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Home arrow Articles arrow Miscellaneous Articles arrow Pink Floyd's A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, 25 years later
Pink Floyd's A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, 25 years later Print E-mail
Written by Ed Lopez-Reyes   
Thursday, 13 September 2012

Pink Floyd - A Momentary Lapse Of ReasonOn September 7th, 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' turned 25. This marks 25 years of a personal sojourn: the album was my introduction to Pink Floyd and is the reason many of my own journeys over the last quarter of a century have overlapped some important Pink Floyd milestones.

It's a journey that began with a pair of headphones: as a 13 year-old I'd get up in the middle of the night and listen to the radio. My intent was to catch hard rock and heavy metal bands. Not much classic rock had grown on me yet. But somehow, 'Learning to Fly' did the trick.

There was something special about it: the flowing guitar sound, the lyrics, the stately drum sound, the air traffic control tower voices… the soaring attributes. 25 years later, the song still imbues these qualities and I'd still pick this as the opening track on any official soundtrack to my life… for reasons that far exceed my love for Pink Floyd's work since the days of Syd Barrett.

The 'Learning to Fly' single release on September 14th of 1987 (a week after the album's release) was one of the reasons my next yearly summer visit to Texas would be different than most: the following summer, while perusing my uncle's record collection, that album with the strange cow photograph on the cover would stir something that motivated me to amass quite a Pink Floyd collection, to see the band live any opportunity I had, and to… well, here I am writing for Brain Damage.

But it all started with 'Learning to Fly.' My curiosity regarding the 'Atom Heart Mother' album cover wouldn't have been the same had I not been captivated by 'Learning to Fly' and the entire 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' endeavor. Somehow, I felt I had to make sense of it all...

I realize I'm part of a younger generation of Pink Floyd fans that were introduced to the band through this album, and generally, the David Gilmour Pink Floyd era. This alone makes the album a critical point in our musical journey, and that fact itself relegates many of us to a unique and at times remote existence in the overall population of Pink Floyd adherents: without question, the majority has consistently made a case for artistic superiority during the Roger Waters era. I have never thought of one period as superior to the other: I've come to love the band's evolution and what each of its periods and albums manifested.

Despite what I think is a fair and equitable taste for the band's three most widely recognized periods (Barrett, Waters, and Gilmour), I know I'm also part of a smaller percentage of fans whose favorite era encompasses all the material and performances that began with 1987's 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' and apparently came to an end with 'PULSE…' or was it Live 8? Whatever it is, it's a controversial period in the band's history – one that hasn't been given proper closure. Nick Mason has stated that Pink Floyd never officially disbanded.

Controversies (legal battles) often overshadowed successes during this period in the band's history, which is a pity because in all truth, Pink Floyd's output throughout all of its periods was extraordinary, especially when compared to so many of its contemporary acts.

Some of my best friends in this musical sojourn are not keen on anything from this chapter in the band's history – and I understand where they're coming from: Pink Floyd's longest and most resilient period was led by Roger Waters.

That said, I think it's worth making a case for the accomplishments of 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason.' And just as time has healed much of the animosity that existed between band members in the late 1970s and throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, it may be fair to hope that it's enough time for Pink Floyd aficionados to listen to this album with fresh ears: acknowledging the uniqueness of what the Gilmour era brought to the Pink Floyd catalog need not translate into a negative statement on what preceded the period.

While 'Learning to Fly' is probably the track most people will remember when they think about 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason,' there is a certain fluidity to the entire album that deserves recognition despite the fact that – unlike previous Pink Floyd albums – it was not written around a specific theme, thread, or concept: 'Signs of Life,' the first track on the album, is probably one of the best examples of the sounds and musical textures – including a cinematic feel – that swirl in guitarist David Gilmour's head.

