November 19, 1990 12:00 PM

Roger Waters

The roar of the crowd, the crash of fireworks, and a distant, thumping bass guitar. These are the only sounds that penetrated to the back of the throng at the Berlin Wall last July during an all-star concert of the rock opera The Wall. The release of this live album means that all 350,000 concertgoers, and the people who stayed home, can finally hear every note.

They won’t be disappointed. Unaffected by what was, for the site, an insufficient sound system, the recording of The Wall comes across as a technical triumph. The concert proceeds so smoothly that at times it sounds too polished to be live.

With a cast of more than 550, including Joni Mitchell, Cyndi Lauper, Van Morrison, a Soviet marching band and an East German symphony, it’s a wonder that they all make their cues. The performers’ ease belies the fact that they only had a few rehearsals on a stage rigged with more special effects than a booby trap.

Waters, who wrote The Wall in 1979 with his former band, Pink Floyd, wisely recruited some of the very best rock singers to perform it with him. Bryan Adams, for example, pumps new energy into a rugged rendition of “Young Lust,” while Paul Carrack, who joined the show at the last minute, belts out “Hey, You” with a passion that surpasses the original.

The lavish production couldn’t overcome some built-in problems. Probably because of limited rehearsal time, Sinéad O’Connor delivers an overly timid version of “Mother,” and neither Tim Curry nor Marianne Faithfull does justice to their talents in tiny cameo roles. While it includes a handful of great pop songs, The Wall has too much filler material, most of it advancing the slightly muddled plot about a rock star’s alienation.

Such flaws don’t substantially spoil the record as it leads literally to a historic climax. As the 550-foot Styrofoam wall erected onstage tumbles over, it creates an extended roar, belated thunder to accompany the political lightning stroke that opened the barrier that had long separated the two halves of Berlin.

For a finale, the cast members join in Waters’s “The Tide Is Turning,” an optimistic song that he wrote after watching LiveAid in 1985. Their strong, bright voices send a hopeful message from Germany to the rest of the world. (PolyGram)

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