Avoiding any annoying terms like “dadrock” and “overrated,” Dark Side of the Moon is okay – good, even – I just find it to be the defining “progressive rock for people who don’t like progressive rock” album.
Actually, to call this a progressive rock album is to do the entire genre a disservice. Yes, the album does borrow heavily from jazz and classical music (on the latter, especially in how the whole thing plays like one long song), an important distinction between progressive rock and rock music. However, firstly: aside from “Time” and “Money” – unsurprisingly, the two songs that receive regular rotation on classic rock radio – The Dark Side of the Moon rarely rocks. Moreover, the lyrics have only one thing common with the genre as a whole – they take themselves way too seriously (check out “Eclipse” especially; Good Lord, let’s all just walk hand-in-hand into the ocean because what’s the point?). Of course, none of this makes The Dark Side of the Moon a bad album – again, it’s not – it’s just something worth pointing out.
Stephen T. Erlewine of allmusic—which is neck and neck with Rolling Stone as the major music publication that worships canonized albums above all else—opens his review of The Dark Side of the Moon with “By condensing the sonic explorations of Meddle to actual songs […] Pink Floyd inadvertently designed their commercial breakthrough.” I disagree; I think with Dark Side of the Moon onwards through their respected progressive rock years, there was always a conscious—most definitely not inadvertent—thought to make things as commercially accessible as progressive rock could possibly be. That’s the only explanation I can come up why “Money” exists at all on this record or “Have a Cigar” existing at all on Wish You Were Here. (“Pigs (Three Different Ones)” covers the obligatory dadrock (oh no, I used the term) track on Animals but that one fit in with the concept, and the entirety of The Wall counts and I have better things to do than name the entire 30-song thing). To say “Money” is a bad track would do it an injustice; that’s a bassline that 99% of bands – rock or not – would be jealous of having. My problem with it is how it’s presented: a long instrumental passage (from about 2:00 – 5:12) that’s just long to disguise the song as something more than what it is – a pop/rock hit (don’t believe me? Somehow, the melodic hook rears its ugly head into the remake of The Italian Job).
Continuing with Mr. Erlewine’s comment, Richard Wright is quoted with saying, “[Dark Side of the Moon] was not a deliberate attempt to make a commercial album. It just happened that way. We knew it had a lot more melody than previous Floyd albums […] The music was easier to absorb and having girls singing away added a commercial touch that none of our records had,” and reading that through, there’s a total contradiction to be found there. Truthfully though, the album’s shining moment is Clare Torry’s vocal jazz of “The Great Gig in the Sky” (all done in one take), wailing in and out and simultaneously creating one of the best melodies that Pink Floyd has to offer. I couldn’t really say with a straight face that I find it to be Pink Floyd’s track so much as it is Clare Torry’s, especially since (rightfully), the band’s playing on the track is so minimal to help Torry stand out more.
Going back to my point about “progressive rock for people who don’t like progressive rock,” to say that Dark Side of the Moon is a concept album, despite it being touted as one, is like saying The Velvet Underground & Nico is a concept album about drugs and sex or OK Computer is a concept album about transportation and computers. 1973, one of the golden years of progressive rock, had plenty of actual concept albums: Lou Reed’s Berlin, a story about a tragic couple; The Who’s Quadrophenia, about someone with multiple personalities to resemble each band member; Yes’s Tales From Topographic Oceans about spirituality derived from Buddhist Shastric scriptures; hell, even The Kinks’ Preservation Act 2 had a story, whatever it was about, but in each of these albums, actual concepts (please note that I am not saying that these albums are necessarily better). The Dark Side of the Moon has themes including greed (“Money”), time (“Time”), mental illness, inspired by Syd Barrett (“Speak To Me,” amongst others), but having multiple themes makes your album thematic, not conceptual. Hell, there’s a song about fear of travelling: “On the Run” – no, tell me how this one fits the album’s “concept,” please. If any of these themes actually tie together in some cohesive way, I was clearly not on enough LSD to see it.
To end on a couple of positive notes: Despite what I said about “On the Run,” its my second favorite track on the album and it can’t be a coincidence that my favorite tracks on the album are the ones where Waters shuts the fuck up, this one managing to convey claustrophobia better than more atmospherically-inclined artists than Pink Floyd could. Despite what I said about “Eclipse,” it’s a really nice conclusion of the entire album, served with the most likeable melody Waters can muster. Also, I gotta say, the entrance of the band on “Time” and “Money” after their sound effects are well-executed, and when the title of the album is dropped on “Brain Damage,” I think that’s probably the most likeable moment on the entire album. Finally, I should also mention that the album cover is iconic, and I saw a guy wearing converse (or some lookalike brand—there are tons) shoes with the album cover weaved into the cloth. And they were probably some of the coolest sneakers I’ve ever seen.
Oh, and this is overrated (oh no, I used the term).