Nov 132018
 

The Wall ReduxOften ranked among the best concept albums of all time, Pink Floyd’s The Wall was released on November 30, 1979. Produced by band members David Gilmour and Roger Waters along with Bob Ezrin and James Guthrie, it’s overwhelmingly considered Waters’s baby. He conceived of Pink, the fatigued rock-star figure on whom the album centers, and who is widely thought to contain characteristics of both Roger Waters and Pink Floyd cofounder and original frontman, Syd Barrett. The musical narrative confronts war, the ugly side of stardom, and the conformity encouraged by many English private schools of the day – blending the nominally unrelated subjects into seamless theme.

Covering an album as entrenched in the musical culture as this one is ambitious and dicey by nature. Many well-known acts have covered Pink Floyd, and even the more celebrated among those covers are not immune to pushback from tie-dyed-in-the-wool Floyd fans. The bands behind The Wall Redux certainly get points for chutzpah. The newest redux effort from Magnetic Eye Records, this compilation invites artists from rock and metal to revisit all the songs on Pink Floyd’s 11th studio album.

It makes sense that the Melvins would serve up a hell of a kickoff for The Wall Redux. The time-tested gonzos of punk-rock have always demonstrated an unselfconsciousness that keeps their music pretense-free, and many of their long-term fans will love hearing them cover the album opener. But the fact is, it doesn’t go with the rest of The Wall Redux (which is to say, it doesn’t go with The Wall), and the changes they’ve made erode Pink Floyd’s influence.

Most notably, the lyrics have been altered to reflect romantic longing. From the opening “Darling, darling, darling, I can’t wait to see you,” the song is about the desire to hold a remote lover, yes, in the flesh. The tension between music and lyrics does lend itself to a vibe that’s not completely on the up and up. Because it’s nothing overt, the song could skew as borderline murdery or just earnest in love. That ambiguity makes their take pretty interesting in its own right.

That said, one of so many refreshing qualities about Pink Floyd was how rarely their material centered on capital-r relationship love; the bonds and emotional injuries at the heart of their lyrical canon benefited from the same explorative clout that drove their music. Beyond that, The Wall is the concept album all the other concept albums want to be. Kicking off the redux of an album that cogently addresses war, mourning, the crushing of creativity, etc., with lyrics from romance is a strange move. And that realistic baby’s cry from the original – here it’s basically slapstick.

Low Flying Hawks interpret “The Thin Ice” as a languid contemplation shot through with bright notes – until slightly over the halfway mark, when they launch a heavy, stirring dirge. “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1” by Ghastly Sound takes musical risks and stamps the song with their own flavor; the background haunted-house-esque screeches aren’t out of place. Sergeant Thunderhoof brings some deadpan sincerity to “Happiest Days of Our Lives.” The echoey buildup to the swelling sound that leads to “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” is handled well, as is that desperate cry at the finale.

Sasquatch may be scaling the tallest mountain of this redux. Kudos to them for taking on the song perhaps most associated with Pink Floyd: “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2.” The guitar solo is nice, but what precedes it lacks the texture that made the original such a standout. The ending, meanwhile, faces inevitable comparison to arguably the most quotable denouement in all of classic rock; unfortunately, it doesn’t add or interestingly alter anything.

In “Mother” by ASG, distinct acoustic strumming creates a country-music mood that competently develops the lyrical picture. Enter a full-bodied electric guitar around the three-minute mark and you have the impression of a fully realized country-rock song – if it is genre-transgressive in its assessment of Mama. From the vocals to the gracefully fading guitar at the end, ASG successfully transpose “Mother” to the intersection of country and rock.

“Goodbye Blue Sky” by Mos Generator is pleasant and light; there’s a lullaby feel to the music behind lyrics far less soporific. In that way, it’s true to the original, but not enough is added or changed up to clearly argue the cover’s value.

The musical intro to “Empty Space” by Domkraft combines a thudding, paranoia-inducing drumbeat with a higher-pitched (though similarly apt to induce paranoia) musical swell. While it doesn’t match Floyd’s intro to the same song – which was equal parts storm and march of machinery – it’s effective; it’s cause for optimism regarding the rest of the song. When the vocals kick in, however, the musical distortion is thick and relentless to the point of rendering the lyrics mostly unintelligible.

While the vocals from the original “Young Lust” grabbed you hard from note one, Slim Kings start off with a funky guitar before sliding into a playful nightclub take on the song. It may not be revolutionary, but it’s fun.

The Pink Floyd version of “One of My Turns” is known for the coos of a groupie clearly enamored with rock-star Pink (or at least his place). “Oh my god – what a fabulous room!” The rock star doesn’t answer her; he cedes his responses to what’s playing on TV. Then comes the restrained, mournful music that undergoes a change in key signature and tempo to become revved-up. Energetic. Frenzied, even. Then onto a hopelessly stretched-out final note of . . . longing, devastation, angst?

