Pink Floyd can be seen as having a handful of distinctive creative phases across the band’s five-decade run. Their ever-evolving sound always managed to cover new ground experimentally but consistently offered something so beautiful and transcendent. The first obvious change for the group was with the parting of Syd Barrett and the recruitment of David Gilmour. Under Barrett’s leadership, the band became one of the earliest and most successful psychedelic rock bands in London. The early signs of psychedelia would be most notably expressed in long, drawn-out instrumental excursions accompanied by rudimentary light shows achieved using colour slides over domestic light bulbs.
The group’s early spell of success over the spring and summer of 1967 soon took a turn for the worse as Barrett’s drug use became a major issue for the band as it began to impact performances and rehearsals. In December 1967, the band welcomed their friend, David Gilmour, into the line-up as a guitarist and vocalist as an implicit replacement for Barrett. The troubled creative would remain in the band for only a further five months before leaving on mutual terms as his LSD induced schizophrenia worsened.
Following this significant change, Pink Floyd took some time to experiment with their sound that twisted through the less than commercial oddity of albums like Ummagumma (1969) and Atom Heart Mother (1970). By 1971, they had found their footing with the release of Meddle, which boasted one of their finest early compositions in the epic 23-minute track, ‘Echoes’. This winning style would be mastered in 1973 with the release of The Dark Side of The Moon.
Throughout their peak success in the 1970s, bassist Roger Waters stood at the helm for the group taking the lead on most thematic and lyrical decisions ending in the autobiographical concept album The Wall in 1979. The end of the 1970s also marked the end of another chapter for Pink Floyd. Amid tensions within the band, keyboard player Richard Wright was asked to leave in 1979 as Waters was unhappy with his level of contribution in the studio. Waters eventually decided to depart in 1985 to pursue a solo career. He had expected this to naturally spell the end for the band, but Gilmour and Mason were keen to continue together. This ignited a long-lived feud between Gilmour and Waters as they locked antlers over rights to the band’s back catalogue.
Following Waters’ departure, Gilmour took the reins as the music took another turn creatively. Wright was welcomed back into the band for the 1987 album A Momentary Lapse of Reason, but this new era seemed to find its footing with the 1994 album, The Division Bell. As drummer Nick Mason wrote in his 2005 book Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd: “[The Division Bell] feels much more home-made, very much as a band playing together in one space. I think that Rick, in particular, felt significantly more integrated in the process this time compared to Momentary Lapse. It was nice to have him back.”
The album was named after the division bell found in British parliament meetings, which is rung to announce a vote. As Mason said in an interview with Boston Globe: “It’s about people making choices, yeas or nays.” The group had initially toyed with the idea of naming the album Pow Wow or Down to Earth but landed on the final name after a meal with writer Douglas Adams. Spurred by the promise of a donation for his favourite charity, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Adams suggested The Division Bell, a term which appears in the lyrics of ‘High Hopes’.
The album cover artwork produced for The Division Bell was yet another artistic triumph for Pink Floyd who were famous for their visually arresting album packaging. The artwork was directed by longtime collaborator Storm Thorgerson. The esteemed graphic designer erected two giant metal heads, each the height of a double-decker bus, in a field near Stuntney, Cambridgeshire. The statues were positioned facing each other as if conversing, which ties in with the album’s theme. Thematically, the music highlights the importance of communication as a means of solving issues in the world. The statues can also be seen as creating a single central face together. Thorgerson said the “third absent face” had been an intentional reference to Syd Barrett.