Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

by Kyle Kersey Rating:9 Release Date:1973-03-01
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

What’s there to say? Dark Side of the Moon is to classic rock what In The Aeroplane Over the Sea is to Indie: ubiquitous. Essential, but still ubiquitous all the same. It exists in the same pop culture sphere as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Nevermind. Everything’s already been said about it by pretty much every publication on the face of the earth. In order to have any new insights at this point, you would had to have either been at the Abbey Road studio while it was being recorded or caught Roger Waters one too many drinks in at a local pub.

But I can try, damnit.

Truth be told, I actually hadn’t gone back and listened to Dark Side of the Moon in years. During my sophomore year of high school, I went through a major Pink Floyd phase. I was one of those kids. You know, the one who proudly proclaims Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin as the greatest bands to ever walk the earth, dressed in the “vintage” band t-shirts you can buy at your local Target for $9.99, vilifying the music of my own generation without ever having listened to it. I must have spent a solid two months listening to nothing but Animals and Meddle through shitty Skull Candy earbuds that would break every week or two. Eventually, I matured (if only a little) and moved on to discovering new music and reconciling with the fact that, yeah, this Kanye guy does have a few good songs, but for a while there Pink Floyd wasn't just part of my life; it was my life.

Which is why I hadn’t revisited it in so long. After all, one can only listen to so much of an artist, no matter how great, before the heart grows weary and wanders onto newer, greener pastures. So when I first took this assignment, my prevailing impressions of Dark Side of the Moon were based entirely upon reputation and memory, inseparable from the accolades, statistics and white noise that surrounds it. I thought of it as Pink Floyd’s stepping stone into bigger and greater things on subsequent albums like Wish You Were Here and Animals, something to be studied less than enjoyed.

There’s only one problem with this line of thinking: Dark Side of the Moon is good. It’s really good. Like, it’s really really really good.

Dare I say that on a sonic level, Dark Side of the Moon aged better than any other Pink Floyd release (or 70s release in general for that matter), reaching a level of pristine clarity unmatched by contemporary records. This is due in no small part to the sheer brilliance of sound engineer and board brainiac Alan Parsons. Instead of utilizing conventional four or eight-track recording systems, Parson relied on a sixteen channel mixer called the EMI TG12345. So not only could the band record fourteen separate tracks on different instruments, but they could also layer the same instrument multiple times over. The results are the rich, vibrant soundscapes that define the album sonically. Seriously, nothing in 1973 – or the years that followed it for that matter – was this spacious, this full, this dense. Pop this baby into your aftermarket car stereo and you won’t be disappointed.

But that’s only part of what makes it special. All of this technical wizardry would be for not if these compositions weren’t just as fantastic. See, up until this point, Pink Floyd had been a band in flux. Considered the creative force behind the band’s breakout debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Pink Floyd’s original band leader and guitarist Syd Barrett went cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs following an overdose of acid. An established name in the underground scene of late 60s London, Barrett’s departure left them without a cohesive vision or a true creative voice. They couldn’t write a single (see “Point Me At The Sky” for more on that) and their long avant-garde pieces weren’t really resonating with that underground audience.

There’s so much to unpack with all this, but what’s important to note is that Syd Barrett’s descent into insanity and departure from the group informed just about everything they wrote about in some form or another. On Dark Side of the Moon, it’s most glaring on the penultimate song “Brain Damage”, which explores the feeling of isolation and disconnect from society, as well as the fear of insanity.

In fact, in its purest form, Dark Side of the Moon is an album about fear: the fear of death, the fear of hypocrisy, the fear losing one’s self, and the fear of insanity. It’s also the album where Pink Floyd learned how to write a single that didn’t sacrifice their artistic ideals. Take “Time” as an example, a track that relays the fear of mortality and monotony over music so damn compelling that it doubles as something to be analyzed and something to be experienced. Meanwhile, “Money” groves off one of the funkiest basslines ever penned by Roger Waters, coming off as the perfect anthem for pre-Thatcher socialist Britain, even if it’s really a nuanced critique of Waters’ own capitalist ways (after all, how can one basking in the excessive rockstar lifestyle truly claim to be a socialist?).

This lyrical maturation is a large factor in what set Dark Side of the Moon apart from its predecessors. With Roger Waters taking sole control of the lyrical content, Pink Floyd had an identifiable voice. Waters was the perfect blend of intelligent and poetic, the true songwriter of the group. He also brought an unmistakable edge that, as evidenced by the band’s later albums without him, would prove irreplaceable.

On the other side of Pink Floyd’s sound was David Gilmour, who acted as the soul of the group. Considered one of the most distinctive guitarists of his generation, Gilmour’s work flies in the face of the axe-worshiping guitar masturbation of the 70s and 80s. Slow burning, emotionally charged, and precise, the solo on “Time” stretches each individual note like a rubber band, while his jazz-fueled rhythm work alongside keyboardist Richard Wright (who is criminally underrated mind you) demonstrates his versatility as a musician.

Dark Side of the Moon exists at the apex of Waters’ and Gilmour’s creative partnership, with the two constantly challenging one another artistically. They’re a match made in heaven. Without Gilmour, there’s no soul. Without Waters, there’s no edge. Put them together, and you have the perfect cocktail of creativity. The perfect metaphor for this being the dream-like opening track “Breathe”, comprised of a laid back, hazy guitar progression underneath a soothing steel lap guitar. It’s so minimalist in its composition, yet maximalist in its layered approach to building sound; a perfect example of the whole being much greater than the sum of its parts.

Of course, it's not a perfect album by any stretch of the imagination - “On the Run” and “Any Colour You Like” border on glorified synthesizer porn, and there are isolated moments where the band gets too progressive for their own good - but at the same time, I don’t think Dark Side of the Moon gets a fair shake of things. Its overwhelming popularity and omnipresence in pop culture all but alienates the alternative listener, and then there’s the elitism that surrounds it, the pretentious music hipsters that worship every note like David Gilmour is the second coming of Christ himself (he just might be), its status as an “old hippie” album, and overplay on mainstream radio airwaves.

But perhaps its biggest barrier is that it gets compared to other Pink Floyd albums. It’s not a “cool” pick for the best Floyd album, especially compared to more experimental releases like Meddle or Animals. It’s probably not my favorite Pink Floyd release either, which would have to go to the storytelling opus of Wish You Were Here. But that being said, it would be my favorite release from just about any other rock act of the decade. It fundamentally changed the music industry and proved that creative freedom and profitability aren’t incompatible terms. It deserves to be evaluated on its own merits alone, and when you do that, Dark Side of the Moon turns out to be pretty damn great.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars
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