Graded on a Curve:
Pink Floyd,
The Dark Side of
the Moon

Back in the day–and I’m talking very back in the day–Pink Floyd’s 1973 stoner masterpiece The Dark Side of the Moon played from behind the door of every pot smoke-filled room in my college dormitory. I say this with authority because I was in every one of the those dorm rooms, which meant I heard The Dark Side of the Moon a lot. And by that I mean I heard it to death, and by the time I got booted out of that dorm for smoking pot in dorm rooms I hated The Dark Side of the Moon so much I vowed to never listen to it again. And for decades I kept that vow.

But you know how it goes. One day your curiosity gets the better of you. You think you’ve thrown The Dark Side of the Moon out with the bong water when one day you wake up and decide to give The Dark Side of the Moon another listen. This is what is commonly called failing to learn from experience. But in the case of The Dark Side of the Moon I was pleasantly surprised. I would hardly call our reunion a joyful one; it was more like running into an old friend you’d grown tired of only to discover he wasn’t the bore you remembered. Indeed, with the exceptions of “Money” and “Time” (both of which had continued to annoy me thanks to incessant radio play over the years), our reunion was actually cordial.

The Dark Side of the Moon, which was produced by the band and engineered by wizard behind the control panel Alan Parsons, is very much a “studio as band member” affair. Gone were the days when Pink Floyd, as guitarist and Syd Barrett replacement David Gilmour put it, went in for “the psychedelic noodling stuff.” Plenty of fans weren’t particularly pleased to discover there would be no more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants LPs along the lines of 1971’s Meddle, but The Dark Side of the Moon attracted a slew of new fans and made the guys in the band rich and famous. “Money” indeed.

The Dark Side of the Moon is Head Muzak so potent you can actually smell the reefer, which brings us to the LP’s second track “Breathe (In the Air ”), which is good for a contact high due to its “beanbag chair paralysis” ambience. “On the Run,” on the other hand, employs a bubbly synthesizer and what sounds like a guy running through an airport, which I suppose is Pink Floyd’s commentary on the soulless hustle bustle of modern life.

Big washes of sound and some maniacal laughter culminate in the sound of an atomic bomb, presumably because that’s where all our hustle bustle is taking us. And just to let us know time is ticking and we’d all better hurry up the band follows “On the Run” with the myriad annoying clock noises that open “Time.” The song’s a classic rock staple featuring a great guitar solo by Gilmour and a swell female backing vocal, but when it comes to shallow meditations on mortality I’ll take Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” any day. It’s funnier.

The instrumental “The Great Gig in the Sky” owes much of its genius to the soaring vocals of Clare Torry, who sings like Yoko Ono would if Yoko Ono could sing. Hers is a bravura performance, a downright miracle in fact, and it’s too bad it’s followed by the cash registers that open “Money,” which is yet another plaint by rich rock stars who profess to hate filthy lucre while making piles of the stuff. Dick Parry’s sax solo is quite nice, as is Gilmour’s guitar solo, but I’d pay money just to shut Roger Waters’ shut up.

The lullaby that is “Us and Them” is quite lovely, a still waters run deep proposition sung in a hush and employing some nice vocal echo. Its choruses are positively glorious, thanks in part to yet more excellent saxophone by Parry. It’s followed by the very pot-friendly instrumental “Any Colour You Like,” which features some nice interplay between synthesizer and guitar.

The album’s closing tracks, both of are sad tributes to Syd Barrett, constitute the true brilliance–such as it is–of The Dark Side of the Moon. “Brain Damage,” a mind-blowing (and not in a good way) number about a rendezvous with a lunatic on the lightless side of our lunar neighbor, mourns the loss of “games and daisy chains and laughs,” which is particularly poignant given Barrett’s almost childlike approach to his music. Barrett’s fate was not to die young like so many of his contemporaries; it was to live on, a tragic shade destined to dwell forever in the shadows of wasted genius. And “Brain Damage” is followed by “Eclipse,” which is just what it says it is–a song about the sudden darkness cast by mental illness upon a brilliantly talented young musician.

The Dark Side of the Moon marked Pink Floyd’s transition from psychedelic warm to clinical cold, from an improvisational band to tightly strung studio creature that put every note in its place and never varied from the script. And the same went for what was to come, culminating in 1982’s The Wall, which fans either loved or hated depending on whether they considered it bombast or a Big Artistic Statement. But it’s The Dark Side of the Moon that Pink Floyd will best be remembered for. It doesn’t merit an A, B, or C. It should be graded by bong hits. Me, I give it three and one half bong hits out of five, then return it to a dorm room where it belongs.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B-

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