Album Spotlight: Pink Floyd – “A Momentary Lapse of Reason”


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1. Signs Of Life

I made the decision to spotlight Pink Floyd’s “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” for two reasons.  First of all, I love this album.  It’s one of my favorites from the band; and, yes, I am aware of the controversy surrounding it.  Secondly, I was looking for an older album to spotlight, and the content of this album is still a mystery to me, aside from some obvious lyrics.  It’s a bit of challenge for myself, you could say.

The first track here is an instrumental piece called “Signs of Life”.  While I love this track, the meaning of it escaped me at first.  I could wax poetic about Gilmour’s views of humanity and his everlasting hope that men can love one another some day: However, I feel like the meaning of this song has more to do with a giant middle finger to Roger Waters.  I see “Signs of Life” as a reassurance to fans and a snub to Waters concerning the “spent force” that Waters called the great Pink Floyd.  This is a statement from Gilmour that Floyd is stirring and ready to continue the message and music of the band.  So, while this could be philosophical, I think this is a personal statement first and foremost.

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2. Learning To Fly

“A soul in tension that’s learning to fly/ Condition grounded but determined to try/ Can’t keep my eyes from the circling skies/Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, I”.  The second song on “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” is a real wonder to behold.  I love the vocal lines and the general groove here, but the feelings in the words are perhaps most potent of all.  This is a song about the heart of humanity and our innate desire to be free.

We all have that call in our souls to fly and be free and at peace.  We all want to soar rather than be grounded.  But sometimes it takes faith and determination to learn how to fly; to overcome our fears.  This “irresistible grasp” and fixation on our freedom represents the untamed nature of our creation and structure.  Our hearts cannot be healthy and caged at the same time.

But there are two parts to this.  “Ice is forming on the tips of my wings/ Unheeded warnings I thought I thought of everything/ No navigator to guide my way home/ Unladen, empty and turned to stone”.  To learn to fly, you must master the initial lift off, but also learn to maintain your flight.  Learning to fly involves wisdom.  You must overcome your fear of flying, but you must also know the limits and humility that come with it.  We, as humans, tend either to be grounded or to fly above where we ought.  We cower, or we dominate others.  Know the limits.  Know how high you can fly.  Be free, but cherish the freedom of others.

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3. The Dogs Of War

The third track on this album seems to stem from and be in contrast to “Learning to Fly”.  Instead of cherishing freedom, these people are dominating, evil men.  Instead of helping others fly, they tread them under in war and famine.  These “dogs of war” battle others for their own gain, but sit at a comfortable distance from the fray.  “Invisible transfers, long distance calls,/ Hollow laughter in marble halls/ Steps have been taken, a silent uproar/ Has unleashed the dogs of war/You can’t stop what has begun”.  These men are cowards.  These men are full of little else than hate and greed.

“But wherever you go, you know they’ve been there before/ Well winners can lose and things can get strained/ But whatever you change, you know the dogs remain.”  This is one of the most depressing things about a world ruled by dogs of war:  Nowhere is safe.  Their greedy hands reach as far as possible to ruin, sully, and take from the earth all that they can.  “One world, it’s a battleground/ One world, and we will smash it down/ One world, one world.”  No negotiation.  No grace or quarter.  This world belongs to them, and they will destroy it before letting anyone else have it.

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4. One Slip

The fourth track on “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” will probably make most of you feel uncomfortable, for one reason or another.  “Was it love, or was it the idea of being in love?”  As I saw a commentator say, “One Slip” is about sex, plain and simple.  Obviously, it’s not about the act, but the state of mind that leads to destructive sexual experiences.  The whole album, even, seems to be centered around those moments when we act without thinking.  Unfortunately, humanity seems to do this rather routinely.

“Then drowned in desire, our souls on fire/ I lead the way to the funeral pyre/ And without a thought of the consequence/ I gave in to my decadence.”  Their honor was forgotten.  Their self-respect was drowning in a sea of primal lust.  Why did they even get into this situation?

What forced them into this mess?  Was it the lust?  Was it the desire?  Not really.  “The moment slipped by and soon the seeds were sown/ The year grew late and neither one wanted to remain alone”.  It wasn’t the attraction that brought them together.  It was the tension in their souls, seeing their friends happy and coupled.  It was the societal requirement that they be with someone else or else be outcasts.  It was this ever burning pressure to conform that forced them into this damaging, mindless situation.  Why do put our young people in these situations?  Why do we put so much pressure on each other to attain a certain standard?  One slip is all it takes, and down the hole they fall.

