Reviewing the soundtrack to a film that is itself based on a rock opera essentially means reviewing the original album, although there are differences between Pink Floyd’s 1979 The Wall double LP and their soundtrack to the 1982 film of the same, mainly in terms of arrangements (a few new songs, too). It certainly is a musical work, i.e. the visual elements in the movie are there to enhance the main focus, being the songs, in a role reversal of the traditional balance between ‘sound’ and ‘image’.
That’s what makes so-called rock operas like Tommy, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and especially The Wall, unique in the way they are experienced. These ‘song-cycles’ are largely mood-focused, bridging the gap between concept albums and musicals by retaining the ‘abstract art’ feel of the former and marrying it with actual named characters and events that happen in a (somewhat) linear way. Still, The Wall can hardly be described as plot-driven. It’s more about certain ideas in Roger Waters’ head.
There’s In The Flesh?, which is sung by Bob Geldof in the movie and is arguably better than Waters’ own version… more tormented at least. It takes us back to Pink’s childhood, with the first side of songs dealing with his father’s death in WWII and troubles at school (in the famous Another Brick In The Wall Part 2). The highlight here is the sincere-but-damaging ballad Mother, a more complete song than some of the other ‘fragments’ of music, and all the more moving in Bob Ezrin’s orchestral arrangement for the film.
Empty Spaces is expanded considerably to include more lyrics (and a stirring animated sequence), capturing the whole “feel” of the work with its pessimistic, yet theatrical sound. It also highlights the sheer staying power of the Another Brick In The Wall theme, which not only appears in three as-titled cuts, but in this song and several others throughout the album and movie. Young Lust, One Of My Turns and Don’t Leave Me Now, the songs that detail Pink’s relationship breakdown with his wife (and women in general), benefit from having on-screen activity, while simple messages like Goodbye Cruel World, don’t.
The second half of the film, once the building of the wall is complete, is generally considered the better half, musically and thematically. One downside is that Hey You, a strong song on the album, was dropped in this incarnation, despite footage being filmed for it. The ultra-depressing string of tunes from Is There Anybody Out There to Comfortably Numb, however, only has more impact with the visual and orchestral embellishments.
The climax is worth waiting for. The final batch of music is the most explosive. It was trimmed and Geldofified for the film, with the rock concert, Nazi rally and courtroom trial scene really coming to life (the latter is completely animated, and is five minutes of sheer genius). For me, it is the conclusion of The Wall that reminds me the film was indeed worth making and isn’t simply a superficial extension to the album. Music and image work as a team here, each equally important.
There is no soundtrack album proper for this movie, a sensible choice, because such a thing would be a directionless hybrid between the non-filmy album and the non-albumy film. But the musical changes that Ezrin and Waters applied here are worthwhile in the end result; artistic, emotional, and, in fact, able to exercise more subtlety than the original album, which had to make its plot explicit in a purely aural way. So yes, good music made excellent here, in a truly unique film.