Pink Floyd’s The Wall clearly earned its prestigious reputation by taking the listener on an intense journey that portrays a story of a man whose life has been defined by abandonment and isolation. It’s no surprise that this album quickly rose to the #1 spot of every international sales chart by 1980, and to this day remains one of the best albums to ever bless the genre. Following the 1968 departure of front man Syd Barrett, the group struggled to pick up the pieces until their guitarist, Roger Waters, emerged as a new leader. Following their legendary creations of chart-topping albums in the 70’s like Wish You Were Here, Animals, and, of course, The Dark Side of the Moon, an idea hatched from Waters’ mind that created another masterpiece seen in The Wall. What makes this album resonate so much with me is the fact that this, like many of Pink Floyd’s other albums, is what is called a “concept album.” This means that it was meant to be listened to from start to beginning because every song connects in both overall plot and musical theme, as opposed to typical albums that have one individual song after another. So, if you’ve got 81 minutes to kill on a rainy day, I highly suggest listening to this beast in one sitting.
The story follows a fictional rock star based on a fusion of Waters and Barrett, aptly named Pink, whose father was killed while fighting in World War 2. Due to the circumstances of his childhood, he grows up feeling isolated and oppressed by his environment. The album opens up with a song titled “In the Flesh?” which introduces the story of Pink. Opening with a short segment that sounds like funeral music, the song abruptly changes to a dramatic guitar section. The narrator suggests Pink is currently playing in one of his concerts, yet Pink is actually depressed and introverted despite his flamboyant and distinct rock star personality. The narrator then says “Tell me, is something eluding you sunshine? Is this not what you expected to see? If you want to find out what’s behind these cold eyes, you’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise!” causing the listener to want to know more about the enigmatic character and his history. The song closes with another dramatic guitar section, followed by sounds of a war plane dropping bombs (which we can assume is a flashback to his father’s death), and ultimately ending with the sound of a baby crying—the birth of our character, Pink. You couldn’t ask for a better intro! This song serves perfectly as a prologue to the rest of the album, in reverse order no less.
After another brief and miserable song describing his rocky relationship with his mother comes the most well-known 4-part song from the album called “Another Brick in the Wall.” Opening with 3 minutes of an eerie and repetitive riff of an electric guitar, the song moves into the iconic dramatic song where the narrator—brought to life by David Gilmour’s silky smooth singing voice—sings about an oppressive setting in a school. What enhances this song is that the chorus is sung by an actual group of British schoolchildren, which makes the listener emotionally attached to the collective struggle of these poor kids under the rule of their oppressive school staff. They claim that “all in all, it’s just another brick in the wall,” saying that Pink’s childhood traumas are individually bricks that build his metaphorical wall of self-isolation. The album continues with many connecting songs that follow Pink’s life on his way down; we see that his life is slowly spiraling down due to drugs, fear, isolation, depression, and essentially going crazy. These ideas are all depicted through the use of theatrical rock instrumentals, incredible sound effects, ambient noise, and real-life noises including nature, human conversation, and machinery.
The album’s plot arrives at a climax in “Comfortably Numb,” another one of their more famous songs. With a slow tempo and use of soothing guitar riffs and eerie synthesizer progressions, the song is in the style of a dialogue between Pink and his doctor using the singing of Gilmour and Waters, respectively. The ending section then gives birth to a mind-altering guitar solo that proves David Gilmour’s dominance in the genre. Following this song, the remainder of the album gets a little obscure and weird, but that itself is symbolic and lets us see our character take a fall for the worst. The songs start to use the same musical themes seen earlier in the album, suggesting that the story is about to arrive in a full circle.
This section only makes sense if you’ve seen the film adaptation for this album, but I’ll still try my best to explain. What basically happens is Pink takes a bunch of drugs in his hotel room and starts to hallucinate. He envisions that he is a sort of fascist dictator taking charge a crowd who attended one of his concerts. Underneath the repetitive riffs in every song we can hear the sounds of his speeches, the crowd chanting and marching, and aggressive instrumentals to supplement the environment. The closing song to that section, “The Trial,” creates a sort of silly and circus-like atmosphere that portrays an actual trial in a courtroom, complete with attorneys, an angry British judge, and a crowd of jurors. Following the decision to tear down the wall, we actually hear the sound of a brick wall violently exploding, transitioning into the final song of the album which is based on the funeral music we heard in the opening song as it fades into nothing. Beautiful, am I right?
This story—and that’s what this album was, a story—kept the listener engaged all the way through, and entertained the minds of analytical music listeners everywhere while presenting every scene with musical genius. Today, 35 years after its creation, The Wall still gets listened to just as much by this generation of new listeners. Moreover, the album epitomizes political criticism; the fear of totalitarian takeover still lingers in the minds of those in Western nations, and this album’s ability to openly criticize politics influences modern pieces of art as well. The idea that music can tell a story all in one CD fascinated me the first time I listened to this, and no other band executes the idea of a concept album more flawlessly than the rock deities that make up Pink Floyd.