The songs here are more or less replicas of the recorded versions.
Pink Floyd’s The Wall is a great album. With Roger Waters: The Wall, we’re getting it fourth-hand—as the soundtrack to a DVD of a live performance of a record. As expected, quite a bit gets lost in translation.
I had the fortune to catch Waters—for the uninitiated, a founding Pink Floyd member and its conceptual leader for a decade—on the second leg of his recent The Wall revival. It was fantastic; the sort of no-holds-barred spectacle that defined the excessive ‘70s from which Floyd sprang. It’s easy to get a sense of the extravagance from the filmed live performance, Roger Waters: The Wall. The crowd sounds enormous, as do the ubiquitous airplane and cannon-fire sound effects. But it’s more fulfilling to watch live footage to get an idea of the show’s grandeur than to listen to this album.
With no visual aid, Roger Waters: The Wall will be judged against—well, The Wall. As expected, the songs here are more or less replicas of the recorded versions. But to those familiar with the originals, the small changes might prove irksome. The organs are tinnier and weaker, almost certainly Roland or Korg presets rather than an actual Hammond as Richard Wright used on The Wall. And the guitar harmonies are far more prominent in the mix, leading to a prettier sound than the plodding, foreboding tone Floyd guitarist David Gilmour used on the record.
The most glaring change is in Waters’ voice. His vocals sound fuller and more confident than on the record, which is precisely the problem. The Wall works so well in part because of just how helpless and vulnerable Waters sounds while playing his fictional avatar Pink: He squeals and moans, embracing every crack and bum note. Whether because of the need to reach the cheap seats or simply because he’s been repeating this material for decades, Waters’ voice sounds calm, cool and studied throughout Roger Waters: The Wall. He fares best when voicing Pink’s eerily placid mother, whose parts luckily include some of The Wall’s most emotionally compelling moments.
Only one song, aside from interlude “Last Few Bricks,” deviates from the record’s arc. “The Ballad of Jean Charles de Menezes” is a brief “Another Brick in the Wall” reprise that mostly seems to exist to justify Waters’ dedication to victims of terrorism (Menezes was an innocent man killed by police as a suspect in a failed bombing attempt in London in 2005). It has little to do with the album’s narrative and mostly feels like empty rock star polemics designed not so much to enlighten the audience as to elicit cheers from people who know terrorism is bad. The Wall tour was an unabashedly political affair, though the message was mostly communicated through visuals. Again, watching live footage might make “Menezes” feel less incongruous.
All that said, the songs themselves are fantastic. The Wall isn’t Floyd’s most consistent album—given its 90-minute runtime, and its tendency to fare better during its more introverted moments than during its more theatrical stretches. But the hopeless and desolate half-hour between “One of My Turns” and “Comfortably Numb” represents the emotional zenith of the band’s discography and contains at least four of the best songs the band ever wrote. You’ll get a better sense of this from the actual record—and a better sense of the extravaganza that was The Wall tour from the DVD. As for the album version of Roger Waters: The Wall, well, there really isn’t much reason to listen.