What we have here is a failure to communicate. That’s the recurrent theme throughout the 2014 remastered release of The Division Bell, the second studio effort from the post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd. This hi-res launch coincides with the 20th Anniversary Edition box set that includes, among a variety of LP-size goodies, a new 5.1 mix of the album done by longtime Floyd producer/engineer Andy Jackson. The 96kHz/24-bit download from HDtracks was remastered by Doug Sax at The Mastering Lab from the original analog masters. The Division Bell never gained the familiarity or popularity of earlier Pink Floyd albums, but this new version is certainly worth a critical listen.
The instrumental “Cluster One” starts out with random static, reminiscent of the radio noise picked up from deep space. Quite appropriate, given the spacy, atmospheric feel of the song, with pure piano tones and ethereal guitar riffs over a lovely sustained drone. Little wisps of high-frequency space chirps pan back and forth from left to right, creating just a twinge of tension before the song kicks up with recognizable Floyd flare when the organ swoops in almost 4 minutes into the song.
Arguably, the most commercial cut of the album is “What Do You Want From Me.” The weighty rock groove never lets up, and the angry tone of David Gilmour’s lead vocal is carried through the confrontational female background vocals.
Beautifully recorded guitars roll hypnotically through “Poles Apart,” along with a sparkling cymbal track. However, the clean tone of this song gets overpowered by an overly dense organ track that will challenge many playback systems to maintain clarity. Structurally, note that this song lacks a true chorus. The song breaks down into a calliope of discord and dissonance. While interesting, it comes across as slightly self-indulgent. Luckily, the song is redeemed by Gilmour’s closing guitar solo.
Seagulls and an Asian-inspired keyboard start off “Marooned,” another lush instrumental track. This song lets Gilmour’s guitar soar while steadily backed by Nick Mason’s drums and Richard Wright’s keys. The band won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Performance for this cut. Classic Pink Floyd here, with contemplative waves of sound washing over the listener and a totally satisfying ending, fading into the next track.
The band insists “Great Day for Freedom” is about the fall of The Berlin Wall, and given the album’s release so soon after that event, it’s quite plausible. However, there’s no denying that the phased quality to the vocals in the bridge are quite reminiscent of the same vocal effects used on The Wall (1979). And orchestrator Michael Kamen’s expertise with string arrangements is fully displayed here.
Keyboardist Wright finally gets to revisit lead-vocal duties on “Wearing the Inside Out” — his first since “Time,” from The Dark Side of the Moon (1973). This rambling track starts off with a saxophone sound that totally dates this track into the ’90s. Dick Parry was brought back to the studio for this, his first Pink Floyd session in over 20 years. The song is salvaged by the background vocals, oddly panned mostly to the left channel.
“Take It Back” is a refreshing break. A U2/Edge-esque rolling guitar gives this track a contemporary, commercial, upbeat feel, quite different from the vibe of the rest of the album. Gilmour uses an E-Bow to create a haunting sound with his guitar — it’s a bowed effect that uses magnets to move the guitar string, most evident in the very long, sustained fade of the song.
Gilmour’s wife, Polly Samson, is said to be the inspiration behind “Coming Back to Life,” which starts with another atmospheric, dreamy quality, referring to her helping Gilmour through personal rehab. Like the previous cut, there’s a bit of a commercial feel to this song.
“Keep Talking” features a sample of the very-recognizable “voice” of noted scientist Stephen Hawking. Echoing the recurrent communications sentiment throughout the album, the song also uses a guitar talk box in addition to Hawking’s synthesized voice. The doubled guitar effect mirrors the guitar sound from older Pink Floyd classics such as The Wall‘s “Run Like Hell.”
Gilmour is channeling his inner Bob Dylan with his vocal style on “Lost for Words.” This song might (or might not) be the most blatant response to someone rejecting an invitation to rejoin the band. In the last verse, Gilmour proclaims, “So I open my door to my enemies and I ask/ Could we wipe the slate clean? / But they tell me to please go f–k myself / You know, you just can’t win.”
Gilmour co-wrote “High Hopes” with Samson. Finally, the last song of the album unleashes the actual Division Bell, ringing out to proclaim a vote is called in British Parliament, along with a mention in the lyrics. The bell remains on the offbeat, really accented rhythmically, although pulled back in the mix. Interesting, Gilmour brings back the circling fly buzzing from Ummagumma (1969). The bell rings on to the end of the song, but stay tuned past the fadeout. The sound at the very end of the track is supposedly Gilmour’s stepson Charlie hanging up on the band’s manager, Steve O’Rourke, who had begged to appear on the album. (Be careful what you wish for.)
Throughout The Division Bell are riffs and chord progressions very reminiscent of so many other Pink Floyd classics that the album struggles a bit from a lack of identity, which may have hampered its overall success. Perhaps this new high-resolution remastering and/or the new box set will reignite the flame.
Editor’s note: For HRAC Chief Content Officer Mike Mettler’s interview with Jackson about the making of The Endless River, the final Pink Floyd album that will be released November 10, click on The SoundBard. Stay tuned to HRAC for future River coverage, including Mettler’s exclusive in-person interview with Floyd drummer Nick Mason.