Amused to Death by Roger Waters

Amused To Death by Roger WatersFor what turned out to be his final solo studio album (to date, 20 years and counting), Roger Waters composed a complex (and often confused) concept album called Amused to Death. The title came from a book by author Neil Postman, which explored the history of the media and the concept (although cloudy) is of aliens arriving after the extinction of humans and finding all our skeletons sitting around television sets and trying to work out why it was that our end came before its time.  They come to the conclusion that we “amused ourselves to death”. While the album follows the same calm, storytelling, musically rich template of Waters’ two previous solo efforts, this album seems to be the most directly influenced by that material of Waters’ former band, Pink Floyd. In fact, there appears to be some direct sampling from Pink Floyd songs “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”, “Echoes” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.

Lyrically, the album is brimming with hate on a variety of subjects from capitalism to America to religion to war to television to Stanley Kubrick to Andrew Lloyd Weber. Waters makes a few good points on these varied subjects, with the better use of sarcasm in these instances. However, the logic of the vast rants on Amused to Death is convoluted, such as when Waters somehow ties Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Nationalists (deposed in 1949) to the slaughter at Tienanmen Square 40 years later by the very Communists that deposed them. He also applies moral relativism to the “Germans killing the Jews” and the “Jews killing the Arabs”. But the greatest offense may just be the mere fact that so much of the lyrical material seems dated and irrelevant, unlike past efforts which seem timeless and relevant to any era. Just take the example of Waters harping on television habits from his perspective at the dawn of the Internet age. A futurist, Mr. Waters is not.

Conversely, the album is superb musically. Waters’ enlisted legendary guitarist Jeff Beck to play lead guitar and a whole host of talent to provide additional music and vocal support. Amused to Death is mixed in QSound, a virtual surround sound, which enhances the spatial feel of the audio along with the various sound effects sprinkled throughout the album. The quality of production by Waters, Nick Griffiths, and Patrick Leonard is simply superb and makes this album worthwhile for any audiophile even if you like nothing else.

 


Amused to Death by Roger Waters
Released: September 7, 1992 (Columbia)
Produced by: Roger Waters, Nick Griffiths, & Patrick Leonard
Recorded: Various Locations, 1988-1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The Ballad of Bill Hubbard
What God Wants, Part I
Perfect Sense, Part I
Perfect Sense, Part II
The Bravery of Being Out of Range
Late Home Tonight, Part I
Late Home Tonight, Part II
Too Much Rope
What God Wants, Part II
What God Wants, Part III
Watching TV
Three Wishes
It’s a Miracle
Amused to Death
Roger Waters – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synthesizer, Guitars
Jeff Beck – Guitars
Andy Fairweather Low – Guitars
Patrick Leonard – Piano, Keyboards
Graham Broad– Drums, Percussion
 
Amused to Death by Roger Waters

 

“The Ballad of Bill Hubbard” starts the album off with a spoken word story of the desperation of trying to save a comrade in the battle lines during World War I, recited in the first person by Alf Razell after some introductory David Gilmour-like guitar motifs by Jeff Beck, who continues to add licks even after the recital commences. The song abruptly “changes channels” into the upbeat and funky “What God Wants, Part I”, the first single from the album, banned by the BBC due to controversial lyrics. Driven by the bass of future American Idol judge Randy Jackson, we hear Waters voice for the first time on this track and it is quite clear that his voice is very rough and shot.

 
“Perfect Sense, Part I” contains a beautiful moody piano and dual lead vocals by Waters and female soul singer PP Arnold, while “Perfect Sense, Part II” contains a sequence where sports commentator Marv Albert darkly simulates a nuclear missile attack as a sporting event. “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” is musically the best song on the album, with a strong rock arrangement and interesting chord progressions, but it again comes off preachy lyrically.

The album settles down again with “Late Home Tonight” with some interesting strings and acoustic guitars accompanying Waters speaking before the calmness is shattered by the sound of a huge explosion. “Too Much Rope” features guitarist Andy Fairweather Low, who performed on Waters’ previous studio album Radio K.A.O.S. as well as many live tours. “Watching TV” is arranged like a happy-go-lucky acoustic country folk song with the very dark lyrical subject of the Tienanmen Square massacre, as Waters sings of his “yellow rose and her blood stained clothes”. Don Henley later shares lead vocals on the song.

The album concludes with three extended pieces, which many consider the climax of the album. “It’s a Miracle” is very sarcastic in content, with a tight composition and catchy melody. It highlights Waters very sharp satire with lyrics such as;

“We’ve got a warehouse of butter, we’ve got oceans of wine / We’ve got famine when we need it, got a designer crime / We’ve got Mercedes, we’ve got Porsche, Ferrari and Rolls Royce, we’ve got a choice…”

“Three Wishes” is a more personal song, a quality evident in the earlier works by Waters, with quality music and sad lyrics. The closing title song, “Amused to Death”, is a nine minute package of cynicism and sarcasm, with a tinge of hope at the end. The theme comes full circle as Bill Hubbard is laid to rest and memorialized.

