30 Years Ago: Pink Floyd Re-Emerge With ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’
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It was a time of transition for Pink Floyd, who returned after their supposed demise on Sept. 7, 1987, minus one key member but with a new album titled A Momentary Lapse of Reason. The disc would be important for the band, as it would make or break their future ability to tour and record without bassist Roger Waters.
The band had split after 1983’s The Final Cut, with each of the members venturing out to do solo discs. However, that didn’t stop their label, realizing that the solo ventures would be a less lucrative proposition, from pushing for each to return to the band for more music. Singer/guitarist David Gilmour was the first to see this reality, and started to waver in 1985 as he began to put a band together for his third solo release.
Though Roger Waters had declared Pink Floyd “a spent force,” Gilmour saw the potential in moving forward without The Wall mastermind. Keyboardist Richard Wright‘s wife contacted Gilmour about lending a hand musically, but his full return was stalled by legal matters relating to his ousting during sessions for The Wall. Add in the fact that Nick Mason expressed his interest in new music as well, and by 1986, Gilmour made the decision to utilize some of his solo material for what would become the 13th Pink Floyd studio album.
The decision to move forward without him upset Waters, who took the rest of the band to court over use of the name and attempted to thwart the release of the album. Gilmour told the Sunday Times (as chronicled in the book A Saucerful of Secrets), “Roger is a dog in the manger and I’m going to fight him. No one else has claimed Pink Floyd was entirely them. Anybody who does is extremely arrogant.” A bitter legal fight played out during the creation of the album and followed beyond its release, with Waters eventually relenting and a deal being struck where the band members could use the name so long as Waters could have the rights to The Wall.
The making of the album also provided its challenges. Gilmour started recording the album aboard his houseboat, the Astoria. However, constant calls from Waters’ attorneys began to interfere and the decision was made to move production to the U.S. It allowed the group to be closer to producer Bob Ezrin as well as cut down on the legal hassle as the time change meant that lawyers would have to call in the middle of the night their time to hound Gilmour.
The singer would also begin to realize that working without Waters and making a Pink Floyd record was a more difficult task than expected. Eventually it was decided that the album wouldn’t be a concept record, but more of a collection of songs. Plus, though both Mason and Wright contributed, they were not fully up to speed on all the material and sessions musicians were brought in to supplement the sound. Gilmour would state in A Saucerful of Secrets, “You can’t go back […] You have to find a new way of working, of operating and getting on with it. We didn’t make this remotely like we’ve made any other Floyd record. It was different systems, everything.”
As for the songs, “Learning to Fly” would be the biggest hit from the record. Gilmour and Mason had both been taking flying lessons and Gilmour penned the track specifically about his feelings of the freedom that flight gave him. Mason also got a nod in the track with his voice from flying being inserted into a middle portion of the song. Both Gilmour and Mason would eventually purchase a De Havilland Devon airplane together. Though Gilmour specifically wrote the track about flying, he admitted later that there was a double meaning about starting fresh as the new leader of the band after Waters’ departure.
“On the Turning Away” would follow as a single. The track, a more solemn piece, referenced the issues of poverty and oppression and the tendencies of people to turn away from those in need. It also fit well with the more ethereal songs in their catalog like “Us and Them” and “Wish You Were Here.”
The third and final single from the disc would be “One Slip,” a track co-written by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera. The relationship with Manzanera and Gilmour would grow over the years with the guitarist playing on some of Gilmour’s solo work. Also offering a nod to the past, the blips and beeps at the beginning mirror something like what the band did with the start of their song “Money” over a decade earlier.
“Dogs of War” would also become a favorite live cut. The track had a trudging feel to it, buoyed by a sound that came about through a studio mishap. A slowed down recording of Gilmour’s laugh came across like a dog bark and the musician decided to use it to help create the song. Lyrically, the track is about physical and political mercenaries.
In the end, A Momentary Lapse of Reason would become one of the band’s most polarizing releases. There were standout tracks, but the disc as a whole didn’t stand up to the Pink Floyd of the past. Roger Waters, of course, would criticize the album, stating that it was not a true Pink Floyd release. Wright would later agree, explaining in the book Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd, “Roger’s criticisms are fair. It’s not a band album at all.”
However, that seemed to matter little to the fans. The disc surpassed quadruple platinum status in the U.S. It spawned the year’s biggest tour and a companion live album, The Delicate Sound of Thunder, in 1988. Plus, the crew of the Soyuz TM-7 would take the disc on their mission, making Pink Floyd the first rock band to be played in outer space.
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