Worshipper makes the interesting choice to eliminate the flirty groupie in favor of homing in on the background movie, which (interesting choice #2), they’ve updated to All the President’s Men. The sound clips they use are hard-hitting and not out of place in today’s climate. This cover amounts to one the best examples on the album of honoring the character of Pink Floyd’s work; the apropos substitutions only underscore how flexibly the contextual ideas of The Wall fit ever-morphing content related to politics and culture. When your modern cover makes a classic song feel more timeless, you’ve accomplished something.

On top of that, Worshipper captures the melodic initial musical phase and its dramatic shift into a haler, more aggressive sound – without copying what Pink Floyd did. Effective to that final suspended cry of longing, “One of My Turns” is one of the album’s top three covers.

The plodding music of the original “Don’t Leave Me Now” was accompanied by the background indication of struggling to breathe before the song eventually ebbed to TV channel flipping and an ending anguished wail. Spaceslug – true to their name – captures the same plodding (adding to it an enchanting background hum) and sprinkles in more than a little spacey psychedelia. Fans who love Floyd down to their “Astronomy Domine” roots will appreciate it. The rest of the song is a pure sonic soup, but with enough variety in melody and sound effects to keep things interesting.

The band Year of the Cobra gives us “When the Tigers Broke Free,” a song that was written at the same time as The Wall but does not appear on the album. While Roger Waters intended to include it, it was vetoed by the rest of the band for being too personal; it was used in the movie. Even if Floyd loyalists don’t dig the metal presentation, the fact that this cover was included at all is a nice touch.

“Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 3/Goodbye Cruel World” by Greenleaf represents a missed opportunity. The song’s brutal beat is effective, but the buzzy vocals don’t pay homage to the angst-come-anger of the original. The heavy emotional lifting is left to distorting effects, while the vocals beneath feel featureless. On The Wall, this is the point where the pent-up, distended energy of ABITW, Pts. 1 and 2 broke into unadulterated rebellion. It felt liberating. Its compact share of album time was ideal – its brevity underscored its power.

You can see how combining these two songs makes sense for Greenleaf – the originals clock in at only 1:14 and 1:13 respectively – and the combination could have served The Wall Redux well: it could have preserved, or honored, a great transition. On the original, the controlled seething of “Pt. 3” hands off to “Goodbye Cruel World” in a way that mimics catching your breath after a good rant, and subsiding into reflective sadness. The transition in Greenleaf’s version is full of sonic murk and echoes; the music picks back up naturally enough from there, but it doesn’t serve the same distinct purpose the original transition did.

The vocals on “Hey You” by Summoner are scratchy, soft, and almost snowed over by the music (initially) – and it’s potent. The music is fairly faithful to Pink Floyd’s, albeit with a more full, “rockier” sound. The choral tone toward the song’s end also works. Overall, Summoner does an outstanding job of capturing this song’s evasive mood.

The original “Is There Anybody Out There?” is TV sound, wind-chime tinkering, reverberation, high-pitched squeals, and short lyric bursts with layered vocals that intensify the repetition of the song’s title question in a way that on-the-nose spooky sound effects never could. Scott Reeder’s version nicely handles the initial sonic detail. Simpler than Floyd’s effects, Reeder’s are sharp and distinct – the sounds can catch you off-guard even when you think you’ve gotten used to them. The very end is especially well-crafted; it may stay with you a while after your first listen.

In Pink Floyd’s “Nobody Home,” we’re treated to the background adult-scolding-child and TV sounds that recur with war-reference frequency in The Wall. The gentle, upturned vocals and sleek music of the original highlight the song’s mounting loneliness with harrowing understatement. Mark Lanegan’s voice makes this cover work – he knows how to hold back in a way that never feels flat or emotionless. His deep, naturally resonant, bluesy voice feels custom-designed for a song like this. The uncomplicated music ensures the spotlight stays on Lanegan’s singing. In fact, the music falls so perfectly in the background that its sudden absence at the end is nearly gasp-worthy. Easily one of the album’s top three covers.

While several song transitions are missed on The Wall Redux, the one between “Vera” as covered by Ruby the Hatchet and “Bring the Boys Back Home,” covered by Sunflo’er, may represent the biggest loss. The original “Vera” faded into the Fife and Drum Corps opening of “Bring the Boys Back Home” in a way that lent both short songs more definition than they had individually. Given the concision of both, it would have been nice to either have the same group cover both songs or for Ruby the Hatchet and Sunflo’er to have coordinated.

