After Roger Waters declared Pink Floyd a “spent force creatively”, he left the band for a solo career, safe in his belief that the band would fold without him, only to watch on with horror as bandmates Nick Mason and David Gilmour expressed an interest in touring with the name.
With Gilmour as their obvious frontman, Pink Floyd opted not to return to the more perceptive approach spearheaded by Waters but decided to issue a collection of songs, each one densely produced and written for a live stadium audience. By abandoning the English whimsy of The Final Cut for the more guitar-heavy textures of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the band were preparing themselves for the turn of the 1990s, one blinding lick at a time.
In almost every respect, this felt like a continuation of the narrative founder Syd Barrett spun for the band, using the decade as their launching pad into the pool of reverence and homage, albeit laced with a more contemporary spin. After all, 1994 was the time of Suede and Blur, both of them indebted to the guitar acts of the past, who were writing tales of Britain caught in an uncertain web of change and cautious retraction.
Also, Pink Floyd was moving away from the political elegies of the Waters era to write songs of a more elastic nature, utilising Polly Samson’s acumen as a novelist to pad out Gilmour’s soaring melodies. And 1994’s The Division Bell proved their most rewarding since the 1970s, the rebooted Floyd was confident in themselves to write a work that was wholly different to Waters. Fittingly, the album opens up with ‘Cluster One’, a shimmering instrumental largely written by keyboardist Richard Wright, demonstrating his instrumental prowess and penchant for ambience.
The band – Gilmour, Mason and Wright – sounded more united and demanding in their work than they had since Animals, and The Division Bell showed the band in the midst of their work, united in their stance, carefully presenting a work based on precision and attack. Even if the finished results weren’t recorded in the same room, the band nonetheless sound like they are playing as one unified voice, particularly on the barrelling ‘What Do You Want From Me’, a rollicking number punctuated by Gilmour’s loose vocal performance.
Not that this rocker is quite as wild as heavy-metal numbers ‘The Nile Song’ or ‘Young Lust’, but that’s because Gilmour is older, but happily commits himself to this industrial rocker- to the extent that the vocals are actually more impressive than the galloping guitars that pad out the work.
Pink Floyd were growing more aware of their legacy at this time, keenly aware of their accomplishments, and roles as custodians of rock. The most obvious indication of this is the closing track, ‘High Hopes’, but ‘Poles Apart’ is also noteworthy, celebrating Barrett as the visionary Blur were proclaiming him to be.
Wright recorded his first lead vocal since 1973 with ‘Wearing The Inside Out’, a jazz-flavoured behemoth that showed that an absence of vocals had not robbed him of his technical prowess. It stands out on a record that is otherwise dominated by Gilmour, now firmly positioned as Pink Floyd’s de facto frontman
The trio were also partaking in a number of jam sessions, never ceasing to the time constraints or expectations the music industry laid on them, creating another album that would finally see the light of day in 2014: The Endless River. The band blasted through a series of challenging chord sequences, clearly enjoying the opportunity to let loose and play. And it was a timely expression of creative endeavour because hearing Gilmour blaring through the instrumentals in a disparate decade showed that the band, even at their most obscure, were still the masters of suspense, drama and opulence.
The tracks that were released on The Division Bell were the most prescient, detailing the changing Europe that occurred beyond the rim of Gilmour’s eyes. ‘A Great Day For Freedom’ celebrated Germany as it picked itself up after decades of partition, ‘Keep Talking’ cautioned listeners to the dangers technology presented – brave for the decade it was in – while ‘Coming Back To Life’ gave him the chance to applaud his bandmates for weathering the tide at a time when their songwriter had consigned them to the past.
Ultimately, the record works because it features three men who hold each other in great regard, and there’s never a sense that anyone had to jump over a hurdle to record a tune they aren’t particularly invested in. “The album feels much more home-made,” Mason reflected, “very much like 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.”