Various Artists: Back Against the Wall

Adam Besenyodi

Ultimately, reproducing an icon like The Wall is a no-win situation: Perform the songs spot-on, and you lack creativity. Monkey with the material and you infuriate the faithful.

Various Artists

Back Against the Wall

Label: Cleopatra
US Release Date: 2005-09-13
UK Release Date: 2005-10-03
Amazon affiliate

In 1982, a year after George Lucas and Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark barnstormed across screens in U.S. movie houses, three kids from Mississippi began the monumental task of recreating the film they adored. The 12-year-olds lovingly cobbled together a shot-for-shot adaptation of the movie over the next seven years. The resulting film, Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, has been praised for its inspiration and its creators for their resourcefulness. Fifteen years after completing their project, their love-letter resurfaced and the boys' story has since been tapped to be transformed into a big screen bio-pic.

Cleopatra Records and Billy Sherwood are a lot like those kids. Inspired by Pink Floyd's 1979 classic rock concept double-album, The Wall, a song-for-song recreation has been crafted and edited together by the tribute album label and the prog-rock producer. This adaptation, however, has some well-known names attached to it from the beginning. When you have Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) banging up against Fee Waybill (The Tubes) and Ronnie Montrose (Montrose), and John Wetton (Asia) mixing with Tommy Shaw (Styx), and Robby Krieger (The Doors) on the same disc as Chris Squire (Yes) and Steve Morse (Kansas), it's like a prog-rock/classic rock orgy. Throw in Jim Ladd and Malcolm McDowell, and it's hard to know what to make of all this. All in all, it's a very strange listen.

I went through an adolescent phase where The Wall spoke to me and seemed to hold incredible meaning and depth. I know every word, every note, every between song background snippet to The Wall -- like many, I suspect, who grew up listening to it. And that knowledge is what ultimately dooms Back Against the Wall, because no matter how closely you reproduce it, the target audience has an established idea about how it's supposed to sound.

On the tracks where Sherwood handles the lead, he takes on the vocal affectations of Pink Floyd singer/lyricist Roger Waters and the resemblance is frightening. Sherwood's love of the original material comes through in every note and every turn of the phrase. It's a somewhat disconcerting listen, though, because something does not compute. The listener is set up by the meticulous reproduction, only to be thrown off by the slight variations in vocal delivery or musical details.

Along with Sherwood's uncanny imitation, he also employs the exact same background and between-song voices. Again, the effect does more to mess with the listener's equilibrium than anything else, but it's all there -- every comment, every sound effect -- sometimes delivered in a slightly different cadence or pitch, but it's there nonetheless.

There are places where the artists consciously deviate from the original material -- Rick Wakeman's bizarre piano work on "Nobody Home", for instance, and Ronnie Montrose's changes to the solo of "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2" -- and the results are equally confounding. At the other end of the spectrum is McDowell's amazing lead vocal performance on "The Trial". This was a role he was born to play.

Ultimately, reproducing an icon like The Wall is a no-win situation. Perform the songs spot-on, and you lack creativity. Monkey with the material and put your own stamp on it, and you infuriate the faithful.

Practically a rite of passage, Pink Floyd's The Wall is an album that has somehow struck a chord with members of every generation of adolescent boys since it was first released. The Wall plays to the isolation and confusion of youth. I grew out of that period, but still listen to The Wall every now and again. Back Against the Wall seems like a reunion of guys who never outgrew that phase.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.