The Wall [Redux] by Various ArtistsRelease date: November 9, 2018
Label: Magnetic Eye Records
I’ll let you into a little secret. The 1979 squillion-selling double album which Pink Floyd released is not even my favourite version of The Wall. The live version released in 2000, subtitled Is There Anybody Out There? is far superior. It was gleaned from two tours, in 1980 and 1981, when the band were falling apart through in-fighting and bickering. And it shows.
The original album can come across as thin, whining, with a ‘poor me’ rock star, rather than a furious commentary on divisions and alienation, as was the aim. The live edition, however, is seething with anger and passion. The hostility gets to the point of being a little frightening in the closing stages, where the protagonist in the story, Pink, imagines he is a fascist dictator. It is almost as if Roger Waters himself believes the racist bilge his character is spouting.
The point is, a hefty dose of anger and resentment running through the band on those live dates clearly went a long way in making the songs in The Wall come alive. Which brings us to this album compiled and curated by Magnetic Eye Records. In these times of deep division between the entitled and the rest of us, of walls growing between races, genders, neighbourhoods and nations (literally, if the current US president gets his way), the label thought it a good idea to express or encapsulate people’s fears and anger through a new version of Pink Floyd’s classic record.
It started with a Kickstarter fundraiser in early 2017 and the demand was clear, even before a single artist was announced. And the bands and artists they corralled – all 26 of them, from stoner legends to upstarts in heavy music – clearly had something to get off their chests. Some turned the songs they chose (or were given, in some instances) on their heads, others stuck closely to Pink Floyd’s template. But collectively they lifted the songs and the album to a whole new level.
And through some kind of alchemy, serendipity or whatever, the whole album flows, bitter with fury, fresh with 21st-century frustration, but still with the melody and hooks that made the original songs stick in your mind. And that is quite an achievement, especially with 26 different artistic takes on the songs.
This is Magnetic Eye’s third ‘Redux’ album, after re-imaginings of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland and Helmet’s Meantime. And this one will have presented its own challenges over and above the previous album, as it is so well known, with songs that flow into one another, repeated musical themes and a distinct storyline running through it. With the Hendrix effort, bands had carte blanche to out-weird each other and with Meantime they could just turn up and attempt to out-loud each other.
But The Wall has phrases which pop up throughout, and lush chord structures, such as the falling fifths in ‘Nobody Home’, the shifting time signatures in ‘Mother’, the major-progression chorus in ‘Comfortably Numb’ or the ascending guitar in both versions of ‘In the Flesh’, which pretty much anybody over a certain age regard as sacrosanct.
It is hard to pick a starting point when describing the album – after all, the story, the format and thread of melodies running through it are so well known. But as an illustration of what Magnetic Eye have achieved, you could go straight to Side C. It starts with Summoner turning ‘Hey You’ from a prog standard into a shout-from-a-mountain stoner classic, before Scott Reeder‘s haunting version of ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ frankly creeps us all out. By the way, Reeder was not even included in the original line-up, but he contacted the label two months after the project had started and asked to be part of it. They said yes (of course – it is Scott Reeder, after all). The result is stunning.
Mark Lanegan‘s take on ‘Nobody Home’ is next, and his distinctive gravelly, world-weary voice is accompanied by little more than a mandolin. In short he makes it a Mark Lanegan song in the starkest, most affecting way possible. His turn segues into Ruby the Hatchet doing a spooky ‘Vera’ then Sunflo’er go ambient on us with an instrumental version of ‘Bring the Boys Back Home’, which ditches the toe-curling jingoism of the original and instead gives us a wistful, lonely interlude. The side ends with Mars Red Sky doing a fuzz-filled spacey take on ‘Comfortably Numb’, which gives you goosebumps. In an album full of great tracks, this is possibly the best.
Other highlights include a surprisingly restrained Low Flying Hawks doing a sinister take on ‘The Thin Ice’ or Year of the Cobra transforming the frankly bleak ‘When The Tigers Broke Free’ into a fragile yet swaggering doom groove. Then there is Open Hand‘s lush handling of ‘The Show Must Go On’ complete with saxophone (Pink Floyd’s 1980s and 1990s touring sax player, Scott Page, as it happens). And ASG‘s ‘Mother’, which starts with the familiar acoustic guitar, but then by way of widescreen fuzz gives us an almost sunny version of the ditty about a man-child and his over-protective mummy.
Or Sergeant Thunderhoof and Sasquatch‘s trans-Atlantic collaborating in making sure ‘The Happiest Days of Our Lives’ and ‘Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2’ flowed into each other as on the original. Indeed, Sasquatch’s guitar solo mirrors Dave Gilmour’s almost note for note.
Oh yeah, did I mention that The Melvins kick the whole album off? The Melvins. Doing ‘In the Flesh?’ With their own lyrics. If that is not enough motivation to buy this album, then I don’t know what is.
Even the original album’s two weakest or – in my opinion – most irritating songs (‘Young Lust’ and ‘The Trial’) are given new leases of life, by The Slim Kings and Church of the Cosmic Skull respectively. The former band turn a misogynistic dirge into a bluesy roadhouse number, while the latter take the silly music-hall elements from ‘The Trial’ and, well, make them into a Church of the Cosmic Skull song.
Some will of course regard this entire project as sacrilegious, like repainting the Sistine Chapel in acrylic or putting a hybrid engine into a 1968 Ford Mustang GT. This was clear from the reaction from some when the label released Pallbearer‘s version of ‘Run Like Hell’ (which injects an Iron-Maiden style galloping guitar and makes it sound tough as hell). Some fans’ foul-mouthed fury was hilarious.
But for those who are grown-up to realise that even Pink Floyd’s The Wall is only rock ‘n’ roll (and, let’s be frank, not even their best album), will therefore be open minded enough to give this a listen. And mark my words, you will feel the anger and frustration at the divisions in the world that led to this project, as well as Waters’ original album, of course. But you will also be floored at how well this project works. The Wall was very much a product of its time. This album is a work of art for today.