There was no tour in support of Amused to Death and selections from the album were performed sparingly on future tours by Waters. As this may be the final studio output by the musical genius, it is worth a careful listen or two, even if it falls short of Roger Waters’ lyrical capabilities.

~
R.A.
 


1992 Images

 

Animals by Pink Floyd

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Animals by Pink Floyd One of the more underrated classic albums, Pink Floyd‘s Animals is set up like an epic movie with three self-contained sub-chapters and sub-plots that somehow all tie together in the end. This latter fact is all the more remarkable when you consider that two of the three extended tracks were actually re-made versions of songs that were excluded from the band’s previous album, Wish You Were Here. The “concept” for the album was constructed by bassist and chief songwriter, Roger Waters, who used farm animals as analogies to represent differing personality types, much in the same fashion as fellow Englishman George Orwell used in his literary classic Animal Farm.

Beyond the lyrical content, the album is also very unique musically. It is the most hard-rock oriented of any Pink Floyd album of the era and is the last to have extended instrumental sections and 10-minute-plus tracks. In a sense it is a bridge between the total group albums of the past and the Waters-centric albums that dominated from the late seventies until Waters departure in 1984. Although Waters had written a large part of the band’s material on previous albums, guitarist David Gilmour had been the primary vocalist since replacing original member Syd Barrett in 1968. With Animals, the proverbial “torch” was passed as Gilmour only shared partial vocals on one song while Waters sang lead everywhere else.

The album’s theme was a reaction to the state of rock music just as the new, raw genre of punk began to explode in London. Part of requirements of this simplistic new movement was to rally against artists of longevity and Pink Floyd was a frequent target of such ire. Despite this, some members of the band welcomed this new movement as a return to the underground scene from which the band had grown.

Animals was, by most accounts, a very stressful album for most of the band, as each was focused on personnel or other interests with the exception of Waters, who happily took the reigns and molded the album in his image. Despite this, it is the band’s most sonically rewarding effort outside of The Dark Side of the Moon and consistently ranks near the top of the pack for the most avid Pink Floyd fans. Although this is not for the casual listener, for the true music lover, there is a very appealing “oddness” to this album which keeps its sound fresh through the decades.
 


Animals by Pink Floyd
Released: January 23, 1977 (Columbia)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Britannia Row Studios, London, April-December 1976
Side One Side Two
Pigs On the Wing (Part 1)
Dogs
Pigs (3 Different Ones)
Sheep
Pigs On the Wing (Part 2)
Band Musicians
David Gilmour – Guitars, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Richard Wright – Piano, Keyboards
Nick Mason – Drums

 
In 1974, Pink Floyd embarked on the “Wish You Were Here” tour, playing new material in advance of the 1975 album of the same name. Two of the songs played during that tour were ultimately left off that album and later re-written for Animals. One of these was a jazzy acoustic piece by Gilmour called “You Gotta Be Crazy” that was slowed down with re-written lyrics and renamed “Dogs”.

Right from the jump, “Dogs” is something unique and off the tracks even for the vast Pink Floyd catalog. With that progression of odd acoustic chords by Gilmour and just the right touch of organ and synth effects by keyboardist Richard Wright, the layered music builds with ever greater intensity as it progresses through the first three verses. When the first guitar lead breaks in, it is clear that this is a Gilmour signature song, with the slow progressions through the first instrumental break being one of the best Pink Floyd jam ever. The biting and cynical lyrics are a concoction the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sol Alinsky, and Vito Corleone, and offer no counter-weight in the pursuit of pure power. At about 8½ minutes in, there is a long synth and “dog barking” section, which I used to consider filler but have to appreciate in my old age, especially when you consider how completely transformed the song is on the other side. Waters is now singing and, even though the acoustic is strumming the same exact chords, the music contains a completely different vibe.

“Dogs” is also a back link from the future song “Hey You” on The Wall, with the whole concept of the bad blood “stone” being revisited in that song which introduces the concept of that album. With the outro “who was…” section that concludes this 17-minute piece, Waters borrows from the famous Alan Ginsberg poem “Howl” as he goes off into a tangent about himself in what is like a window into The Wall.

“Sheep” is the other track that dates back to the 1974 tour, when it was a mainly instrumental piece called “Raving and Drooling”. It is a driving, synth-heavy piece with a wild effect on Water’s voice trailing the verse lines. The lyrics are at once violent and scolding;

Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well-trodden corridors into the valley of steel…”

The ten-plus-minute song contains a middle section which harkins back to “Dogs” by reviving the “stone” theme and effect before it progresses into a bizarre section that includes a re-written bible quote spoken by drummer Nick Mason through a heavy vocoder. It then bursts out into the climatic third verse where the “sheep” level their revenge against the “dogs”.
 