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5. On The Turning Away

“No more turning away/ From the weak and the weary/ No more turning away/ From the coldness inside”.  I find this fifth track on “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” to be fairly obvious in its meaning.  The idea is familiar to fans of Gilmour’s writing and his wonderful charity work for which he takes no credit.  This idea is that we must not turn from those who need help.  We must help those in need.  We must shed our apathy and greed to make change in this world.

“Don’t accept that what’s happening/ Is just a case of others’ suffering/ Or you’ll find that you’re joining in/ The turning away”.  One of Gilmour’s reasons for this is that, while you are turning from those faces of need, you may find yourself joining their crowd.  Or, in other words, we are all in this together.  What happens to one of us happens to all of us, and we should have that state of mind.  “Unaware how the ranks have grown/ Driven on by a heart of stone/ We could find that we’re all alone/ In the dream of the proud”.

I have further reasons, though.  I believe that each of us are created in the image of a God who simply IS.  He maintains us every day, as we all live and move and have our being in him.  But, as created in his image, we can make choices.  And we usually make destructive, selfish choices.  So, caring for others isn’t about just wanting to make God happy: It’s about realizing who and what we are and the dignity and honor we all possess.  That’s worth living.  That is worth protecting.  Every person is worth more than you can imagine.  And it’s about time we stop turning away from them.  Whatever your own personal reason, turn and face the crowd.

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6. Yet Another Movie

“He has laughed and he has cried/ He has fought and he has died/ He’s just the same as all the rest/ He’s not the worst, he’s not the best”.  The sixth song on this album is a little vague in meaning, but I think I have an interpretation that really falls in line with the general attitude of the album.  “Yet Another Movie” could be called “Yet Another Life” or possibly, “Yet Another Tragedy”.  Gilmour writes about war fairly often, and so I see this as the depiction of a man gone off to war, or, perhaps, even just to the drudgery of meaningless work.  He didn’t survive.  He was pulled under.  He became a slave.

This song is the ghostly memory of a man—a good man—that left his wife and child behind to go fight and work for the dogs of war.  This is the truly human side of that other song.  His family can barely go on without him, and his wife will “submit soon” because she’s “had enough”; of life, I assume.  His child cries because he is never there.  The man was so tough, but even war takes the brave and strong.  A life of meaninglessness takes even the most vibrant personalities.  Instead of staying where he should have, he ended up on an airplane to somewhere he didn’t belong.  “A man who ran, a child who cried/ A girl who heard, a voice that lied/ The sun that burned a fiery red/ The vision of an empty bed”.  We finally see what the album cover here means: This momentary lapse of reason that causes us to strike out to places we do not belong, leaving behind everything that has real meaning.  We leave our beds empty.

Near the end, the song takes a sudden turn.  Now, we are seeing this man’s story as if it were really on a screen.  We see the crying eyes and the saddened hearts, and we see something about ourselves here.  At first, I thought this was criticizing cinema.  But then I realized that Gilmour is showing us how we react to these types of tragedies: We know this shouldn’t be.  We know situation was wrong and should not have happened.  We know that life is sacred.  Yet, we, in a roundabout way, tolerate these very things in real life.  There is an innate sense of wrong and a natural empathy for these things within human hearts, but we let it go and use it just as our entertainment.  Can we step up?  Can we allow real situations to move us like our movies do?  No more turning away.

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7. Round And Round

We now enter a part of “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” where the general themes of the album collide in a more abstract fashion.  The next few tracks are instrumental in nature, though there are vocals present, too.  The general ideas, though, are musical.  To start, we have “Round and Round”, which is basically a short outro from “Yet Another Movie”, but it serves as a bridge to the abstract thinking of “A New Machine”, connecting the two because their themes are directly related.

The general purpose of this track is similar to that of Headspace’s “The Big Day”.  It represents the circular, vicious nature of life and the system in which we live.  It’s literally an unending vicious circle of history that we cannot seem to break.  Round and round, on and on, greed and apathy bring us ruin.  Sometimes, new segments of this system form, and that is what the following tracks address: a new machine that is somewhat different, but more or less the same as it has always been.

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8. A New Machine/Terminal Frost

“I have always been here/ I have always looked out from behind these eyes/ It feels like more than a lifetime/ Feels like more than a lifetime”.  Back in “Yet  Another Movie”, we saw tragedy and sorrow.  Yet, we also saw the complacency of modern existence: We saw the apathy and numbness of our souls, broken only by these stories on our screens.  This multi-track suite from Pink Floyd calls this problem a “new machine”, obviously in reference to their classic track.  This new machine, however, is founded upon the old vicious cycle of ruin that can be found through human history.  This new machine is a cycle of technology and over-stimulation that saturates our souls to where we feel nothing; to where we don’t react to those in need or to horrific situations.