The version of “Vera” by Ruby the Hatchet opens with an engine-gunning sound among wartime explosions, which gives way to clear, silky vocals. While the singer’s voice is beautiful, the bulk of the song needlessly complicates its message of barebones mourning. In Sunflo’er’s take on “Bring the Boys Back Home,” an almost imperceptible opening whistle precedes a slow, dirge-like sound; the Corps-reminiscent drums go on in the background, almost buried under the surface of the music. The song proceeds without lyrics.

“Comfortably Numb” by Mars Red Sky delivers the resonant, omnidirectional sonic detail Pink Floyd is famed for. The abundant fuzz that Mars Red Sky works into choruses fits the song’s theme in theory, but something’s lost in execution. In Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” the music – memorable and expertly enacted as it was – remained subdued enough that the aching lyrics took center stage, which is not the case here.

“The Show Must Go On” by Open Hand opens to gentle bedtime music with beautiful splashes of saxophone. The vocals’ entry fits this tone perfectly, and the sense of a jazzy lullaby persists throughout. This creates an interesting clash with the existential lyrics that feel like fodder for insomnia.

“In the Flesh” is, on The Wall, where the singer taunts listeners with the information that Pink’s back in his hotel room not doing well and the band before them are surrogates. Roger Waters’s thoughts on the danger of musicians being revered as golden gods come through with an all-time clarity in this song. Solace gives us a version that kicks off with an unholy shout that’s original and yet very Floyd. The singer’s voice picks up appropriate notes of unhinged repulsion for those lyrics that call out individual “unsuitable” fans to demonstrate the lord-like power now wielded by Pink. It would’ve been nice to hear some of this vocal insanity woven into earlier parts of the song (for a covering band not to play up lyrics about being surrogates feels like a bit of a wasted chance), but overall, this one works well.

If you’re having the sort of day where coffee isn’t enough, give “Run Like Hell” by Pallbearer a spin – you’ll be wide awake in no time. The vocals are fine, but the big distinction is the cover’s racing pulse; smart choice for a song based on running. Breathlessly. Like hell.

All aspects of “Waiting for the Worms” by WhiteNails work together judiciously; vocal effects are applied and avoided in a pattern that makes sense for the material. WhiteNails have offered a cohesive cover in which they do their own thing without noticeably striving to do so.

In the 30-second-long original version of “Stop,” Roger Waters’s plaintive voice strains through introspective lyrics. It’s a perfect foyer to “The Trial.” In Blue Heron’s version, slightly longer at 49 seconds, the music is much more prominent. The vocals certainly convey the emotion at hand, if expressed much differently.

And then comes “The Trial.”

Had there never been a movie, listeners of The Wall still would’ve reaped a thoroughly cinematic experience courtesy of this song. In the cover by Church of the Cosmic Skull, the music is pleasant, but the vocals are superpowered. Theatrical and playful, these singers’ voices show emotional shifts the way white gloves show missed dust on the mantle. I found the guttural demonic-sounding voice around the 3:30 point overdone, but it’s not out of line with the original. I’m going to take my life in my hands and admit something: I enjoyed the first verse of the cover more than the same verse of the original. Several singers are involved in this cover, and the vocals in total show a mastery of shtick, drama, and subtle emotions all at once – while making it look effortless. On that strength alone, it rounds out the top three from The Wall Redux.

Finally, we have “Outside the Wall” by Yawning Man. The spoken-word original comes across as inspirational poetry, especially given the schoolkid-choir backing. It’s 1:44, and that’s long enough. The cover stretches to 4:33, and it’s difficult to determine (a) what warrants the extension and (b) what the cover has in common with the original. While the cover’s music and effects are interesting enough to start with, they soon grow monotonous. Given the fact that the music goes in a markedly different direction, there are no lyrics of any sort, and the defining schoolkid choir is absent, I can see only the most tenuous of connections to the original.

The Wall is a concept album in the truest sense of the term — in fact, it’s largely the standard against which others are compared. In it the songs are poignantly tethered by lyrics and music. In The Wall Redux, unfortunately, no such cohesion arises – and not just because different bands are handling the individual entries. That the iconic transitions (“Happiest Days” to “ABITW, Pt. 1”; “Empty Space” to “Young Lust”; “Vera” to “Bring the Boys Back Home”) were neither replicated nor replaced with different but similarly rewarding transitions blunts the power of this revival.

That said, there are many talented artists involved in the project; I recommend listening to it for Worshipper’s “One of My Turns,” Mark Lanegan’s “Nobody Home,” and Church of the Cosmic Skull’s “The Trial” among other accomplished covers.

The Melvins – In the Flesh (Pink Floyd cover)

Sasquatch – Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2 (Pink Floyd cover)

ASG – Mother (Pink Floyd cover)

Mark Lanegan – Nobody Home (Pink Floyd cover)

Mars Red Sky – Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd cover)

Pallbearer – Run Like Hell (Pink Floyd cover)

You can order The Wall Redux on Amazon. Read and listen to our Full Cover Album treatment of The Wall here and here.

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