Photo by Lawren via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
If ever there was a group that effectively channeled their artistic talent to shed light upon truly intriguing themes that exist all across society, it was Pink Floyd. This psychedelic, progressive rock group did not just tell stories in their albums, they breathed life into them with an astounding compositional ability seen in few groups of the era and of all time.
Comprising of Roger Waters as lead singer, bassist and primary lyricist, Nick Mason on the drums, Richard Wright on the keyboard and vocals, and David Gilmour on vocals and guitar, Pink Floyd released their eighth studio album in 1973 on the first of March. This popular British group formed in 1965 under the leadership of guitarist, lyricist and vocalist Syd Barrett. Unfortunately, Barrett struggled with a downward spiral of mental health concerns causing him to depart the group in 1968. Of the several themes interweaved in this album, mental illness is the most prevalent in The Dark Side of the Moon. The title, in fact, is a metaphor for mental illness in dedication to the missed founding member, Syd Barrett.
Launching this masterpiece is a steady heartbeat. Clocks, cash registers, overlapping voices, laughing, more laughing, and borderline insane laughter drive an ever-escalating introduction into the album. ‘Speak To Me’ is a brief, mostly instrumental, piece that reveals miniature allusions to all of the themes in this album and gives listeners a taste of what is to come as it unexpectedly never ceases since the same instrumentation soars into the second track. Screaming both culminates and ends the escalating tension left over from the first piece as ‘Breathe (In the Air)’ begins.
The song offers a moment for one to pause after such chaos yet offers haunting lyrics telling of your “race towards an early grave” to keep an element of uneasiness surrounded by the synth and drumming instrumentation. Picking up the pace is the synthetic sound of a flying plane as you hear panting and footsteps backed by the overwhelming sense of being chased in ‘On the Run’. This one again begins to escalate as the listener is met with sounds of psychedelic chaos that embodies the sounds of war, whether it be within the mind or on the earthly battlefield. By the end, the listener faces the unmistakable sound of an explosion and the echoes of war being raged in the distance as again the panting and running of some mysterious figure comes to the forefront.
This reveals yet another theme of this album: war. People may try to run from it, but war envelopes everyone in a frenzy of chaotic mind-numbing darkness. Pink Floyd’s ability to translate such events into synth-driven psychedelic instrumentation again displays their immense talent.
As the thunderous roar of war subsides, so begins the sound of clocks. More specifically, the back and forth motion of the bottom of cuckoo clocks back a copious amount of bells clashing and chiming as the fourth track, ‘Time’ has been reached. The sounds of alarming bells gradually diminish into a brief moment of silence only to be filled by another heartbeat-esque sound followed by the synth-driven haunting introduction. ‘Time’ is itself another theme of this composition.
Waters relays a potent image of time in lines such as “So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking / Racing around to come up behind you again. / The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older, / Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.” and “Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time. / Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines / Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.” These lyrics offer a masterfully introspective take upon the most effective and well-known phenomena of life.
A desperate piano introduction tugs at the soul as it bends into a synth dive into ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’. Clare Torry displays her vocal talents as she appears on this piece as lead vocalist. The piece transforms into a momentous buildup as Torry leads an emotional instrumental written by Richard Wright.
This again feels like a successful attempt at plunging to the depths of the human mind. It weaves a brief tale of insane chaos that settles down gradually as the lone voice of the song offers serenity in the midst of the confusion. With the unmistakable “cha-ching” cash register sounds followed by the outpouring of coins, ‘Money’ takes up the sixth track. This piece lasts over six minutes and features a saxophone solo by Dick Parry as he and the rest of the musicians back a scathing composition of how “money is a crime”. ‘Money’ remains the most well-known work from the album and the iconic instrumental has carried a powerful theme through today.
‘Us and Them’ takes listeners down another emotionally charged piece that lasts just under eight minutes. The piece features a memorable musical swell into the mesmerizing sax styles of Parry. This anti-war themed work leads into the eighth track, ‘Any Colour You Like’. This piece carries the synth/sax instrumental into a guitar-led piece with a sinister synth prowling in the background. ‘Brain Damage’ takes up the ninth slot as Waters relays the tragic remembrance of the struggles that former member Barrett underwent.
Constantly alluded to as the “lunatic in my head” the mental illness is the driving force behind this song. To offer a place where the “lunatic” drives you, Waters describes the struggles as Barrett fading to “the dark side of the moon.” This emotional ballad swirls into the next piece uninterrupted to the ear. ‘Eclipse’ begins en media res as the music swells and finally ceases with the final two lines of “everything under the sun is in tune / but the sun is eclipsed by the moon”, concluding this album with a haunting realization.
Joseph Gill is a first-year English major in the writings track. JG923276@wcupa.edu