Monday, 22 October 2007

Top 100 Albums - #62: A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987)

Pink Floyd make their first appearance on the chart with A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, the band's first album following the departure of bassist, lyricist and vocalist Roger Waters.After the release of The Final Cut in March 1983, Pink Floyd slowly tore itself apart. Chief among the reasons was the feud between Waters and guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour. Gilmour was aggrieved by the creative control Waters had laid/ lay claim to, which over the course of their last three albums had shifted the emphasis too much towards the lyrics and the concepts over the music. He also resented Waters' decision to fire keyboardist Rick Wright during the recording of The Wall (1979) on the ground of being unco-operative. Waters responded that Gilmour had all but shut him out of the creative process before Meddle (1971), and that his lyrics were the reason for their commercial and critical success throughout the 1970s. After devoting time off to solo projects - Waters' The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking, Gilmour's About Face, Wright's Identity (as part of Zee) (all 1984) and Nick Mason's Profiles (1985) - in 1985 Waters announced that Pink Floyd was over and left. After a year's hiatus, the surviving members regrouped and, amid a flurry of legal threats from Waters, attempted to record another album.

The album opens with 'Signs Of Life', an instrumental piece. It opens with the sound of a rowing boat and then slowly morphs into a synthesiser-heavy exercise. The keyboard tones Wright creates set the tone for the album, both in the simplicity of the phrases - signifying a retreat from the complexity of Waters - and the forbidding sounds they create, reflecting the general theme of unknown territory and losing control of the senses. Aside from the confusing and garbled vocal contributions from Nick Mason - allegedly a poem about both Waters and Syd Barrett¹ - this is a good introductory piece, reminiscent of earlier Pink Floyd work.

For all its assets, however, it cannot compete with 'Learning To Fly'. Written about Gilmour's (and Mason's) love of flying, this is a rip-roaring 1980s rocker with an art-rock twist. Like a lot of stuff on The Division Bell (1994), the lyrics reflect the sense of beginning afresh and dealing with the departure of Waters; although there are no direct references, you can sense what the song is really about (even if stringently denied by the band). Gilmour's angelic delivery perfectly counterpoints Mason's simple and effective drumming, while the guitar solo is a textbook classic. And, for the second time in as many songs, Mason appears in a vocal capacity, this time describing pre-flight checks. This is a great song right out of the top drawer from the band.

'The Dogs Of War' is a darker, more aggressive piece. While it lacks the sinister and brooding feel of the earlier 'Dogs' - taken from Animals (1977) -, it shares both the political and anti-war themes which sustained the band at its lyrical peak. Here, Gilmour attempts to write tough lyrics, perhaps as an affront to Waters' efforts both with the band and in his solo work (the band were touring the album at the same time as Waters toured his second solo album, Radio K.A.O.S. (1987) - suffice to say the two parties took great pains to avoid each other). This doesn't really come close on that level, but it hardly forgetable, thanks to the atmosphere created by the drums and Gilmour's snarling delivery.

'One Slip' begins with an obvious rip-off of 'Time' in the form of alarm bells ringing. From then on in, it's a fairly straightforward song about lust and regret. This is the fastest song on the album, and the chorus is quite good at summing up the message of the song:

One slip, and down the hole we fall
It seems to take no time at all
A momentary lapse of reason
That binds a life to a life
A small regret, you won't forget
There'll be no sleeping here tonight

The track relies on some heavy guitars and bass, creating an almost hard-rock feel. As a result both Gilmour's signature guitars and Wright's keyboards are undermined, albeit by not enough to damage the track.

'On The Turning Away' is another very decent effort by the Floyd, not least because it is a much better showcase for Gilmour's voice, still very much in its prime. From a cynical view, this song is another attempt at relevancy, this time tackling the tendency of people to ignore or 'turn away' from issues likes global poverty. Speaking less cynically, it is a very well-executed song on a subject which is so often the resting place of rubbish ballads and charity singles (compare to Waters' 'The Tide Is Turning' to see what I mean). This is a power ballad which eventually comes into its own as Gilmour finally unleases his cleverly controlled hell through his guitar.

So far, so palpable. Unfortunately, from here on in the album turns a bit sour. 'Yet Another Movie/ Round And Around' begins with some strange noise effects which will no doubt serve to drive many the casual listener away. For those that stay, we encounter some snails'-pace ramblings about the film industry through the medium of tedious lyrics, of which the only discernable thing is a vision of an empty bed - which explaisn the cover art (this involved dragging 700 NHS beds onto a Devon beach.)² After the (unexplained) excerpt from Casablanca (1942) - at roughly 5:57 the mix gives way to Gilmour is full majestic mode, providing the bridge into the rotating instrumental. The point with this is that, although this short phrase is enough to make you listen all the way through, you leave wishing the rest of the song had been like that.

'A New Machine (Part 1)' is complete filler, featuring Gilmour reciting into a synthesiser to vaguely alter his voice. In this brief discourse about mortality, he addresses the listener in terms already well-worn. Equally off-putting is the high note with permeates throughout - until you realise that it provides the segeuing intro into 'Terminal Frost', another instrumental. This, on the other hand, is splendid. Although like 'Round And Around' it is essentially a repeating phrase played an tweaked slightly differently each time, unlike its predecessor it develops into a thought-out piece. The instrumental side of things was always Gilmour and Wright's forte, and this proves it undoubtedly.

'A New Machine (Part 2)' needs little saying about it save that it's thankfully short enough to pass the listener by without sufficient irritation. Now we are at the closer, and the other truly great song on the album. 'Sorrow' is one of Gilmour's strongest efforts lyrically by his own admission, and even if it does borrow heavily from John Steinbeck, it is still gripping. The drumming and use of a Steinberger GL 'headless' guitar add to the feeling of melancholy and depression which surround this song. It's a proper arena rocker with the sombre sense of loss reflected in the band - and the Floyd were at their best when their music reflected not just the world around them, but their own situation. It's a great way to close the album after such a rocky middle section.

Often called 'a David Gilmour solo album in all-but-name', A Momentary Lapse Of Reason has suffered heavily at the hands of the public since its release. Fans, especially Waters devotees, mourn the lack of lyrical depth and direction, while critics attacked both the album for its stereotypical production and the reforming of Pin Floyd as a neo-oldies act, only continuing to earn money from touring. Look past the politics and emotion surrounding the album and actually there are glimpse of brilliance here, both of the kind that the Floyd exhibited in their prime and of the like which was showcased years later on The Division Bell. True, this is not the most well-directed Floyd effort; and true, we have to sit through a lot to get to the good stuff. But considering the circumstances that Gilmour and Mason were in in 1987 (Wright was legally not allowed to return as a member), this is a damn-fine effort. Now that the dust has settled 20 years on, maybe the time has come for revision.

3.80 out of 5
¹ 'Signs of Life (Pink Floyd song)', Accessed on October 22 2007.
² 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason', Accessed on October 22 2007.

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