It is a fair criticism that 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' is about as close as Pink Floyd can get to a solo Gilmour album – but the same can be stated about 'The Final Cut' and Roger Waters. I recognize this as a strength: the trajectory of any band's work should reflect the ebb and flow of its creative forces. The natural result is a creative output that is consistent with the band's peaks and valleys. 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' is without doubt Gilmour's boldest expression as a part of Pink Floyd. The band's experiences, both individually and as a unit, during that period, provide an informative context.

The opening track, 'Signs of Life,' embodies many of the qualities that would define the band under Gilmour's direction: the bluesy yet ethereal melodies, the visceral sense of solitude and disconnection from society's pedestrian rhythms, and the composition's purpose as an introduction to something that ascends robustly ('Learning to Fly' is the album's second track and fits so perfectly after 'Signs of Life' it's difficult to listen to one without the other). 'Signs of Life' is a track that has managed to age well – something that can't be said about every track on the album.

Two tracks that haven't are 'Dogs of War' and 'One Slip.'

Ironically, 'Dogs of War' is one of the most popular tracks among those who hold the album in high esteem. The song's aggressive tone and war themes can still evoke some of the anger it's probably meant to – but the production, specifically when it came to drums, absorbed so much of the instrument's natural sound it resembles a drum machine. This is lamentable considering the fact that drummer Carmine Appice sits behind the drum-kit on this track: Appice is quite an extraordinary drummer, with an incredible musical pedigree.

Though it may have been on purpose, the background vocals, the synthesizers, and the saxophone overwhelm other parts of the song so strongly that 25 years later it may be hard for some to take the piece in without pondering how much better the production could've been.

'One Slip's fate is determined by how well (or not) it weathers a continuously (and increasingly fast) changing audience: when the album came out, the song seemed to capture the spirit of that musical epoch quite well. The heavily synthesized sounds and the tempo made it a great track to play live in those years Pink Floyd toured under Gilmour's direction. Co-written by Phil Manzanera, the song probably feels ensnared in the musical traits of the period – but could resurface some day as something that transcends its original time.

'On the Turning Away,' the following track on the album, is one song that has aged with particular grace. Despite what some might criticize as a cliché thematic, the musicianship and finesse with which the song is performed has made this one of the brightest stars on the album. Unfortunately, the tune didn't get the live circulation it deserved, e.g., it's one of those songs you just knew wouldn't be played at Live 8 when Pink Floyd and Roger Waters reunited.

Of course, this is obvious for many reasons – but the point is that 'On the Turning Away' is one of those songs that transcend the actual album: a song that really pulls the band (in this case, Gilmour, Mason, and Richard Wright) together in a way no other recording had since specific songs on 'The Wall.' It should be considered one of the band's best singles.

If the album opens with punch on 'Signs of Life' and “Learning to Fly,' but descends into something that either hasn't aged well or wasn't given the type of detailed production other songs (and other Pink Floyd albums) had been given, 'Yet Another Movie' atones for it and elevates listeners once again.

'Yet Another Movie' might be a great example of the path Pink Floyd may have charted had Gilmour felt greater volition over the band following Waters' departure: in many ways, 'The Division Bell' seems to address, to some degree, insecurities that may have reined Gilmour's ambition in shaping Pink Floyd's sound in that post-Waters era. 'Yet Another Movie' is one of those tracks on 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' where you see hints of what may have been for Pink Floyd with greater indifference to expectations for a specific Pink Floyd 'sound' and more releases under the Gilmour banner.

Yet, 'Yet Another Movie' is probably one of two or three tracks on 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' that might divide fans most acridly, specifically for this reason: it's the type of track that provides a glimpse of Gilmour's creative direction and the dramatic difference in sound that could've cemented through additional albums had he felt emancipated from the pressures to provide a specific type of Pink Floyd 'sound.'

It's not hard to imagine 'Yet Another Movie' existing somewhere in the same vein as the material presented to CBS in the earliest of the album's recording stages, which (as the late author Nicholas Schaffner described) was met with a comment by a CBS executive that the thing didn't “sound a fucking thing like Pink Floyd.” (But really, how similar are 'Dark Side of the Moon' and 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn'?).

