Wednesday, September 7 marked 29 years since the release of Pink Floyd’s 1987 album, A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. As it approaches its third decade of existence, it remains as relevant as ever, even if largely considered as a solo David Gilmour effort. So much so, in fact, there was a decision to include material recorded for his proposed third solo album on this, at the time, new Pink Floyd album.
Funnily enough, their previous effort, The Final Cut (1983), was their only album on which Roger Waters alone was credited for writing and composition. Even prior to that, the 1979 classic, The Wall, was largely the brainchild of Waters, although the contributions of Gilmour definitely steered it towards its classic status. With Waters gone, though, it fell upon the shoulders of the band’s next most dominating influence, Gilmour, to steer the direction, post-Waters.
Recording A Momentary Lapse Of Reason took place primarily on Gilmour’s converted houseboat, Astoria, on the River Thames. This was all amidst an ongoing legal dispute with Waters, like as to who owned the band’s name. This was only resolved several months after the album came out.
The album, featuring songs like the soaring, emotionally searing “Learning To Fly”, wasn’t, like many previous efforts, a concept album, though seemed to dwell a lot in things like sleep, dreaming and perhaps even New Age astral travelling.
Looking at that album cover, for instance, there are innumerable beds on a beach, and a lone man sitting on one of those beds in the middle of said landscape. Do the other beds, unoccupied, suggest striving for spiritual ascension, raising the collective consciousness and that, perhaps, that lone man is waiting for the rest of humanity to catch up?
The opening track, “Signs Of Life”, begins with the what seems a rocking of a boat and sloshing of water. Then keyboard rings out ominously, electric sounds like a calculating computer determining the fate of humanity. There’s a great sadness to it all, humanity spent without a chance in hell. Then serenity washes over you, guitar introduced into the fold, bluesy and contemplative, Gilmour’s heart on his sleeve.
“Learning To Fly”, with that famous flourish of guitar suggesting going on a journey, is very heavenly and suggests redemption for humanity. The great sadness remains, especially with Gilmour’s emotive soloing throughout. The backing vocals, both soulful and seemingly operatic in their power, really pack a punch. Radio transmissions mark the middle section, and then are punctuated with more passionate licks on the guitar.
It becomes driving and impassioned, Gilmour’s almost whispered, spoken word singing imploring the wandering spirit to find their way home. His parting shots on the guitar weep with great sadness, but, yet, also appreciating the comfort in sometimes wallowing in these things.
A departure from the previous, “The Dogs Of War”, is strings marching, like in such a way befitting a Nuremberg rally. Gilmour’s vocals are definitely more ballsy in this one, bluesy and emphatic in their manner. The clatter of keyboard punctuates every proclamation from the frontman.
Then the drums herald an extended, again, blues the word, workout. The bass really grooves, helping create a moody track. Saxophone kicks in, and things get a tad ridiculous in the progressive stakes. It just about works, though.
After that, “One Slip” opens with yet more sound effects, like a heart monitor going off to alert doctors and nurses that the patient is in a perilous state. Emphatic drums, like a fastening heartbeat, have a sound big enough to carry the whole song.
Walls of guitar chord ring out and wash over, Gilmour straddling that line between passion and stating, matter of fact, the things that incur in him the deepest of emotion. It also debuts, seemingly, the only time slap bass, neatly deployed, makes its way onto a Pink Floyd track. Fretless bass, possibly.
“On The Turning Away” opens with lines like “on the turning away/from the pale and downtrodden”, which sets the scene for despondent acoustic guitar. Drums start things proper. Later, crushing guitar, aided by organ, come in. It seems to evoke being at one’s lowest ebb. Wails of guitar, like the growl of a wildcat, indicate the passion behind the whole song. An expert tempo change kicks in, almost unexpected but very satisfying to listen to.
Instrumental “Yet Another Movie/Round And Around” tolls like a bell submerged in water, ominous and stomping. Drums of some restraint give a sense of mood and the high octane goings on in times of desperation. It seems to chime with the spirit of ancient China.
There’s a sense of finality, that once things are set in motion that there’s no turning back. Guitar solos are equally dramatic, impulsive and, yes, wild. A seamless change glides in, suggesting a chance of hope, ethereal and heavenly. There’s also very human elements at play, too, like Gilmour’s guitar and a trudging, almost walking rhythm.
The curious “A New Machine (Part 1)” sounds like Gilmour’s voice immersed in water, waters that make a talkbox effect sound very much subterranean. He sounds in pain, and very passionate.
“Terminal Frost” has keyboard, tinkling and contemplative. There appears, also, to be sporadic flashes of saxophone, searching for more in life. A change in key sets the song on a voyage towards some of the most profound music on the entire album. Histrionics ensue before taking the song to square one, dancing so greatly adept that only progressive rock titans could pull it off seemingly effortlessly. It, “Signs Of Life” and “Yet Another Movie/Round And Around” are all instrumentals, it should be pointed out.
Continuing from two tracks ago you find “A New Machine (Part 2)”. This is very much a reprisal of the first part, but a fraction shorter in duration.
Finale “Sorrow” has big, bold guitar ringing with a lot of bite, cutting like it could fall a tree. This preludes a seismic shift in tangent, the basic rhythm clapping like the restless spirit of humanity on an endless journey of time and, yes, sorrow. This goes onto despair, matters very grave and potentially fatal. A ringing of sound, like the buzzsaw felling a tree, kicks in. There’s excellent dynamics letting the song almost drop to silence, all elements ringing out for a good ensemble performance. The guitar solos, as ever, are spot on, heroic and a tad virtuoso. The fadeout catches some spattering fires of drum accentuating untameable guitar.
The album is peppered with fantastic songs, and even though they’re spread out through the duration, the moments in between serve excellently to build the atmosphere between said highlights. Opener “Signs Of Life” perfectly kicks off “Learning To Fly”, to the point that the album opener is dark and foreboding and, without sounding too overly dramatic, what follows is beautiful and uplifting. “Learning To Fly” conveys pain and deep sadness, searing with emotion and mixing with the elation you first hear as the guitar opens the track.
A mild criticism would be that, in this reviewer’s eyes, or their ears, rather, the first half of the album is rather sparse. Of the ten tracks, after track two you only properly get into the swing of things, the meat on the bones, again, come track six, “Yet Another Movie/Round And Around”. It’s testament to the power of the band, depleted as they were at the time, that the second highlight is an instrumental. The tolling of the bell. The chiming of ancient China. It has it all, an immersive aural experience.
Further immersive, literally, is “A New Machine (Part 1)”, with Gilmour’s voice bubbling and gurgling like underwater. The ambience seems to perfectly dip into “Terminal Frost”, from water to ice. Its finest moments, however fleeting, are, no exaggeration in repeating the word, profound.
That same, or similar, bubbling and gurgling of “A New Machine (Part 2)” is the perfect buffer for album closer, “Sorrow”. That ominous, clapping rhythm’s evocative of that restless soul within all of humanity. Even when sleeping, daresay, to the point it ties in majestically with that aforementioned album cover, travelling towards a collective consciousness whereby only that lone man has ‘awakened’, like the one in ten of all humanity.
Pink Floyd’s discography is as such this effort probably fares quite lowly in comparison to their numerous classics in the Sixties and Seventies. It’s maybe a tad unfair to declare this one as merely as a side project of Gilmour’s, and more than holds its own amidst works with the combined might of both Gilmour and Waters in, indeed, tandem.
You can purchase the much underrated A Momentary Lapse Of Reason on iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson