Pink Floyd – The Division Bell
“The Division Bell” is the 14th studio album by British psychedelic rock band, Pink Floyd. It was released in 1994 on EMI Records and produced by Bob Ezrin & David Gilmour. The line-up for the album was David Gilmour (vocals/guitar/bass), Nick Mason (drums) and Richard Wright (keyboards/vocals).
Although not a concept album like some of Pink Floyd’s earlier works, there is a recurring theme of communication and how talking things out can solve problems that ties the songs together. In this album they explore the various aspects of the benefits of communication on many levels, and the consequences of not talking things out. One example is at the end of the album, where there is a soundbyte of David Gilmour’s stepson, Charlie, hanging up a telephone on Pink Floyd manager, Steve O’Rourke.
Some songs could be said to be about Roger Waters, and the long term rift between him and the rest of the band. However, David Gilmour denies that the album or any of the songs on it are in any way directed to, or about, Waters. In 1994, Gilmour stated, “People can invent and relate to a song in their personal ways, but it’s a little late at this point for us to be conjuring Roger up. The general theme of communication is reflected in the choice of name for the album; “The Division Bell” was inspired by the division bell rung in the British parliament to indicate that a vote is to take place.”
Featuring achingly beautiful, timeless guitar, inspired lyrics, fantastic organ and keyboards, and adaptive drums to fit the style of each song, this album is a masterpiece. Gilmour’s vocals stand out on this album in a way they haven’t before, showing a growth in that area too. Although it doesn’t have the dark, edgy, almost sinister feel of when Roger Waters was in charge, there are some dark and melancholy moments. There is a feeling of a band playing for the love of music, as friends, that wasn’t present in the Waters days.
The album artwork was provided by Storm Thorgerson, who had collaborated with Pink Floyd for many years. The two metal heads were constructed in a field, photographed in profile as though facing each other, with the illusion they were perhaps having a conversation. The design also gives the illusion of a third face, or that the two together make a face. The sculptures, designed by John Robertson, each standing as tall as a double decker bus, are now in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
The album begins with an intro of white noise that lasts nearly a minute. This caused some listeners to initially wonder if their copy was somehow defective. However, the white noise is very symbolic of the silence that so often comes between people. The song is a brilliant instrumental with spacey overtones. It is a very keyboard oriented mixture of sounds and music, with an outstanding guitar solo that will make you glad you bought the album. I love the harmonious blend of synthesiser and guitar working together.
What Do You Want From Me
This is heavily influenced by Chicago blues, and is heavier than the other songs on the album. The song begins with a drum roll into a guitar solo, with amazing guitar work throughout the song. Soaring, beautiful backing vocals provide even more dimension to the song.
This is, according to co-writer Polly Samson, speaking to Syd Barrett in the first verse and to Roger Waters in the second verse, although David Gilmour has said none of the songs on the album were in any way a reference to Waters. The song has a folksy overtone, which is an interesting departure from the norm for the band.
This song is filled with stunning, improvised Gilmour solos. The use of sound effects, including seagulls and waves crashing against land gives the effect that you are on an island. A whammy pedal was used to create the high pitched notes. Wailing guitar from the original recording of “Echoes”can be heard in the background, adding texture to the song. This one really is a showcase for the talents of each member of the band, as it all comes together to become a brilliantly performed song.
A Great Day For Freedom
This song celebrates the euphoria of new-found freedom for a person or group of people, and the disappointment that follows when the hopes you had don’t work out, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall. The chorus is very optimistic despite the almost melancholy feel of the verses. The guitar solo washes over you and draws you in, making you want more, as it plays out to end the song.
Wearing the Inside Out
This features Richard Wright on lead vocals for the first time since “Time”, on “Dark Side of the Moon”. It is also the last time he performed lead vocals on a studio album. It is interesting that he didn’t perform lead vocals more often, given that he really does have a great voice. The lyrics can be interpreted as speaking of when Syd was lost inside himself, unable to get out. They could also be about anyone who feels locked away, unable to communicate true feelings either out of fear or shyness. Moaning saxophone and a haunted tone to the lyrics lend to the feel of desperation someone feels when they want to communicate but can’t reach out.
Take it Back
This song gets its sound from David Gilmour using an e-bow, a hand held battery operated electronic bow used instead of fingers to play notes on electric guitar. It is moved by electromagnetic field created by the device, which creates sounds that could not otherwise be made on electric guitar but can be used on acoustic and other stringed instruments. He used it on an acoustic guitar and it was processed into an effects box. The lyrics are widely interpreted as Mother Earth getting tired of the abuse we all heap on her, although she sustains life. Another interpretation can be of a relationship, where the woman keeps on giving as the man singing takes and doesn’t return her kindness.
Coming Back to Life
This is, according to an interview with David Gilmour, about his then girlfriend (now wife), Polly Samson. The song opens with the drone of a synth chord leading into a guitar solo, which provides a graceful intro. There is an impressive solo near the end, which returns at the end to finish things off brilliantly. The lyrics are well written, making it a very moving song.
This song features audio samples of Stephen Hawking’s voice, originally used in a BT advertisement in the UK. David Gilmour was very moved by the sentiment of the statement, and asked permission from British Telecom to use it in a song. The message fits the theme of the album perfectly. The use of a talk box guitar effect adds extra creativity to the song, and the passionate lyrics sum up the truth that life works better when everyone keeps open lines of communication.
Lost For Words
This opens with a steel lap guitar riff reminiscent to the “Wish You Were Here” opening. The guitars are not as heavy on this one, with a simple chord sequence. It is a prime example that simple, uncluttered songs are just as amazing as technically complex ones. Because of the simplicity of the music, the lyrics really stand out.
The track tells of David Gilmour’s childhood in Cambridge, and leaving his hometown, from an autobiographical angle. The lyrics tell of things one may have gained and lost in life, through the process of growing as a person. Deep, meaningful lyrics, passionately performed, take you back to childhood memories, and how everything was sweeter and greener, nearly perfect then, at least in your memories. The title of the album comes from a lyric in this song, and interestingly, due to the last line of this song, the last words on a Pink Floyd studio album, at least at this time, are ‘Forever and Ever’. The song begins with the ringing of bells, and ends with the faint sound of Pink Floyd manager, Steve O’Rourke talking to one of Gilmour’s children.
This is an outstanding album, with a return to the sound of a band working together as one. There are people who say it isn’t as good as when Roger Waters was in the band, but those are Roger Waters fans and not Pink Floyd fans. One man does not make a band, and with Pink Floyd’s ever evolving style it is impossible to compare one album to the next, no matter who is in the band. The songs, other than “High Hopes”, which is incredible in its simplicity, are complex, stunning works of musical art that are a joy to listen to over and over. As always, Pink Floyd delights us with not only their musical talent, but the use of clever sound effects to add even more to the songs. I can easily recommend this album for anyone. It is in a class above anything else that was released at that time. Although other musicians might aspire to the greatness contained on this album, it is the talent a musician is born with that creates songs of this caliber.
- Cluster One
- What Do You want From Me
- Poles Apart
- A Great Day For Freedom
- Wearing the Inside Out
- Take it Back
- Coming Back to Life
- Keep Talking
- Lost For Words
- High Hopes
My rating: 10/10