08 January 2011

Pink Floyd - The Division Bell (1994)

As the years have gone by, my tastes in music have evolved and changed drastically. To give but one example, in 2007 I was very much into Black and Death Metal, whereas nowadays I am much more likely to listen to Benny Goodman or Starship Amazing than, say, Deathspell Omega. Yet amidst the ebb and flow of ever-changing musical tastes, there have been a few bands, albums and even songs that have stood the test of time. Foremost among this select few may be counted Pink Floyd, one of the most enduring bands in the history of Rock music. When pressed to name a favorite album of, most Pink Floyd enthusiasts will pick either Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here. These are certainly difficult choices to argue against -- although I am curious as to what degree these choices might be influenced by nostalgic recollections of listening to the albums on 8-track tapes whilst hot-boxing the back of a van -- but I would have to go with a more unorthodox option: 1994's The Division Bell.

This is perhaps a difficult choice to justify. Despite achieving double-platinum status in a matter of months, The Division Bell was panned by critics upon its release. Much of the bellyaching seems to revolve around the fact that The Division Bell sounds so very different from other Pink Floyd albums. This is an understandable complaint -- much of the music here seems more like experimental Space Rock than the sort of Classic Rock prevalent in Pink Floyd's earlier work (indeed, one critic dismissed it as "New Age noodling"). It should be remembered, however, that this was not the same Pink Floyd that recorded Dark Side or Wish You Were Here. Roger Waters had ended his association with the band nearly a decade earlier, and his absence is audible on The Division Bell -- put simply, the album just feels much different from its predecessors. Why, though, should that be such a bad thing? The Division Bell deserves to be judged on its own merits.

Those merits, it turns out, are considerable. With David Gilmour at the helm, the music here has a decidedly introspective and meditative character about it. Throughout the album there is a recurring theme of human communication, on various scales, whether it be a song of two humans, a cacophony of nations or a single man's alienation from the world around him. The point is perhaps made most manifest by none other than Stephen Hawking who, in one song, reminds us that "all we need to do is keep talking." Some critics have claimed that Gilmour's guitar work is somehow uninspired in comparison to his earlier work, but to perfectly honest, I just don't hear it. The musicianship on The Division Bell is no less impeccable as any of Gilmour's work before or since.

Although every track on the album is enjoyable, "High Hopes" would have to be my favorite. All at once it feels like both an overture and an encapsulation for the album as a whole. It is also the most personal song on the album, written by Gilmour from an autobiographical perspective. The song feels very epic -- not merely because it is long, but because it carries with it so much weight. More than any other song  on the album, "High Hopes" is highly evocative of images. It's difficult to explain, but give it a listen and I'm sure you'll get what I'm on about.

The Division Bell was the last studio album ever released by Pink Floyd. It may not be as critically acclaimed as earlier entries in the Pink Floyd catalog, but it is nevertheless a great album in its own right, and a worthy concluding chapter to the history of one the most influential bands of the last century.

1 comment:

  1. The more hardcore Floyd fans would choose Animals. Well, I choose Animals anyway.

    I never gave Division Bell much of a chance myself, but I'm listening to it now and I see what you mean.