By Todd Whitesel
Tribute albums usually leave me cold. Although well-meaning, most are ragtag efforts that rarely hold together as a whole, and even more rarely are the covers as compelling as the originals. To re-create something as iconic as Pink Floyd’s The Wall is taking the chance of chances. Sometimes the gamble pays off.
As covered in Goldmine #657 (Sept. 30, 2005), producer Billy Sherwood lit all the cannons to make sure this tribute didn’t fizzle at the start. He got the best of the best from the rock and prog world to help rebuild The Wall brick by brick.
Goldmine editor Wayne Youngblood and I are unabashed Floyd-heads so we convened to give this a first spin. We anxiously listened as Adrian Belew’s reedy voice dropped into the opener, “In The Flesh.” As the song builds and drummer Alan White pounds away, Keith Emerson’s keyboards buzz, and Gary Green’s guitar explodes into a solo, Youngblood looked at me and said, “That kicks ass.” I agreed. And that’s my overall impression of this recording.
The key to this album’s success is staying, for the most part, true to the original arrangements and matching musicians’ strengths to individual songs. Sherwood knows what he’s doing when he assigns Belew to sing “In The Flesh?” and “The Show Must Go On”; John Wetton to “Mother” and “Hey You”; Tommy Shaw to “One Of My Turns,” “Don’t Leave Me Now” and “Vera”; and Chris Squire to “Comfortably Numb.” Sherwood handles vocals on several tracks, too. It all works, and there are enough little twists with the music to pull it together.
Robby Krieger’s Middle Eastern–ish guitar line wriggles like a snake across “Empty Spaces”; Tony Franklin’s string slides on the bass and Elliot Easton’s guitar histrionics on “Young Lust” are the perfect counter to Glenn Hughes’ slapdown singing; drummer Vinnie Colaiuta brings his rhythm-perfect sticks to “The Show Must Go On” and “In The Flesh”; and Sherwood briefly takes “Comfortably Numb” into the Orient before the final verse. I know it’s sacrilege, but for me the new arrangement of “Is There Anybody Out There” tops the original. Ian Anderson’s eerie and beautiful flute accompaniment over minor-chord guitar arpeggios creates even greater tension. I can’t listen to the original now without wanting to hear the flute, too.
Some purists may resist any attempt to tinker with the real thing, but with this tribute listeners don’t have to compare Back Against with The Wall and wonder, “Which one’s Pink?” They both are.