The Delicate Balance of Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd, Meddle, 1971, Inner Flap, Vinyl
Pink Floyd - Meddle (Inner Flap Photo) 1971

As a prominent fan and borderline dealing with an obsession for the band Pink Floyd, I have to express something that needs to be expressed within this sphere in the last few years. Floyd fans know that the most prominent figures of the band are Roger Waters and David Gilmour. They have both embarked on comparatively mildly successful careers since Waters left the band in 1985, and had a Gilmour lead era for ten years succeeding the departure. In that time, the albums released, such as Momentary Lapse of Reason and Division Bell, are retrospectively regarded as similar to Gilmour solo work, backed by original members Nick Mason and the immense keyboard/synth talent that was Rick Wright. (It is imperative to note that Rick Wright’s 1978 album Wet Dream speaks volumes to his musicality and Floyd contribution; essentially he was the backbone of their signature sound.)

In recent years, post-Live 8 reunion and the untimely death of Rick Wright, Gilmour and Waters have been embarking on huge individual tours and releasing their own work. Roger Waters has been successful in capitalizing on The Wall with that massive four-year long worldwide tour from 2010–2014 and subsequent concert documentary release along with albums and books, etc. Since then he’s managed to write and create a new album released in 2017 titled Is This the Life We Really Want, accompanied by another giant tour that is still on the road.

This tour, as well as the last, I managed to see. I saw the first show of the The Wall tour in Toronto in 2010. Last year I went to Montreal to see the Us + Them tour which blew The Wall out of the water in terms of stage (and non-stage) effects. It is no doubt that Waters is a businessman and creative genius and geared this tour around his political view that helped shape Pink Floyd in its formative years as well. In this generation, his passions were heavily against the recent U.S. election of President Trump, and he used old songs from the 1977 album Animals to illustrate his point of anti-fascist, anti-corporate, anti-war ideologies. Although heavily one-sided, it was very effective, and an extremely good show. It is the same with his new album. Upon giving it a listen for the first time on vinyl, I can’t help but see resemblances to The Final Cut, which had songs about specific current events that were shaping the world at the time. What strikes me about the solo career of Roger Waters is that his work is very driven by current events, and when set out on his own finds a way to say his piece about what’s going on in the world with no hesitation to name names. He does not hesitate to shove in your face that there is something wrong. Although there is something admirable about Waters using his platform to make political statements, it’s harsh, and beyond the music that the majority of Floyd fans know, love, and want to listen to on repeat.

Waters in his solo career lacks the three other Floyd members that shaped his voice into what it was that gave him this platform. Pink Floyd albums like Animals, Wish You Were Here, The Wall, and even Dark Side Of The Moon have political elements. It has the raunchiness and passion that Waters wants to express but with a generalization of thematic elements that makes the songs relevant as society cycles itself within the same social, and political issues in the last 40 plus years since the album had been released. Because of this, these albums are timeless, and give rise to a new and younger fanbase. As a fan of guitarists, he lacks David Gilmour. Waters has spent his whole solo career looking for his replacement. He even tried a troubled Eric Clapton on the Pros and Cons tour, but that backfired due to Clapton's fast-paced style overpowering Waters onstage. To Waters' credit, it would be a challenge to find someone who can match the nuances and feeling that Gilmour gives every time he picks up a guitar. In my opinion, he has not succeeded. Although his guitarists are undoubtedly trained, and talented, Gilmour nuances are something that a lot of fans crave, and are something that only Gilmour can truly and effortlessly pull off.

They both in their solo careers have been using the nostalgia of Pink Floyd tunes as a catalyst for their new material. David Gilmour, in comparison to what Waters has been doing, with his album Rattle that Lock was very apolitical, and had a lighter, more melodic feeling. The skill, nuance, and passion are always within Gilmour’s work, but he speaks through his instrument, leaving the songwriting a bit wanting. Gilmour has always been complacent when it comes to what gave Pink Floyd life. Kind of like a “Shut up, Roger” attitude. Because of this, his album lacks vigor. It’s very melodic, and has the kind of solos we love, but with no substance behind them. In Pink Floyd, Gilmour was strumming for a reason, whether it was a spiteful reaction to Waters’ arrogance or a reaction to his societal environment. Both are viable inspirations.

Waters and Gilmour in current years are two halves of a whole. They need each other to balance their sensibilities and create the signature Pink Floyd sound. Waters needs apolitical Gilmour to tone down his ferocious political attacks through music. Gilmour needs Waters’ writing ability and unending passion to give his skill meaning. Although all members of the band have been exceptionally successful and have produced some killer tunes, none of what they achieved in these solo years have been close to the timeless, mastery of their Pink Floyd works from 1968-1984.

Photos from Roger Waters - Us + Them show in Montreal, Canada. October 16th, 2017.

Photos from David Gilmour - Rattle that Lock show in Toronto, Canada. March 31st, 2016.

Photos by Elijah Shark.