By Christopher Aloysius Mariotti, of lonesomenoise.com
Regret, man. It chews on your memories until they bleed into your hands. I was nineteen years old when Pink Floyd came to Tempe for their tour supporting The Division Bell. I had recently become obsessed with them. I remember the first time I heard them: I was five years old, “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” was all over the radio. It’s one of my first song memories as a youth. In the years between, I’d heard my share of Floyd on the classic rock station, but I was too young to have any understanding of their complexity. But by nineteen, I was starting to get it. I purchased The Division Bell, and I was in the process of collecting everything they’d ever recorded.
Being nineteen, my main profession was college student/poet. And I wasn’t so good at either. So having spare cash to buy a ticket was unfortunately a nonexistent scheme. But it was cool. I thought exactly this to myself: next time. I’ll see them on their follow-up tour.
Oh, that day never came.
1994 was an exciting time for accessible rock music. The Seattle bands were booming. Thrash bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and even Testament, switched gears to more melodic, polished songwriting. The radio adored it all. You could hear White Zombie, Helmet, Prong, Flotsam & Jetsam all on air, and all on MTV. But Pink Floyd, their record was completely out of place in that scene. It must have sounded like a damn dinosaur screaming out of an elevator speaker.
In the scope of things, though, The Division Bell was classic Floyd. It was gorgeous, ethereal, conceptual. Gilmour sounded as genius as ever: the guitars, that voice! Rick Wright was back in the fold with piano and vocal harmonies and song writing credits. Nick Mason, though not as thunderous as he was back on Live at Pompeii, was a solid glue to the songs. This wasn’t a mere Gilmour solo record smuggled under the guise of the name Pink Floyd: this was a bonafide LP from the first note to the last with the theme of communication threading the songs.
“Cluster One” begins as a meditation, guitar and piano “talking” to one another in melodies. It glides right into “What Do You Want From Me,” which features some of Gilmour’s most ferocious soloing, blues licks straight out of Chicago. It also has some of their most gorgeous vocal parts. It’s as infectious a song as they’ve maybe ever recorded.
“Poles Apart” is folky and disorienting, and the middle section is straight out of a carnival excursion. Gilmour ends with such a lovely solo through the outro. “Marooned” is an instrumental that won a Grammy, and it does create that feeling of being stranded. Notable are those crazy guitar bends, thanks to a pitch shifter effect pedal that moved the notes up an octave in an instant. It’s as dreamy as all else.
“A Great Day for Freedom” contrasts a darker verse with a gorgeous chorus. It stars another fantastic outro solo by Gilmour. “Wearing the Inside Out” features Rick Wright’s first lead vocal since Dark Side of the Moon. It’s a slow undulating song with stalwart Dick Parry on the saxophone.
“Take It Back” was released as a single, and it showcases Gilmour on an E-bow, sounding a bit like The Edge making a special appearance, perhaps the one song that took a cue from the contemporary music landscape. “Coming Back to Life” has Gilmour stunning with his inimitable vocals, which carry the song.
“Keep Talking” is a clever and affecting song. In line with the theme of communication, it uses a sample of a speech by Stephen Hawking, in which he lauds the need for humans to keep talking (as a means of progress), as it’s what separates man from animals. This is done, interestingly, through his electronic voice, which is an unsettling contrast to the human voice. Gilmour then uses a talk box during one of the song’s solos, which comes after an inspired solo by Wright on the keys.
“Lost for Words” continues to hammer the theme of communication. Though it tells of a worse side, wherein Gilmour opines “So I open my door to my enemies / And I ask could we wipe the slate clean / But they tell me to please go fuck myself / You know you just can’t win.” Musically, it starts on the acoustic and sounds similar to the beginning of “Wish You Were Here” with a slight tempo increase.
“High Hopes” ends the record. And it does so in perfect fashion. It’s a mesmerizing epic that fuses together all the best parts of classic Floyd: a sparse piano riff in the intro through the verse, Gilmour’s aching vocals, a memorable chorus, an acoustic solo section in the middle of the song that builds to crescendo, and a pedal steel guitar outro solo that’s one of Gilmour’s finest moments. The lyrics are reflective, sombre, haunting. They pair exquisitely with the tone and beat of the music. The song is one of the best in the entire Floyd canon.
There was a time I would put on my headphones and listen straight through, then I’d hit repeat and do it all again. I’d listen to it while I wrote dreadful poetry as nineteen year olds are wont to do. All these years later, the record brings forth a wave of nostalgia for me. But the listen isnt so stubborn, existing only from the love of memories. The songs still sound crisp, thoughtful, seamlessly composed.
Of course, The Division Bell was Pink Floyd’s swan song. And they never properly toured again after this record. But it still spins like the stars above us: with perfect glow, lovely and eternal.
(The original, unabridged article can be found at lonesomenoise.com)