After the release of Pink Floyd's 1983 album The Final Cut, viewed by some to be a de facto Roger Waters solo record, the band's members worked on individual solo projects. Guitarist David Gilmour expressed feelings about his strained relationship with Waters on his second solo album, About Face (1984), and finished the accompanying tour as Waters began touring to promote his debut solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. Although both had enlisted the aid of a range of successful performers, including in Waters' case Eric Clapton, their solo acts attracted fewer fans than Pink Floyd; poor ticket sales forced Gilmour to cancel several concerts, and critic David Fricke felt that Waters' show was "a petulant echo, a transparent attempt to prove that Roger Waters was Pink Floyd". Waters returned to the US in March 1985 with a second tour, this time without the support of CBS Records, which had expressed its preference for a new Pink Floyd album; Waters criticised the corporation as "a machine".
After drummer Nick Mason attended one of Waters' London performances in 1985, he admitted that he missed touring under the Pink Floyd name. His visit coincided with the release in August that year of his second solo album, Profiles, on which Gilmour sang. With a shared love of aviation, Mason and Gilmour were taking flying lessons and later together bought a de Havilland Dove aeroplane. Gilmour was working on other collaborations, including a performance for Bryan Ferry at 1985's Live Aid concert, and co-produced The Dream Academy's self-titled debut album.
In December 1985, Waters announced that he had left Pink Floyd, which he believed was "a spent force creatively". However, after the failure of his About Face tour, Gilmour hoped to continue with the Pink Floyd name. The threat of a lawsuit from Gilmour, Mason and CBS Records was meant to compel Waters to write and produce another Pink Floyd album with his bandmates, who had barely participated in making The Final Cut; Gilmour had been especially critical of that 1983 release, labelling it as "cheap filler" and "meandering rubbish". The lawsuit left Waters with only one other option: to formally resign from Pink Floyd in order to protect himself from a lawsuit that, he said, "would have wiped me out completely".
According to Gilmour, "I told [Waters] before he left, 'If you go, man, we're carrying on. Make no bones about it, we would carry on', and Roger replied: 'You'll never fucking do it.'" Waters had written to EMI and Columbia declaring his intention to leave the group and asking them to release him from his contractual obligations. He also dispensed with the services of Pink Floyd manager Steve O'Rourke and employed Peter Rudge to manage his affairs. This left Gilmour and Mason, in their view, free to continue with the Pink Floyd name.
In Waters' absence, Gilmour had been recruiting musicians for a new project. Some months previously, keyboard player Jon Carin had jammed with Gilmour at his Hookend studio, where he composed the chord progression for what later became "Learning to Fly", and so was invited onto the team. Gilmour invited Bob Ezrin (co-producer of 1979's The Wall) to help consolidate their material; Ezrin had turned down Waters' offer of a role on the development of his new solo album, Radio K.A.O.S., saying it was "far easier for Dave and I to do our version of a Floyd record". Ezrin arrived in England in mid-1986 for what Gilmour later described as "mucking about with a lot of demos". At this stage, there was no firm commitment to a new Pink Floyd release, and Gilmour maintained that the new material might end up on a third solo album. CBS representative Stephen Ralbovsky hoped for a new Pink Floyd album, but in a meeting in November 1986, told Gilmour and Ezrin that the music "doesn't sound a fucking thing like Pink Floyd". Gilmour later admitted that the new project was difficult without Waters. Gilmour had experimented with songwriters such as Eric Stewart and Roger McGough, but eventually settled on Anthony Moore, who would be credited as co-writer of "Learning to Fly" and "On the Turning Away". Instead of writing a concept album, Gilmour settled for the more conventional approach of a collection of songs without a thematic link. By the end of that year, he had decided to turn the new material into a Pink Floyd project.
A Momentary Lapse of Reason was recorded in several different studios, mainly Gilmour's houseboat studio Astoria moored on the Thames; according to Ezrin, "working there was just magical, so inspirational; kids sculling down the river, geese flying by ..." Andy Jackson, a colleague of Floyd cohort James Guthrie, was brought in to engineer the recordings. During sessions held between November 1986 and February 1987, Gilmour's band worked on new material, which in a marked change from previous Floyd albums was recorded with a 24-track analogue machine, and overdubbed onto a 32-track Mitsubishi digital recorder. This trend of using new technologies was continued with the use of MIDI synchronisation, aided by an Apple Macintosh computer.