'Yet Another Movie' is probably one of the most pronounced departures from the sound that had characterized Pink Floyd for so many years: the industrial, progressive, imposing, and rigidly but complexly structured sound the song bears might share common roots with other Pink Floyd songs but seems to aim for a distinctive style – it unleashes a creative force that for some reason begins to feel more reined in by the time 'The Division Bell' rolls around in 1994.

I won't pretend to expect to convince anyone who hasn't warmed up to this album in 25 years, but 'Yet Another Movie,' with its haunting sound and lyrics, and that commanding drum sound (apparently delivered not only by Nick Mason, but also by session drummer Jim Keltner), is one of Pink Floyd's finest moments; particularly if we can – fairly – recognize the strengths of each of the band's periods… Gilmour's included.

Another reason 'Yet Another Movie' represents a peak on 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' is Gilmour's song-writing skills are fully laid out on the table. In that regard, this song is (once again) one of Pink Floyd's finest: it is typically assumed by fans that throughout Pink Floyd's catalog Gilmour provided the melodies and Waters the lyrics. The truth is more complicated: all members of Pink Floyd contributed richly in each of these spheres and 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' highlights Gilmour's song-writing talents despite his own effort to refocus the band on the music in better balance with lyrics, which he felt had become the focus of the band over the last two or three studio albums.

'Yet Another Movie' is followed by the instrumental 'Round and Round' which extends the haunting and eerie quality of the preceding track – this track, which follows seamlessly, was actually attached to 'Yet Another Movie' on the earlier editions of the album. It was in fact separated as an independent track for the 2011 re-releases of the Pink Floyd catalog.

Once 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' makes its way through 'Round and Round' you begin to get a sense of finality. Somehow, the music gives you a sense of descent. 'A New Machine (Part 1)' and 'A New Machine (Part 2)', both vocal solos, bookend 'Terminal Frost,' an instrumental that was originally meant to carry vocals. Whatever the reasoning for skipping vocals, the instrumental works – but hasn't aged well. In this case, the actual use of drum machines is one reason 'Terminal Frost' sounds so aged. Somehow the things that make the piece extraordinary survive, but the sense that the recording is 25 years old is overwhelmingly evident.

It is immediately after this set that 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' launches into one of Gilmour's most epic guitar moments: 'Sorrow.' You know an album's production team has done well when the track sequence flows well. 'Sorrow' somehow feels right at the very end of this album. The guitar playing is powerful, as are – once again – the lyrics.

It's a shame a song like 'Sorrow' is unlikely to be played live again with any frequency. In fact, the last time this song was played live was in 2004, when David Gilmour played the Strat Pack show at Wembley Arena: it may have been the first time in 10 years since Pink Floyd's last shows at Earls Court in 1994 included the track on the tour set.

Looking back, 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' will always be of unique significance to any of us who discovered Pink Floyd through this album. But discovering a band through a specific album doesn't necessarily make one partial to it – Pink Floyd's catalog preceding 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' is so strong it's nearly impossible to dismiss anything from the band's past on account of what was released on and after 1987. It may have taken me about three or four years to really get to know the band's history and to understand the splits, the court battles, and the animosity, etc., so in that time I truly came to love all three Pink Floyd eras and things about each of their albums with very little prejudice.

In that spirit, I advance my case that 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' deserves that second look from those who may have written it off 25 years ago on account of internal band politics that may have compelled fans to take a side or another.

If you must skip tracks to give the album another quick try (or even if this is your first time!), I highly recommend going straight into 'Signs of Life,' followed by 'Learning to Fly,' 'Yet Another Movie,' and finally, 'Sorrow.'

I may be in a very small minority – or maybe not – but either way, I feel it would've been great to see some 'Experience' and 'Immersion' sets for the Gilmour era albums: this would have actually given us a glimpse of more recent, unreleased Pink Floyd material – which may have filled so many blanks that were left by the limited, officially released output for this period in the band's history…

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