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The Division Bell is the final studio album by Pink Floyd, released in 1994 (30 March in the United Kingdom and 5 April in the United States), and the second album without original bassist Roger Waters. It was recorded at a number of studios, including guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour’s houseboat studio called The Astoria.
It went to #1 in the UK and debuted at the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 album charts in April 1994, spending four weeks as the top album in the country. By contrast, Pink Floyd’s previous album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, had peaked at #3.
The Division Bell was certified Gold, Platinum, and Double Platinum in the U.S. in June 1994 and Triple Platinum in January 1999. Its release was accompanied by an extremely successful tour documented in the P•U•L•S•E album released the following year.
Before the Roger Waters-led period, David Gilmour stated that the music and lyrics were in balance, and the importance of the music was understood. The Division Bell’s atmosphere is spacier, sounding more like Meddle or Obscured by Clouds than the grittier and harsher tones of Animals or The Wall. David Gilmour and keyboardist Richard Wright stated on “In the Studio with Redbeard”, which spotlighted The Division Bell (including interviews which were recorded for the world premiere special of The Division Bell aired one week before its U.S. release) that the album was the band’s best since their 1975 release Wish You Were Here.
This release marks the first time Richard Wright had sung lead vocals on a Pink Floyd album since 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon, although he did provide backing vocals for Wish You Were Here, Animals and A Momentary Lapse of Reason. It also marks his first songwriting credit on a Pink Floyd album since Wish You Were Here.
The track “Marooned” was awarded a Grammy in the category of Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the Grammy Awards of 1995. This has been Pink Floyd’s only Grammy to date.
EMI concocted an Internet-based “puzzle” known as the Publius Enigma in connection with the album’s release. Officially, it was never solved.
Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, chose the name of the album, being a friend of David Gilmour. This came about because the three band members could not agree on an album title (with both “Pow Wow” and “Down to Earth” being suggested). When Gilmour told Adams about the problem, Adams quickly responded that he had a title, but that he would only tell Gilmour if he would donate £25,000 to the Save the Rhino foundation. Gilmour agreed and the name, taken from a line in the final track, “High Hopes”, was suggested. The phrase itself derives from the division bell, which is rung in the British House of Commons, and some other legislatures, to signal the commencement of a division (vote) to Members of Parliament.
Despite no specific over-arching concept, there is a musical connection between the songs in the form of a linking theme of communication and the lack of it. Tracks such as “What Do You Want from Me”, “A Great Day for Freedom” and “Take It Back” seem chiefly concerned with communication problems within relationships, while “Keep Talking” is more generally about the importance of maintaining a dialogue and the dangers of allowing oneself to become insular. Samples of Professor Stephen Hawking from a British Telecom (telephone company) advertisement provide the spoken word portions of “Keep Talking”.
While some songs can be interpreted as references to the then ongoing relationship problems between Pink Floyd members, especially the long-standing estrangement between David Gilmour and Roger Waters, Gilmour denies that the album is an allegory for the split and acknowledges only “a couple of hinted mentions that could or could not have something to do with him [Waters]”.
At the end of the album, Gilmour’s stepson, Charlie, can be heard hanging up the telephone on Pink Floyd manager Steve O’Rourke, who had pleaded to be allowed to appear on a Pink Floyd album.
Division Bell Artwork
The cover artwork, by long-time Pink Floyd collaborator Storm Thorgerson, shows two metal head sculptures sculpted by John Robertson, each over three metres tall and weighing 1500 kilograms. They were placed in a field in Cambridgeshire (shown at the above coordinates) and photographed under all weather and lighting conditions over a two-week period, sometimes with visual effects such as lights between them. Ely Cathedral is visible in the background, as are lights (actually car headlights on poles), shown through the sculptures’ mouths. Rumours circulated at the time of the photography that they were in excess of 20 metres high; this was not true. The sculptures are now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
The cover photograph is slightly different on each format, and between the United States Columbia and British EMI releases. The Braille writing on the EMI CD jewel case spells Pink Floyd.
Two additional 7.5 metres tall stone head sculptures were made by Aden Hynes and photographed in the same manner; although they do not appear in the CD artwork, they appeared on the cassette cover, and can be seen in the tour brochure and elsewhere.
The artwork inside the lyric booklet revolves around a similar theme, except the heads are made up of various other objects, such as newspapers (“A Great Day for Freedom”), coloured glass (“Poles Apart”), and boxing gloves (“Lost for Words”). Pages two and three portray a picture from La Silla observatory.
The album was received mostly poorly by professional critics despite its strong sales. Jerry McCully of Amazon.com said of the album in his editorial review that “The Division Bell is not a great Pink Floyd album, but an all-too-fallible simulation”. Tom Sinclair of Entertainment Weekly echoed McCully’s sentiment, giving the album a grade of “D” and saying that “avarice is the only conceivable explanation for this glib, vacuous cipher of an album, which is notable primarily for its stomach-turning merger of progressive-rock pomposity and New Age noodling”. Tom Graves of Rolling Stone criticized lead guitarist David Gilmour’s performance on the album, stating that his guitar solos “were once the band’s centerpieces, as articulate, melodic and well-defined as any in rock, [but] he now has settled into rambling, indistinct asides that are as forgettable as they used to be indelible”, adding that “only on ‘What Do You Want from Me’ does Gilmour sound like he cares”.
Waters described the album as “rubbish,” and mocked Gilmour’s decision to have his wife write many of its lyrics. However, the album enjoys a strong positive reputation with Pink Floyd’s fanbase. Mark Henderson of the Pink Floyd fansite Pink Floyd.net called the album “quite possibly one of the most amazing albums of all time”, adding to fellow Pink Floyd.net reviewer Tim Shelton’s comment that The Division Bell “encompasses the best aspects of the band”.