After agreeing to rework the material that Ralbovsky had found so objectionable, Gilmour employed session musicians such as Carmine Appice and Jim Keltner. Both drummers, they later replaced Mason on most of the album's songs; Mason was concerned that he was too out of practice to perform on the album, and instead busied himself with its sound effects. Some of the drum parts were also performed by drum machines. During the sessions, Gilmour was asked by the wife of Pink Floyd's former keyboard player, Richard Wright, if he too could contribute to the project. A founding member of the band, Wright had left in 1979, and there were certain legal obstacles to his return, but after a meeting in Hampstead he was brought back in. Gilmour later admitted in an interview with author Karl Dallas that Wright's presence "would make us stronger legally and musically". He was therefore employed as a paid musician, on a weekly wage of $11,000, but his contributions were minimal. Most of the keyboard parts had already been recorded, and so from February 1987 Wright played some background reinforcement on a Hammond organ, and a Rhodes piano, along with adding several vocal harmonies. The keyboardist also performed a solo in "On the Turning Away", which was discarded, according to Wright, "not because they didn't like it ... they just thought it didn't fit." Gilmour later said: "Both Nick and Rick were catatonic in terms of their playing ability at the beginning. Neither of them played on this at all really. In my view, they'd been destroyed by Roger …" Gilmour's comments angered Mason, who reflected: "I'd deny that I was catatonic. I'd expect that from the opposition, it's less attractive from one's allies. At some point, he made some sort of apology." Mason did concede, however, that Gilmour was nervous about how the album would be perceived.
"Learning to Fly", with its lyrics of "circling sky, Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earthbound misfit, I", was inspired by Gilmour's flying lessons, which occasionally conflicted with his studio duties. The track also contains a recording of Mason's voice, made during takeoff. The band experimented with audio samples, and Ezrin recorded the sound of Gilmour's boatman (Langley Iddens) rowing across the Thames. Iddens' presence at the sessions was made vital when on one occasion, Astoria began to lift in response to the rapidly rising river, which was pushing the boat against the pier on which it was moored. "The Dogs of War" is a song about "physical and political mercenaries", according to Gilmour. Its creation came about through a mishap in the studio when a sampling machine began playing a sample of laughter, which the guitarist thought sounded like a dog's bark. "Terminal Frost" was one of Gilmour's older demos, which for some time he considered adding lyrics to, but eventually decided to leave as an instrumental. Conversely, the lyrics for "Sorrow" were written before the music. The song's opening guitar solo was recorded in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. A 24-track mobile studio piped Gilmour's Fender tracks through a public address system, and the resulting mix was then recorded in surround sound.
Despite the tranquil setting offered by Astoria, the sessions were often interrupted by the escalating row between Waters and Pink Floyd over who had the rights to the Pink Floyd name. O'Rourke, believing that his contract with Waters had been terminated illegally, sued the bassist for £25,000 of back-commission. In a late-1986 board meeting of Pink Floyd Music Ltd (since 1973, Pink Floyd's clearing house for all financial transactions), Waters learnt that a bank account had been opened to deal exclusively with all monies related to "the new Pink Floyd project". He immediately applied to the High Court to prevent the Pink Floyd name from ever being used again, but his lawyers discovered that the partnership had never been formally confirmed. Waters returned to the High Court in an attempt to gain a veto over further use of the band's name. Gilmour's team responded by issuing a non-confrontational press release affirming that Pink Floyd would continue to exist; however, the guitarist later told a Sunday Times reporter: "Roger is a dog in the manger and I'm going to fight him, no one else has claimed Pink Floyd was entirely them. Anybody who does is extremely arrogant." Waters twice visited Astoria, and with his wife had a meeting in August 1986 with Ezrin (the producer later suggested that he was being "checked out"). As Waters was still a shareholder and director of Pink Floyd music, he was able to block any decisions made by his former bandmates. Recording moved to Mayfair Studios in February 1987, and from February to March – under the terms of an agreement with Ezrin to record close to his home – to A&M Studios in Los Angeles: "It was fantastic because ... the lawyers couldn't call in the middle of recording unless they were calling in the middle of the night." The bitterness of the row between Waters and Pink Floyd was covered in a November 1987 issue of Rolling Stone, which became the magazine's best-selling issue of that year. The legal disputes were resolved by the end of 1987.
Careful consideration was given to the album's title. The initial three contenders were Signs of Life, Of Promises Broken and Delusions of Maturity. For the first time since 1977's Animals, designer Storm Thorgerson was employed to work on a Pink Floyd studio album cover. His finished design was a long river of hospital beds arranged on a beach, inspired by a phrase from "Yet Another Movie" and Gilmour's vague hint of a design that included a bed in a Mediterranean house, as well as "vestiges of relationships that have evaporated, leaving only echoes". The cover shows hundreds of hospital beds, placed on Saunton Sands in Devon (where some of the scenes for Pink Floyd – The Wall were filmed). The beds were arranged by Thorgerson's colleague Colin Elgie. A hang glider can be seen in the sky, a clear reference to "Learning to Fly". The photographer, Robert Dowling, won a gold award at the Association of Photographers Awards for the image, which took about two weeks to create. To drive home the message that Waters had left the band, the inner gatefold featured a group photograph – of just Gilmour and Mason – shot by David Bailey. Its inclusion marked the first time since 1971's Meddle that a group photo had been used in the artwork of a Pink Floyd album. Richard Wright was represented only by name, on the credit list, although he also appears in photographs included in later reissues.
