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Pink Floyd Animals (1977)


One of the greatest albums of all time – not only a musical accomplishment to the highest degree, Animals is also a scathing criticism of the system that spawned it.

Animals is Pink Floyd’s greatest album.

Such a statement will be forever refuted by those who fervently admire any of Pink Floyd’s other masterpieces; it’s arguable as to which album is the pinnacle of their success. Of course, it always comes down to a matter of opinion, but with this review I intend to ardently argue Animals’ case; not only as the greatest Pink Floyd album, not only as one of the greatest records to have ever been made, but also as a triumphant and pessimistic reflection of the world’s descent into capitalism.

In addition to the musical achievement that is Animals, it is a radiant and contemptuous piece of political literature, akin to its Orwellian influence. The metaphorical value of ‘Dogs’, ‘Pigs’ and ‘Sheep’ are extensively ingrained in the criticism of the society which we take for granted, and Animals eloquently lays down a sweeping mockery of the system. In regards to the album’s position amongst Pink Floyd’s far-reaching discography, Animals is situated in a transient period; bearing marks of the band’s psychedelic and drug infused past, building on the largely tentative previous two albums, all while paving the way for The Wall’s concreted concept.

It is because of this unique position that Animals holds as to why it is distinguishable from the Pink Floyd catalogue. It does not rely on musical oddities, vast soundscapes or experimentation; it is a composition perfect at its very core, from the pure genius of its songwriting, to a concept to beat all concepts in its relevance and societal value. Animals is, without a doubt, one of the greatest albums of all time.

The profound left uprising of the 1970s is a large determinant of the ideology evident on Animals; the after effects of the Vietnam War, a stalemate between the opposing sides of the ideological spectrum, left the world in a disarray, seemingly disillusioned by the supposed sanctity of capitalism in contrast to the ‘Evil Empire’. Economic crises gripped Britain (along with other Western nations, but particularly Britain in respect to Pink Floyd), a pressure borne by the working class.

It was these conditions and others like them that ultimately led to the deep seeded cynicism apparent on Animals. The album’s construction is purely metaphorical: ‘Dogs’, ‘Pigs’ and ‘Sheep’ represent the different tiers in the capitalist hierarchy, each song creating a representation of its respective character through ingenious lyrics and at times, musical expressions that are reflective of a particular character’s nature. Beginning with ‘Dogs’, Pink Floyd paints the portrait of a ruthless and self-obsessed bourgeoisie, the hounds of the upper class.

In layman’s terms, businessmen, utilizing the free market system to their own and their superiors’ advantage; ultimately to the disadvantage of the lower classes, who are forced to bear the brunt of actions from the likes of H.E. Pennypacker, wealthy industrialist and philanthropist, an alias brought to life by Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer. Such a personality is immortalized in the lines:

You got to be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed
And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight
You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking

The vehement scorn of Pennypacker and co. is brought to light after an atmospheric interlude, one which harkens back to the musical techniques more commonly associated with Pink Floyd’s past; the barking of dogs layered over a synthetic backdrop does well to set the mood and build up towards one of the greatest imaginable finales to a song. Cleverly using the metaphor of a dog, the song alludes to the action of tying a stone around a dog’s neck, subtly referring to the inevitable downfall that awaits the bourgeoisie.

And when you lose control, you’ll reap the harvest you have sown
And as the fear grows, the bad blood slows and turns to stone
And it’s too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around
So have a good drown, as you go down all alone
Dragged down by the stone

Changing from the momentous disposition of ‘Dogs’, ‘Pigs (Three Little Ones)’ is ostensibly acerbic, sarcastic in its tone and vicious in its outset. Obviously representing the upper class, the cynicism is aimed at the absurdity of this class’ existence, and the seemingly unjust dessert that is bestowed upon them merely because of their position in society. Greedy, gluttonous and ignorant to the suffering of the proletariat, their place at the top of the social order is the subject of Pink Floyd’s ridicule.

The repeated line of ‘Ha ha, charade you are’, the obvious reference in ‘Hey you, Whitehouse / Ha ha charade you are … Mary you’re nearly a treat / But you’re really a cry’, and the derisive ‘You like the feel of steel / You’re hot stuff with a hatpin / And good fun with a hand gun’, are all worthy mentions of this song’s disdainful view of the upper class. The real world allusions it gives of the conservatives, through its reference to Mary Whitehouse, are cleverly cloaked in the album’s mordant tenor. The song’s discourse is complemented by its composition; the circus-like, almost irritating melody seems to epitomize the song’s likeness of the upper class.

