Why Pink Floyd’s “new” album doesn’t matter.
In 1994, Pink Floyd released their last album, The Division Bell. It was their only album to reach #1 on every major market on the globe. In terms of rock music, this would seem like a success, that a band dominated the charts nearly thirty years after their formation. But ask anybody what Floyd’s “most successful” album was, and you’d rightly be met with the answer Dark Side of the Moon, followed by The Wall and probably Wish You Were Here (Bell is a 3x platinum album, while DSOTM is 23x platinum). Those other three records are the prime of Pink Floyd and represent about 90% of Floyd listenership (with a slight percentage going back to the Syd Barrett days). The reason for the success of The Division Bell was mostly because it was Pink Floyd, but the success was very large (only the soundtrack to The Lion King spent more weeks at #1). That’s a pretty significant career mark for an album that barely even registers twenty years after the fact. At that point, Pink Floyd was so famous (Dazed & Confused – the Floyd-loving cult classic was released the prior year) and the turn away from grunge so swift, that basically anything the band put out would’ve topped the charts. Not to say it wasn’t deserved – The Division Bell is a very good album – but there were many more reasons beyond good music for Floyd’s success that year. In fact, the critical reception was less than stellar.
Check that, the critical reception was that The Division Bell was a less than stellar Pink Floyd album. It’s important to make that distinction, because at a certain point of success, everything a band will put out will no longer be viewed through a lens of current art; it is always compared to what the band has put out prior. When Pink Floyd’s second lineup put out Dark Side, what the original Barrett-led lineup did had no importance beyond showing the difference of styles between them. Yet, when the third lineup released A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell, this wasn’t the case. That’s because Floyd reached global success with the second lineup, so everything from there on out would be a rival to what the Roger Waters led formation had accomplished. This is natural, but also highly ignorant. It has happened to nearly every band who faded away instead of burning out, from Metallica to Eric Clapton to R.E.M. Kind of like if a career .330 hitter after ten seasons goes on to hit .290. That eleventh season is still pretty good by anyone else’s standards, but all that is noticed is the drop off.
That’s part of the reason Bell has fallen out of the collective minds of pop culture. Why remember the .290 season when we can go back and revisit the great ones? Except, we don’t all listen exclusively to great albums. We listen to pretty good ones, decent ones and even horrendous ones. What eventually sticks with the listening public are great albums and ones that mean something to them. This is what Bell lacks: it doesn’t mean anything to anybody, and at that time, nobody remembers the album as something hip and new (it was classic rock in the age of grunge and hip hop) or great (because it really wasn’t). So even though Floyd had evolved its sound into “The David Gilmour Group” much like how the band shifted into “The Roger Waters Group” post-Barrett, nobody could see it past what we expected. So it’s gone, relegated to a few radio spots for “What Do You Want Me” on stations that mostly play “Another Brick in the Wall”.
If you, like I, can listen to Bell for what it is, then you would probably be excited to learn that the songs that didn’t make the cut are being released by the band this fall as a new album. Though, I’m not excited, because I know exactly what’s going to happen. It will be given a moderately good rating from Rolling Stone, probably a better rating than they gave Bell (2.5/5 stars). This will be part “life time achievement award” applauding and part hopeful wishing that a good critical response will prompt the famous second lineup to come back together. What it will really do is the exact inverse of Bell’s response (which was killed critically but hailed by the public) and garner the exact same meaning: nothing. We have moved on from the music of Pink Floyd, with guitar solos being replaced by acoustic strumming and nuance replaced with fashion. The best Floyd – or any band from rock’s heyday – could possibly do is reinvent the wheel while the new generation is already in flying cars. It could be great, but a great rock album, and rock is dead. So what’s the point?
In the past few years, I’ve listened to The Division Bell more than any other Pink Floyd album. It’s not their best, but it is my favorite. Their new album is specifically for me. I seriously doubt I won’t enjoy it. But don’t expect anything new and great, anything that might shock the music world or bring zombie rock back from its grave. It won’t. This record is just remastered leftovers from a once very good record left in the dust. This perceived staleness will leave casual Floyd fans wanting more and diehard fans just glad they have something new to listen to until they grow tired of it in a few months. Pink Floyd is no longer cool, and in rock music, being cool is the name of the game. Beyond that, the only thing that’ll make any waves is a St. Anger level of crappiness (though, that album was really only a crappy Metallica album). So I’d hold off making any meaning out of it when it comes. Just listen if you think you’ll like it, and don’t if you’re wanting Dark Side 2.0. There is nothing of note happening here in a cultural sense. Pink Floyd doesn’t play that game anymore.