show my weakness…
Female Voices: You never talk to me!
Gilmour: I sometimes wonder…
Female Voices: What are you thinking?
Gilmour: Where do we go from here?
Female Voices: What are you feeling?
Then there’s the disembodied “voice” of Stephen Hawking – It doesn’t have to be like this…All we need to do is make sure we keep talking… Note the last two words – the title of the song.
In the last verse, Gilmour breaks out the talk box for the first time since Animals and mimics the female voices [he mocks them, actually…]. Every time they sing a line, he comes back with a guitar line that sounds, with the help of the talk box, like they’re nagging him.
Lost for Words – This song is mostly acoustic with touches of electric for coloring. When I heard these words I was certain they were addressed to Roger Waters. I’ve read that they are not, but consider what they say - So I opened my door to my enemies, and I asked “could we wipe the slate clean?”/But they tell me to “please go fuck myself,” you know you just can’t win… What follows the final lyric is a superb solo on the acoustic from Gilmour, which is reminiscent of another WYWH song [the title song]. The song fades into ringing church bells and bird sounds that lead into…
High Hopes – A single church bell rings; a piano plays a simple opening theme. This, the last song on the last Pink Floyd album, shows Gilmour looking back on his childhood in Cambridge. There and then it was a “world of magnets and miracles,” where the imagination had no boundaries. The grass was greener, the light was brighter, with friends surrounded, the nights of wonder… Unless you had a very unhappy childhood, who doesn’t think that one’s childhood was idyllic, that they were the best of times when everything smelled better, tasted sweeter, sounded better, felt better, when the nights were wondrous? He brings himself back to his present circumstance in adulthood, where things maybe aren’t quite as rosy as one would hope - Encumbered forever by desire and ambition, there’s a hunger that’s still unsatisfied/Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon, though down this road we’ve been so many times… After the singing is over Gilmour turns to the lap steel and plays what I think is his emotional guitar solo…ever. Michael Kamen [RIP] provided a superb orchestral arrangement that, combined with the lap steel, draws you in and compels you to feel. This song’s greatness cannot be overstated. I never tire of listening to it.
So there you have it - Pink Floyd’s final opus. I don’t think anybody knew it at the time [maybe Gilmour did, but he didn’t tell anybody], but events between now and then have made it so. Rick Wright passed away in 2006. David Gilmour has stated in public on numerous occasions that he’s done with Pink Floyd. There was the one-off reunion at Live 8 in 2005, but that’s all it was – a one-off. Gilmour and Waters have since buried the hatchet and are at least friendly to one another. That story has a happy ending, but Rock Wright’s passing makes that happy ending bittersweet. As for The Division Bell, it isn’t a great album, but it is a damn good one. That’s enough for me. With 20/20 hindsight, one can see a logical progression from this to David Gilmour’s solo career and what came next with On an Island.