Looking back at the band’s classic first LP without Roger Waters
Skeptics might consider A Momentary Lapse of Reason a particularly prophetic title for Pink Floyd’s 13th album, released in the U.S. on September 8, 1987.
After all, it arrived at a time when the band were in an actual state of flux. Roger Waters left the band of which he’d been a part of since the beginning and the ensuing legal squabbles over the ownership of the band’s name led to a permanent schism which has yet to be resolved even now, over 35 years on.
So too, the fact that some considered this a thinly veiled Dave Gilmour solo album — hardly surprising considering the success he had scored with his eponymous debut and his sophomore set About Face — tainted its initial impression, particularly with the purists. The fact that it was recorded in Gilmour’s home studio on his converted houseboat also suggested a decidedly slanted approach.
Indeed, the hostility between Gilmour and Waters had manifested on record, with Waters’ The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking taking aim at Gilmour directly. The fact that keyboardist and founding member Richard Wright and drummer Nick Mason were encouraged to return to the fold did provide some legitimacy as far as the brand was concerned, even though the album differed considerably from Floyd’s usual format. For once, it wasn’t a concept album, but that didn’t prevent it from achieving a much-needed boost of popular success, even to the point of outselling the last album with Waters released under the Pink Floyd banner, the tellingly-titled The Final Cut.
Nevertheless, Gilmour was forced to make some modifications to the usual MO. Keyboardist Jon Caron was brought on board, replacing Wright in several instances. Producer Bob Ezrin, who had helmed The Wall, was also recruited to share the producer’s chair. In addition, Gilmour collaborated with avant-garde musician Anthony Moore on a handful of songs, further ensuring an experimental element that flourished courtesy of samples, sequencing and sound effects. Drummers Carmine Appice and Jim Keltner contributed their talents as well, effectively sidelining Mason on several tracks, specifically at his own request.
Gilmour later said: “Both Nick and Rick were catatonic in terms of their playing ability at the beginning. Neither of them played on this at all really. In my view, they’d been destroyed by Roger.” Naturally, Gilmour’s comments didn’t go over well with his remaining bandmates. Nevertheless, only Mason and Gilmour are pictured on the album’s inner sleeve.
VIDEO: Pink Floyd “Learning To Fly”
The songs themselves were spawned from several sources. The majestic sweep of “Learning to Fly” was gleaned from Gilmour’s newfound fascination with flying. “The Dogs of War” shared a strident sound that purportedly dealt with what Gilmour mysteriously described as “physical and political mercenaries.”
Other songs were well in keeping with Floyd’s earlier constraints, specifically the dark and demonstrative “Yet Another Movie,” the ominous and oppressive “Sorrow” and the album’s most evocative entry, “On the Turning Away,” a song which signaled a return to the dreamy, cerebral sound that had marked the band’s ascent from Dark Side of the Moon forward.
Nevertheless, certain songs were more apocalyptic than accessible, the two part “A New Machine” and “Terminal Frost” both being obvious examples.
Likewise, the cover art by Storm Thorgerson, who had earlier done the design for the Animals album, was as bewildering as it was bizarre. It consisted of row after row of hospital beds aligned along a wide beach. It gave the impression something was indeed askew, as the title A Momentary Lapse of Reason effectively illustrated.
Other titles were proposed — Signs of Life, Of Promises Broken and Delusions of Maturity — but clearly any lapse of reason could be reconciled by the uncertainty shared due to the dynamics that went into the album overall.
Fortunately, however momentarily it might have been, it still stands up well.
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