The human soul is ever waiting behind our eyes.  Life stretches on and on as it waits for us to rouse ourselves; to live life for real.  It’s only hope is that “nobody lives forever”.

This suite moves on to “Terminal Frost”, communicating the frozen, apathetic nature of our existence in modern times.  Why don’t we care about anything?  Nothing shocks us any more.  We are like zombies, herded here and there for entertainment and consumption, but lacking any real personality and color.  We are iced over; almost dead.

The suite ends with something of a mantra.  Our vivid, lively selves have been glossed over by too much shit.  We heap material things upon ourselves, and it becomes a burden.  The powers that be know all of that, and take advantage.  The dogs of war continue their fights and manipulation, and we stare with empty eyes, too afraid to lose our stuff to act; to be human.

So, on and on, the human soul continues its mantra: “It’s only a lifetime”.  It has no hope that it will ever be free in this life, just that this lifetime will end.  “It’s only a lifetime, it’s only a lifetime”.

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 9. Sorrow

We come at last to the final track on “A Momentary Lapse of Reason”.  This track is called “Sorrow”, and it can be interpreted many ways.  This album is not a concept album, but bearing in mind that most albums come together in an artist’s mind in a certain time of their life, I definitely see a recurring theme throughout the album.  Some say this song is about realizing you will die.  Others say it is about the feelings you have after losing love or seeing that you missed happiness.  I say that it is about all of the above, as it pertains to the theme I have drawn from the album.

“He’s chained forever to a world that’s departed / It’s not enough, it’s not enough”.  Precious few of us ever see the damage and horror of what we have done to this world.  Whether you believe in God or simply in chance, we have done a number on this world of ours, and we live the consequences every day.  “The sweet smell of a great sorrow lies over the land/ Plumes of smoke rise and merge into the leaden sky:/ A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers / But awakes to a morning with no reason for waking”.  That sweet smell is not a good one.  We have ruined this world with our apathy and our greed, not to mention the wars that have ravaged the land.  We trudge through life, knowing the problems, but ignoring them.  We end up having no reason to get out of bed.

This song, in my mind, is a song about awakening.  Or at least about someone who isn’t totally blind.  It a sad song, as this man dreams of the world that could be, or possibly was; but that world isn’t a reality, and it’s getting worse.  “And he talks to the river of lost love and dedication/ And silent replies that swirling invitation/ Flows dark and troubled to an oily sea/ A grim intimation of what is to be”.  So, yes, this song is about loss.  It’s a song about death and sadness.  It’s a song that expresses the condition of Gilmour’s heart, as he sees this world continue down the warpath of ruin and madness.  Should he give in to the swirling, dark waters?  Should he just end it all right now?  It’s going to happen anyways!  He sees his destiny ahead, so should he just embrace it now?  There is a great sorrow that lies over the land and over our hearts, and that momentary lapse of reason seems like it will last an eternity.

But it doesn’t end there, at least not for me.  There may not be much I personally can do to change this world, but I can at least raise kids to be better and more aware of other people.  I can stand for right: I can do what’s right.  I don’t have to live in fear or hunch down in sadness.  Instead, I can stand for the people and good in this world, and we can start a revolution.  The dogs of war are not invincible.  The zombies can be awakened.  And we can be the start of it all.  Sorrow rules now, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

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3 responses to “Album Spotlight: Pink Floyd – “A Momentary Lapse of Reason”

  1. Pingback: Album Spotlight: Pink Floyd – “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” — The PROG Mind | Progarchy·

  2. I’m glad to see this particular (criminally underrated) album in ‘album spotlight’! I find the thoughts, especially on “Yet Another Movie” and “Sorrow”, very intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A great album indeed. Sure it’s not allegorical or caught up in some other Floydian slip of a theme. They are my all time favourite band and having been collecting their shows and albums for years now it’s a joy to read someone else who appreciates this album for every facet it offers up to the Prog table. Powerful songs, deep and dark themes yet lighthearted in spots to create the balancing flow of the album. Waters fans can argue it’s not a Pink Floyd album but does that mean we should say the same for bands like The Doors who did two albums post Jim that it wasn’t the Doors? Or when Brian Jones died it was no longer the Stones or Keith moon? Etc etc etc. To each their own but this is a great album and thank you for the wonderfully lengthy review. Cheers

    Like

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