A Momentary Lapse of Reason was released in the UK and US on 7 September 1987. It went straight to number three in both countries, held from the top spot by Michael Jackson's Bad and Whitesnake's self-titled album.
In comparison with The Final Cut, Gilmour presented A Momentary Lapse as a return to the Floyd of older days, citing his belief that towards the end of Waters' tenure, lyrics were more important than music. Gilmour said: "The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here were so successful not just because of Roger's contributions, but also because there was a better balance between the music and the lyrics [than on later albums.]" He added that with A Momentary Lapse, he had tried to restore this earlier, more successful balance. Waters was scathing in his assessment of the new work, a view with which Wright later partly agreed, saying: "Roger's criticisms are fair. It's not a band album at all."
Writing in Q magazine, Phil Sutcliffe contended that it "does sound like a Pink Floyd album" and highlighted the two-part "A New Machine" as, variously, "a chillingly beautiful vocal exploration, a chorale of multitrack, echo and distortion broken into aching fragments by long moments of silence" and "[a] brilliant stroke of imagination". Sutcliffe concluded: "A Momentary Lapse is Gilmour's album to much the same degree that the previous four under Floyd's name were dominated by Waters … Clearly it wasn't only business sense and repressed ego but repressed talent which drove the guitarist to insist on continuing under the band brand-name." Recognising the return to the more music-oriented approach of Pink Floyd's classic works, Sounds said the album was "back over the wall to where diamonds are crazy, moons have dark sides, and mothers have atom hearts".
Conversely, Greg Quill of the Toronto Star wrote: "Something's missing here. This is, for all its lumbering weight, not a record that challenges and provokes as Pink Floyd should. A Momentary Lapse of Reason, sorry to say, is mundane, predictable." Village Voice critic Robert Christgau opined: "In short, you'd hardly know the group's conceptmaster was gone – except that they put out noticeably fewer ideas." Writing more recently, for AllMusic, William Ruhlmann refers to it as a "Gilmour solo album in all but name".
A Momentary Lapse of Reason was certified Silver and Gold in the UK on 1 October 1987, and Gold and Platinum in the US on 9 November. It went 2× Platinum on 18 January the following year, 3× Platinum on 10 March 1992, and 4× Platinum on 16 August 2001, easily outselling The Final Cut. The album was reissued in 1988 as a limited-edition vinyl album, complete with posters, and a guaranteed ticket application for the band's upcoming UK concerts. The album was digitally remastered and re-released in 1994, and a tenth anniversary edition was issued in the US three years later. In 2011, A Momentary Lapse was again remastered for inclusion in the band's Discovery box set; this time Wright's name had been restored as being a member of the band and the band photo (of Gilmour and Mason) has been removed in favour of additional artwork by StormStudios.
The decision to tour in support of the album was made before it was even complete. Early rehearsals were chaotic; Mason and Wright were completely out of practice, and realising he had taken on too much work, Gilmour asked Bob Ezrin to take charge. Matters were complicated when Waters contacted several US promoters, and threatened to sue them if they used the Pink Floyd name. Gilmour and Mason funded the start-up costs (Mason, separated from his wife, used his Ferrari 250 GTO as collateral). Some promoters were offended by Waters' threat, and several months later 60,000 tickets went on sale in Toronto, selling out within hours.
As the new line-up (with Wright) toured throughout North America, Waters' Radio K.A.O.S. tour was, on occasion, close by. The bassist had forbidden any members of Pink Floyd from attending his concerts, which were generally in smaller venues than those housing his former band's performances. Waters also issued a writ for copyright fees for the band's use of the flying pig, and Pink Floyd responded by attaching a huge set of male genitalia to the balloon's underside to distinguish it from Waters' design. By November 1987, Waters gave up, and on 23 December a legal settlement was finally reached at a meeting on Astoria. Mason and Gilmour were allowed use of the Pink Floyd name in perpetuity, and Waters would be granted, among other things, rights to The Wall. However, Waters claimed that they would never have the level of success that they had during his tenure again.
The Momentary Lapse tour was phenomenally successful. In every venue booked in the US it beat box office records, making it the most successful US tour by any band that year. Tours of Australia, Japan, and Europe soon followed, before the band returned twice to the US. Almost every venue was sold out. A live album, Delicate Sound of Thunder, was released on 22 November 1988, followed in June 1989 by a concert video. A few days later, the live album was played in orbit, on board Soyuz TM-7. The tour eventually came to an end by closing the Silver Clef Award Winners Concert, at Knebworth Park on 30 June 1990, after 200 performances, a gross audience of 4.25 million fans, and box office receipts of more than £60 million (not including merchandising).
All lead vocals performed by David Gilmour except where noted.
NoteSince the 2011 remasters and the Discovery box set "Yet Another Movie" and "Round and Around" are indexed as individual tracks.