 
Animals is considered by many to be nihilistic, while others point to the two short pieces that bookend the album as an optimistic “wrapper” of hope. “Pigs On the Wing” is pure acoustic folk, like a slowed down Bob Dylan tune but with distinct vocals of Roger Waters. It was recorded as a single song with a guitar lead between the verses by the band’s touring second guitarist Snowy White. But in what turns out to be a rather shrewd and cunning move, Waters split the song into two parts of nearly equal length, omitting the guitar lead and also significantly increasing his album royalties as they were on a per-song basis. This move was deeply objected to by Gilmour who actually received half the royalties from his 17-minute piece “Dogs” than Waters received from this split song that was less than 3 minutes in total.

Pink Floyd, 1977

Not to be confused with “Pigs on the Wing”, “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is the third major piece on the album. Musically is where this song really shines, especially the array of key parts performed by Wright along with the sharp, biting guitar crunches and cool sound effects throughout. The song also includes the world’s first and only “pig lead” as Gilmour using a talk box for some great effects during a long instrumental section. Lyrically, Waters takes aim at those with wealth and power, in what is really an updated version of “Us and Them” but with full concentration on the “Them”.

Following the release of Animals, the band embarked on their biggest tour to date, labeled the “In the Flesh” tour. This tour was Pink Floyd’s first experience with playing in large stadiums and they found themselves uncomfortable in such settings and much internal squabbling ensued. The tour also set the scene and setting for the story in the next album The Wall. That album would become vastly popular with a mainstream audience, something Animals would not achieve. Even so, Animals is a great album and totally unique among its rock n roll contemporaries.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

 

Meddle by Pink Floyd

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Meddle by PinkFloydIn 1967, Pink Floyd released their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a fantastic work led by the talented songwriting of lead singer & guitarist Syd Barrett. That album launched the band into instant form of super-stardom at a very young age. However, soon after that album was released, Barrett went mad, became erractic, was fired from the band, and was replaced by his best friend and understudy David Gilmour. Over the next several years, the group experimented with differing sounds and textures, forging many great moments but nothing as cohesive and groundbreaking as their debut album.

In 1973, the band would put out their absolute classic The Dark Side of the Moon, analbum solidified the band as an essential group in classic rock and may be one of the greatest albums of all time. But The Dark Side of the Moon resembles in absolutely no way Pipet At the Gates of Dawn. There was a serious evolution that took place in the band during those six years. In that time in between, Pink Floyd but out an array of six or seven experimental, avant garde albums and movie soundtracks that slowly forged their sound towards that on The Dark Side of the Moon.

Perhaps more than any other album during that time period, 1971’s Meddle finds the happy medium that threads these two successful yet divergent eras of Pink Floyd. It contains enough experimental music to make it interesting to the art lover, just enough melodic songs to be liked by the pop music lover, and a few brilliant moments of theatrical rock n roll to make it collectible to those who love The Dark Side of the Moon.
 


Meddle byPink Floyd
Released: October 30, 1971 (Island/Reprise)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Abbey Road & Morgan Studios, London, January-August, 1971
Side One Side Two
One of These Days
A Pillow of Winds
Fearless
San Tropez
Seamus
Echoes
Group Musicians
 David Gilmour – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Richard Wright – Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Vocals  

 
The first side of the album contains five standard-length tracks while the second contains the single, side long “Echoes”. This song forcasts much of what Pink Floyd would put out throughout the decade of the 1970s, save the shorter material on The Wall. The song begins with an experimental sound similar to a submarine “ping”, created by keyboardist Richard Wright, who fed a single note through a Leslie speaker. The song slowly works towards the standard verses and choruses before sliding into a very long “middle section” of blues jams and experimental passages then finally returning for a the last verse/chorus sequence. All in all it is a 23-minute piece.

Pink Floyd Meddle posterThe first side starts with the instrumental “One Of These Days”, which would become a concert staple for decades to come. It is driven by a constant buzzing bass, backwards-masked effects, and a howling guitar lead. The song explodes into a wind storm that leads into “A Pillow of Winds”, a soft acoustic love song much in the vein of those put out on albums like Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother. This second song could not be in more contrast to the first.

“Fearless” may be the best overall song on the album and talks about meeting challenges in the face of adversity. Musically it is highlighted by Gilmour’s calm yet strong guitar strumming and the odd beat from drummer Dave Mason. The odd ending to the song uses field recordings from an English soccer game, with fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Gerry & the Pacemakers in a heavily reverberated, eerie fade-out. “San Tropez” is a jazz-inflected pop song with a shuffle tempo, composed and sang by Roger Waters. It adds yet another diverse dimension to the album with its easy-going crooner-like melody and atmosphere. Side one concludes with the throwaway “Seamus”, a pseudo-blues novelty song meant to be a humorous filler with an annoying, howling dog throughout. The song is often ranked as the worst song ever by dedicated Pink Floyd fans.

Pink Floyd in 1971

Meddle received generally positive critical reviews and was a moderately well seller on both sides of the Atlantic, Going platinum in bothe the US and the UK and reach #3 on the English charts. The band would put out a fine soundtrack album, Obscured By Clouds in 1972 before reach the heights with Dark Side in 1973.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.