The album that transformed Pink Floyd from an art-house music group to an internationally famed and commercially successful band was none other than The Dark Side of the Moon. There has been thesis level discussion on this album for years, leaving little room for modern-day listeners to come up with fresh, new perspectives. Nevertheless, the opportunity to revisit this milestone album is tempting enough to engage in such a challenging task. Only two years away from a glorious half-century, the album has been synonymous with Floyd and often held in comparison with their oeuvre. However, this outlook dismisses the band’s trajectory and limits the scope of the album’s interpretation at the same time. Perhaps evaluating it in a more balanced way would mean locating it within the band’s artistic course and noting its single-handed contribution that changed the soundscape forever.
Speaking of the band’s trajectory, the backdrop of this album demands immediate attention. Pink Floyd was preparing for a tour that covered Britain, Japan and the United States post the release of Meddle in 1971. Roger Waters popped the idea to develop their new album during their extensive trip to his bandmates during one of their rehearsal sessions. The theme he chose for the album reflected the haunting thoughts that loomed in the minds of the band members post the Syd Barrett incident. The idea was to build an album using things that “make people mad”, focusing on the endless demands of public life and subsequent mental health problems. It would be wrong to suggest that it was a brand-new concept for the band since their 1969 album The Man, and the journey revolved around the same ideas. However, The Dark Side of The Moon was different in the sense that it adopted a more direct approach by categorically naming the subjects of concern. “I think we all thought – and Roger definitely thought – that a lot of the lyrics that we had been using were a little too indirect,” said David Gilmour in a Rolling Stone interview. “There was definitely a feeling that the words were going to be very clear and specific.”
A concept album, it is rather an extension of a single piece than a collection of tracks. It addresses and explores the grim realities of time, greed, conflict, death and mental illness. In fact, it is driven by the underlying emotion of fear — fear of not being around, of isolation and of losing oneself. Musically, the album is constructed upon half-done experiments that the band had tried in their previous albums and live performances. However, it got rid of the patent extended instrumental runs that the band overused to fill up Barrett’s gap after he left in 1968. The intelligent use of musique concrète further enhanced its sonic effect.
Alan Parsons, the sound engineer for the album, deserves much of the praise. A brilliant mind, Parsons used a sixteen-channel mixer named the EMI TG12345 instead of the traditional four or eight-track recording system. To speak in plain English, it allowed the band to record 14 tracks on separate instruments and layer a single instrument multiple times, creating a rich, unique sound. But this technical wizardry would have gone to waste if the compositions weren’t as spectacular. The Waters and Gilmour partnership reached the zenith during the production of the album. They enhanced their creativity by challenging each other on artistic levels yet managing to give each other space. The album witnesses the ultimate synthesis of Gilmour’s soulful style and Waters’ edginess coupled with the keyboard of the insanely underrated Richard Wrights. “There was something about the symbiosis of the musical talents of the four of us that worked really well,” said Waters to Billboard in 2006.
The lyrical maturity is notable in this album. Waters, taking control of this department, expresses himself with a clarity that was lacking in the previous albums. He mixes intellect, poetry and edge in the right proportions to produce some of the most exceptional contents in the history of the band.
Five tracks on each side of the album hold up various stages of human life and dwell grimly on their value. ‘Speak to Me’ and ‘Breathe’ addresses the futile and mundane elements of life that govern an individual and concludes by exclaiming, “Don’t be afraid to care” and live life while it lasts. The scene quickly shifts to an airport in ‘On the Run’ and captures the restlessness of the motion through the synthesiser-driven instrumental. It also alludes to Wright’s aerophobia and the stress and anxiety that surrounds modern-day travel. ‘Time’ explores the fear of mortality and jolts one to senses with the sounds of deafening alarms and chimes. The track alternating between complex bluesy guitar and soulful bridge sections upholds the brilliant teamwork by the four members. Right after the intensity of ‘Time’, the sound plunges into a void in ‘Breathe (reprise)’ where solitude prevails, and so does the sense of alienation and withdrawal. Side A ends with ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’, which is mainly remembered for Clare Torry’s participation.
Side B opens with the track ‘Money’ and the now-iconic sound of cash registers. It critiques capitalism, consumerism in pre-Thatcher socialist Britain. Ironically though, the song went on to become a huge commercial success making Waters and his bandmates excessively wealthy to even comment on such issues. While ‘Us and Them’ studies the dichotomies in society, ‘Any Colour You Like’ points out the lack of choice we as individuals have. ‘Brain Damage’ deals with the mental health aspect that the band was eager to address. The line “and if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes” refers to Syd Barrett’s mental breakdown that changed the course of the band. ‘Eclipse’ tries to unify the audience by pointing out the common things we share as human beings.
There exist moments of inconsistencies in the album, but those move past so quickly that by the time one questions it, they are once again engrossed in the triumphant sonic effects that dominate the album. But the main celebratory aspect of the album is perhaps its potential to stay relevant to date both musically and lyrically.