Live version of 'The Wall' should not be missed again

CD REVIEWS

April 27, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Pink Floyd

The Wall Live: 1980-1981 (Columbia 62055)

It was, perhaps, the hottest ticket of the '80s -- and what's even more amazing, the tour in question took place at the very beginning of the decade. Even so, it's difficult to think of a more appropriate candidate for the honor.

After all, how many people do you know who saw Pink Floyd perform "The Wall"?

Even though "The Wall" was an enormous pop success for the group, the live version of the album saw only 29 performances, and then only in London, New York and Los Angeles. It was an amazing spectacle, to be sure, with a stage 160 feet long and 30 feet high, boasting custom-made animation, huge marionettes and a wall slowly erected between band and audience -- and triumphantly smashed by the show's end.

By the standards of rock theater, it was a stunning event, but it came at enormous cost. Not only did the band lose a fortune (despite the fact that the tour only played stadiums, and never to an empty seat), but creative tension within the band throughout the project eventually led to the departure of keyboardist Rick Wright.

Nor did things stop there.

Although the rest of the band -- bassist Roger Waters, guitarist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason -- cut a subsequent album, 1983's "The Final Cut," Waters' acrimonious exit made the whole project a sore point for the band. The rest of Pink Floyd (which eventually included the returned Wright) performed selections from the album on tour, and Waters offered an all-star production in 1990 to commemorate the fall of another wall -- the one separating East and West Berlin.

But until now, only a relative handful have heard the Pink Floyd version in its entirety.

That changes with the release of "The Wall Live: 1980-1981." As the title suggests, it's not exactly a you-are-there experience, as the album was cobbled together from performances throughout the tour's brief run. Even then, the spectacle was never totally live, as the band worked with numerous pre-recorded bits (for instance, the children's chorus and the taunting schoolmaster from "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2") to re-create the album's elaborate textures.

Even so, the live version of "The Wall" crackles with energy, bringing an edge to the music that the original never had. It isn't that the band is playing with more passion, necessarily (although the rock-and-roll bite of "Young Lust" is far more vivid live than in the studio).

Instead, the main difference seems to be a greater commitment to the drama of the piece. In the recording studio, there was something vaguely abstract to "The Wall," a sense that the album was more about ideas than actual feelings. But this staged version brings the music's ragged emotionality to the surface, not just in such heart-on-the-sleeve numbers as "Mother" or "Comfortably Numb," but also in staring-into-the-abyss songs like "Goodbye Cruel World" or "Is Anyone Out There?"

Despite all the spectacle, what made this show such a stunner was the power of the music, and that comes through loud and clear in "The Wall Live: 1980-1981." Don't miss it a second time.

*** 1/2

Supergrass

Supergrass (Island 314 542 388)

England's fondness for retro-sounding rockers isn't always shared by listeners on this side of the Atlantic, but Supergrass deserves to be an exception. Never mind that "Supergrass" draws from several decades of British rock influences; part of what makes the album so appealing is that frontman Gaz Coombes is equally appealing regardless of whether he's aping Mick Jagger on the bittersweet "What Went Wrong (In Your Head)" or David Bowie in "Born Again." But it also helps that the rest of Supergrass delivers each song as if rock aggression and pop accessibility were merely flip sides of the same coin. How else would the band be able to pull as much melodic muscle from the easy-going "Mary" as from the ready-rockin' "Pumping On Your Stereo"?

***

Air

Music from the Motion Picture "The Virgin Suicides" (Astralwerks 48848)

Like a number of pop-savvy electronica acts, Air has worked hard to move its music out of the dance music ghetto and into the more "serious" realm of rock and roll. To that end, "Music from the Motion Picture 'The Virgin Suicides' " holds a place in its catalog approximately equivalent to the spot "Obscured By Clouds" holds in the Pink Floyd catalog. Both are soundtracks, both are more atmospheric than dynamic, and neither is likely to be remembered as among the group's better efforts. That's not to say the album is without its charms, as "Bathroom Girl" and "Highschool Lover" are certainly memorable tunes. But none of the music on this album has as much impact as the monologue that grounds "Suicide Underground."

**

Frank Sinatra

Classic Sinatra (Capitol 23502)

If you had room for but one Frank Sinatra album in your life, what album would it be? Some might argue for "Songs for Swingin' Lovers," others for "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," still others for "Sinatra at the Sands." But if you really had to find a single disc that compiled the best aspects of his tone and interpretive abilities, it would be hard to top "Classic Sinatra." Drawn from his Capitol recordings, this 20-tune anthology balances the best of his swing numbers with his most affecting ballads. Admittedly, these aren't the jazziest sessions he ever cut, but the disc hits on enough high points that it would be hard to imagine the listener who could sit through this CD and not walk away a fan.

****

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