Album Review: Pink Floyd- The Division Bell (20th Anniversary Reissue)

At some point, bands reach a point where they transcend their own music, and they become a brand. Acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are obviously the main two that come to mind here—go to any Target and in the men’s clothing department, you’ll find faux vintage, pre-distressed t-shirts with the stupid Stones tongue logo on it, or the album cover for Abbey Road. This also happens with more contemporary bands as well—The Wu-Tang Clan and Nirvana are two acts from the last twenty years that have been…fortunate….enough to have their logo and likenesses placed on cheap department store shirts.

Another “classic” act that is nearly synonymous with being a brand more than a band is Pink Floyd.  They entered the “bro intellectual” canon with the poster of the naked women, sitting poolside, with classic Floyd album artwork painted on their backs. So between that, and Dark Side of The Moon pajama pants, it’s pretty easy to forget that Pink Floyd were, in fact, at one time, a group of musicians that put out albums that people liked.

And by people, I mean, “your parents.”

That was my first exposure to Pink Floyd—my parents. Growing up, I remember that in my parent’s vast LP collection, there were many a Floyd records. I specifically recall seeing Wish You Were Here and Animals. So in 1994, when the band released The Division Bell, it was a big deal to my father, who purchased it on compact disc from the Sam Goody at the mall nearest our rural Illinois home.

Because nostalgia and because cash grabs, The Division Bell has been reissued to commemorate its 20th anniversary—offered in a lavish and spendy boxed set, it includes fancy 12” single replicas, HD audio transfers of the album, and an alternate mix by engineer Andy Jackson; but the real selling point here is the full length album on a 2xLP set for the first time. Apparently, in 1994, with vinyl being a dying format, the songs were trimmed down so it could fit on a single LP. But now, with vinyl fetishists clamoring for things pressed on 180-gram wax—it’s the right time to hear The Division Bell in all of its glory.

Except not really.

Critically skewered upon release, twenty years later, it’s easy to see why. Look, I’m no expert at Pink Floyd’s discography. I don’t claim to be. I’m not even a fan of the band. I bought a copy of Dark Side of The Moon in 1998 with the intent of doing that thing where you synch it up to The Wizard of Oz and I never did it. And when my father bought The Division Bell in 1994, I have no memories of actually listening to it in the house.

In listening to this reissue of it now, I can see why it was not well liked—it’s laughable at best; the kind of album that takes itself too seriously, and comes off like the punch line to a joke that hasn’t been told yet. It’s melodramatic in tone, and musically, it has not aged well at all. Somewhere between “progressive” rock , adult contemporary, and new age, every song drowns under its own meandering weight.

There are times when the guitar playing seems a bit like it’s straight out of the soundtrack for a made-for-TV movie about undercover cops in someplace steamy like Miami, or just possibly music from a Zalman King production—looking specifically at the noodling on the album’s instrumental opening track, “Cluster One.” But hell, nearly every song has a similar sound.

Not helping any are the vocal stylings (or lack thereof) of David Gilmour, who steps in as Floyd’s frontman on The Division Bell, handling lead vocal duties. While he is known for singing on two of the band’s biggest hit songs, “Wish You Were Here,” and “Comfortably Numb,” here he wears out his welcome as soon as his mouth opens. His voice on the record is incredibly flat and boring, but you can tell in his delivery that he thinks he is full of pomp and bravado. It was about the time that I reached “Take it Back” that I realized it sound like Gilmour is doing a horrible Jesus Jones impression—and “Take it Back” is so similar in it’s “vast” and “sweeping” sound, I was actually expecting “Right Here, Right Now” to start playing.

That would have much been preferred, honestly.

In reading up on the history of this album, much was made about the lyrical content, which has an overarching theme of “communication,” apparently. And that some of the lyrics can be viewed as shade thrown in the direction of former Floyd frontman Roger Waters; specifically the line in “Poles Apart”—“You were always the golden boy,” and “The day the wall came down,” in “A Great Day For Freedom.”

But releasing a dis record roughly ten years following the demise of Pink Floyd, then reissuing it twenty years later doesn’t make it any more relevant or urgent, musically speaking or otherwise.

I’m sure somewhere in the dark recesses of the Pink Floyd fan base, there is a subculture of folks that The Division Bell was never given a fair shot, or that it is “music’s most underrated album.” Those people are probably beside themselves with joy at this timely reissue. And maybe there is someone that could discover this for the first time, deeming it a “lost treasure” or sorts.

For me, however, The Division Bell is easy forgettable. It’s an uninteresting and limp album, and sticking with it (for all 66 minutes) was an absolute chore. 

Somewhat unrelated to this reissue was the recent appearance of a Division Bell-era tour t-shirt in an episode of “True Detective,” worn by Woody Harrelson’s character Marty Hart. After listening to this reissue, I have to wonder if that was just something used by the costume department to remind viewers that part of the show took place in 1995, or if it was meant to imply that Detective Hart would be a Pink Floyd fan—specifically of this album, or of the band’s mid to late 70’s popular canon?

Or as the internet is leading me to believe, there is some kind of deeper meaning about "communication" here, between the characters. 

I suppose this, as well as why a festering pile of trash like The Division Bell was reissued at all, would be mysteries left to be solved for #TrueDetectiveSeason2.

If you have a disposable income, The Division Bell 20th Anniversary Reissue set is out now via Rhino.