Some things to consider if you’re coming to this new:
Now then. I suppose the easy way out for me would be to say “at this point, Roger Waters left Pink Floyd”, and carry on, but there’s so much packed into that short verb that I’m going to have to expand a little…
There was no tour to support ‘The Final Cut’; I can’t imagine how a tour would have worked at that point. The first thing which happened after the release of ‘The Final Cut’ was that Capitol records in the US released a compilation called ‘Works’ as some kind of spoiler. You might remember Capitol released everything up to ‘Dark Side’, but were considered ineffective by the band, and the contract wasn’t renewed, which is why Gilmour had to re-record ‘Money’ for the last compilation album. ‘Works’ consists largely of alternate takes of some of the better known early songs, ‘Several Species of Small Furry Animals…’ for some reason, and a previously unreleased track from the ‘Ummagumma’ sessions called ‘Embryo:
After that, the band went their own separate ways and recorded various solo albums. I realise I missed out Nick Mason’s ‘Fictitious Sports’ last time round – it came out in between the last two Floyd albums. It’s not really a solo album, unless you’re going to be honest and call it a Carla Bley solo album. Bley is a highly regarded jazz pianist; somehow Mason agreed to record an album of her songs, with Robert Wyatt on vocals. Mason did at least play all the drums on it. It’s interesting, but it’s not Pink Floyd (there’s a hint of Zappa on this one, for example):
Mason then collaborated with Rick Fenn, at the time guitarist in 10cc, on another album called ‘Profiles’. This one is mainly instrumental, and does feature David Gilmour on one track:
Neither album sold particularly well, but it didn’t really matter; finances were much more stable than they’d ever been.
Gilmour’s solo career continued – ‘About Face’ came out in 1984, featuring a couple of tracks with lyrics by Pete Townshend, and definitely has its moments:
Rick Wright released an album called ‘Identity’ under the name ‘Zee’ – a collaboration with Dave Harris of Fashion. It’s a bit Eighties…
… actually, it’s a lot Eighties.
And, of course, we can’t ignore Roger. ‘The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking’ came out in 1984, in direct competition with Gilmour. It probably deserves a post of its own, and for all that it’s off-topic for this, it might have been the follow up to ‘Animals’. It’s – to these ears – pretty good, worth some of your time. The title track features Eric Clapton doing what Gilmour would otherwise have been doing, and you can see how Waters is simply continuing what he believes to be the Pink Floyd sound:
Waters and Gilmour toured more or less at the same time, Roger doing much more Floyd material and – without ever really saying so – presenting himself as the natural successor to the band. Even at this point, there’s a suspicion that, if he had been a little more flexible, things might have gone differently.
The crunch came when Gilmour and Mason agreed to try doing another Pink Floyd album. Waters flatly refused to be involved, as in his opinion, the band had broken up. Gilmour countered with the observation that the record company were keen for a new Floyd album, and the only thing preventing it from happening was Waters refusal to take part. If he wasn’t going to contribute, he had better formally resign from the band and let them get on with it.
At this point, things got messy. Both parties sued each other – or threatened to – Waters to prevent the others from using the Pink Floyd name, the others to force him to work with them again (that would have ended well). Eventually, faced with what he imagined would be financial ruin, Waters backed down, resigned from the various companies (he had apparently left the band some time before, but was still a director of the overall organisation), and told Gilmour that he would never make another Floyd album. I believe the expression is ‘red rag to a bull’.
The details of the whole situation are unbearably complex – in Mason’s book, he kind of skates around most of it -but what we do know is unedifying and testament to what happens when large egos and a lot of money slosh around in a band which was based originally on hippy ideals. If you want some more insight, there’s a great Rolling Stone article from the time which tries to cut through the tangle.
So, with none of the dust settled, and Roger Waters out on the road playing Floyd music, Gilmour set about creating ‘Dave Gilmour’s Pink Floyd’. Recording started on Gilmour’s houseboat in the Thames (I imagine there was all sorts of red tape preventing the use of Britannia Row; none of the band particularly liked it anyway). Rick Wright was able to guest on a couple of tracks, but his contributions were minimal, mainly for legal reasons (he signed a piece of paper at one point agreeing that he would never be allowed back in the band). Mason does play drums in a few places, but confessed to being extremely rusty after four years of pissing about in sportscars, and in any case overwhelmed by the new technology available. The upshot is that ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ is pretty much Gilmour’s third solo album. It sold a lot better than the other two, though – it had the Pink Floyd name on the front, and a Hipgnosis cover. There’s also a band photo inside. I say a band photo; it’s Dave and Nick leaning against each other as if they were on the poster for a Matthew McConaughey film.
So, is it any good?
Sorry, but it really isn’t. For a start, it is in no way a Pink Floyd album. Listening to it for this has been a chore; it’s not even as good as Gilmour’s other solo work up to this point. If it wasn’t for ‘On The Turning Away’ and – to an extent – ‘Learning to Fly’, I doubt I’d ever listen to it again. It’s flabby, meandering and self-indulgent in a way that Pink Floyd music generally isn’t; it lacks Waters’ caustic input, and with Mason pretty much on the bench, there’s no bite to it at all.
It’s also overlong and in many places, spectacularly tuneless – ‘One Slip’ in particular is just Gilmour doing that slightly strained monotone shouty stuff instead of singing. The ‘experimental’ ‘A New Machine’ pieces bookend yet another drone, although it does at least have some keyboard patterns which are mildly interesting, and ‘Sorrow’ just dribbles away a promising start. For eight minutes.
I was living in Inverness when this came out; I remember the fuss about it – an inflatable bed floating down the Thames if I remember correctly – and I remember liking ‘Turning Away’ when it was played on the radio.
I also remember borrowing it from the library and listening to it no more than a couple of times before taking it back. I’ve heard it a few times since (and I’m listening to it now); each time, I think that it can’t have been as bad as I remember.
But it is.
Thankfully, it’s not quite the end of the road.