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Revisiting Pink Floyd's lowest ebb: 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason'

It’s 1985, and Roger Waters has just announced his departure from British prog heroes, Pink Floyd. The bassist, conceptual mastermind and founding member declared himself to be “a spent force creatively”. Waters’ last contribution to the band was the 1983 album The Final Cut, which was hailed by critics and fans alike as a de facto Roger Waters solo album.

What also contributed to Waters’ departure was the increased tensions with Floyd’s other frontman and guitarist, David Gilmour. After The Final Cut, the band members had briefly gone on their separate ways, with Gilmour releasing his failed second album About Face in 1984 and Waters releasing The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking that same year. Fast forward a year to the moment that Waters announced his departure, and Gilmour was keen on reviving the Floyd, as he knew his solo career had hit a difficult roadblock.

What ensued was one of the most acrimonious departures in rock history. The threat of a lawsuit from the record label CBS Records should have propelled Waters to write another Pink Floyd album in the eyes of his other bandmates Gilmour and drummer, Nick Mason, who had barely participated in The Final Cut, so they, unsurprisingly, felt it lay with him to get the job done. Typically, after its release, Gilmour had been the one who was overly critical of the album calling it “meandering rubbish” and “cheap filler”.

According to Gilmour, “I told (Waters) before he left, ‘If you go, man, we’re carrying on. Make no bones about it, we would carry on’, and he replied: ‘You’ll never fucking do it.'” That was that. Waters’ bluff was called, and it was left to Gilmour and drummer Mason to save Pink Floyd and themselves from financial ruin. Although, time would show that the band was mainly a conduit for Gilmour now.

They hired Bob Ezrin, who had co-produced their iconic 1979 rock opera, The Wall, and set about recording Pink Floyd’s 13th studio outing. The recording sessions primarily took place on Gilmour’s famous converted houseboat, the Astoria. Ironically, Ezrin had at that point already turned down Waters’ offer to help produce his new solo effort, Radio K.A.O.S., stating it was “far easier for Dave and I to do our version of a Floyd record”. This new vision of a Floyd record would become 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

Another significant part of A Momentary Lapse of Reason was that keyboardist Richard Wright, who had left the band in 1979 citing to pressures placed upon him by Waters during the recording sessions of The Wall, returned to the fold in what was a massive statement of intent from the band, or as one would have thought. 

However, due to legal reasons stemming from his original departure, Wright’s input on the album would be minimal. He even delivered a solo for ‘On the Turning Away’, but even that was discarded, because according to Wright: “Not because they didn’t like it… they just thought it didn’t fit”.

Initially, there was a debate on whether the songs Gilmour had were going to even be a Pink Floyd record or, alternatively, if he was going to have another stab at a solo career. In November 1986, he was quoted as saying to Ezrin that the music “doesn’t sound a fucking thing like Pink Floyd”. In terms of the writing spirit behind the album, in clear relation to Waters departure, Gilmour said: “You can’t go back… You have to find a new way of working, of operating and getting on with it. We didn’t make this remotely like we’ve made any other Floyd record. It was different systems, everything.”

David Gilmour and Roger Waters. (Credit: Alamy)

This concept of different systems was so much so that unlike the majority of the Pink Floyd records that came before it, A Momentary Lapse of Reason was not a concept record, the group’s defining sonic blueprint. Instead, Gilmour opted to collect songs without a thematic link and even worked with outside musicians such as Carmine Appice, Jim Keltner and Anthony Moore. The latter was credited as co-writer of ‘Learning to Fly’ and ‘On the Turning Away’. It is said that the tranquil setting of the Astoria also contributed to the new feel of the album. Latterly Ezrin recalled: “Working there was just magical, so inspirational; kids sculling down the river, geese flying by.”

With the band seemingly transitioning from a Waters dictatorship to a Gilmour one, the frontman would later say of Wright and Mason’s role in the album’s development: “Both Nick and Rick were catatonic in terms of their playing ability at the beginning. Neither of them played on this at all really. In my view, they’d been destroyed by Roger.” His patronising assertion was denied by Mason, who fired back: “I’d deny that I was catatonic. I’d expect that from the opposition, it’s less attractive from one’s allies. At some point, he made some sort of apology.”

Additionally, at that time in late 1986, Waters had opened court proceedings against the band and was attempting to stop them from using the Pink Floyd name. This was because he found out a bank account had been opened to deal exclusively with all monies related to “the new Pink Floyd project”, and he was set to receive nothing.

In terms of the music, it does resemble a David Gilmour solo project. 

Furthermore, the production is incredibly ’80s, which means fewer points still hold up and with the majority not standing the test of time. Overall, it is a mixed bag of an album. It went straight to number three on both sides of the Atlantic, and the band marketed it as a return to the Pink Floyd of the ’70s, which is strange because it doesn’t resemble any Pink Floyd record that came before it — apart from maybe The Final Cut, due to the fact the other members had little say in its production at the behest of one bandmate.

Highlights include the ethereal beauty of both parts of ‘A New Machine’, ‘On the Turning Away’, and the meandering opener ‘Signs of Life’, which features a guitar line and intro not dissimilar from their classic 1975 masterpiece ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’. From a 21st Century perspective, they remain the only two real highlights from the album. Listening back, it does seem to be a Gilmour solo effort and doesn’t really hold many key Pink Floyd hallmarks, and some of the lyrical content is nothing short of poor.

One can appreciate that it was obviously not going to be the same as the old Pink Floyd, for obvious reasons. However, when you take a step back and look at its place in the band’s vast back catalogue, you see that sonically it presents itself as a band reconfiguring, and it shows. The overly 1980s production style and stand-alone tracks agree with Gilmour’s point made at the early stages of recording in that it doesn’t really sound like a Floyd record.

Of course, it is worth a revisit or a listen if you haven’t already heard it, but it’s sad to say A Momentary Lapse of Reason is one of the worst Pink Floyd records. As a result of everything that was happening around it, as a fan, you can give the band this wobble as they couldn’t go on their classic album creating streak forever.

Listen to the album in full, below.

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