Gilmour’s solo is superb, at times sounding like the babbling, or even the screaming, of pigs, adding yet more colour to the song’s portrait. Although being from an indeterminate source, it is said that the solo was played with a purposely modified and out of tune guitar, so much so that it cannot be replicated exactly. Not significant, but another detail that adds to the album’s distinctiveness. Gilmour closes the song in an epic fashion, not repeating any of the moods set in ‘Dogs’. Rather, his tasteful second solo that finishes the track tops off the insinuations already brought into the fold: a false grandeur, an artificial opulence, a corrupted prominence.

The last tier to be articulated is that of the proletariat, the working class. Not much elaboration is needed in determining why sheep are an ideal animal to portray this particular position in society. Holding up the capitalist pyramid, the weight of said system keeps the proletariat in place; easy pickings for the dogs and to the ultimate benefit of the pigs, the sheep are exploited for their obedience and coerced submission. ‘Sheep’, in contrast to the previous two songs, contains an inkling of hope. Although spelling out how the sheep are victims to the higher classes, the song moves towards an optimistic outlook, one in which the sheep break free of their shackles. This is expressed in one of history’s greatest lyrical moments:

Bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream.
Wave upon wave of demented avengers
March cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream.

An atmospheric mid-section precludes this ‘revolution’, one which builds up with the bleating of sheep, and bursts to life with a human scream. However, although optimistic, the use of the word ‘dream’ casts a shadow of doubt over such a revolution’s legitimacy, and whether it is really a realistic prospect that could lie at the end of capitalism’s lifeline. ‘Sheep’, while portraying the proletariat, also plays a pivotal role in describing the position of the church in a capitalist society. The aforementioned mid-section contains a speech where the church is implicated as a tool of the capitalist system, merely indoctrinating the proletariat and allowing the upper classes to further exploit the immobile masses.

With bright knives He releaseth my soul.
He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places.
He converteth me to lamb cutlets,
For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger

With ‘Sheep’, the album’s critique comes to an end. The significance of these three songs is immeasurable; through their various metaphorical constructs, they assemble a bleak and misanthropic outlook of the capitalist society. Musically and lyrically, the band deserves immense commendation; in a single album they’ve managed to create something parallel to great works like Orwell’s Animal Farm, the chief artistic influence behind Animals. In addition to this, the album is book ended by two short pieces, respectively ‘Pigs on the Wing’ Parts One and Two.

Essentially, they are love songs; written by Waters for his wife at the time, they are brisk and simple, and apparently disconnected to the themes associated with the three main tracks. Nevertheless, Waters implies in these two tracks, particularly Part Two, of his previous exploits as a ‘dog’, and how he was somehow saved by his love for the woman in question. Touching pieces as they are, they are the icing on the cake to what is a fantastic concept; the world may be descending into madness, but if we all showed a little love and care for our fellow man, such an austere perspective of capitalism would not be needed.

Just over thirty years have passed since Animals’ release. Nonetheless, its relevance has hardly subsided. The Iraq War, the recent global economic crisis, and the misdeeds of the Bush administration and their Western counterparts are crudely analogous to the conditions which created Animals. Politics is reactionary; with every rise in a particular ideology, an opposing ideology will always gain strength; for example, with every fascistic military junta in Turkey’s history, almost non-existent leftist groups would rise out of nowhere, as a counter to the authoritarian military rule.

History has already proven to us that socialism cannot work; self interest is in our very nature, and hence naturally we are inclined towards a capitalist system where we have the opportunity to better our situation. It is my personal belief that Animals was not written as a precursor to the beginnings of a socialist revolution; it does, however, have a message aimed at the stark belief in the purely capitalist society, where minimalist government intervention leads to the oppression of the proletariat. This said belief maintains that capitalism merely reflects human nature, and this may be so, but this does not effectively justify the transgressions so vividly outlined in the album.

This review is by no means an advocate of socialism or of capitalism’s demise; simply a reflection of the criticisms found on Animals. The album’s political foresight is unbelievable; with the US presidential election occurring as I write, it’s hard not to draw comparisons. It is with this that I again state that Animals is Pink Floyd’s greatest album. A musical masterpiece, a literary work of genius, and a political tour de force, this album delves so deeply into the human psyche that it will leave you stunned. As an album, Animals is easily worth the mounds of hyperbolic claim that I give it; a piece of genius, and a genius that will never die.

January 2, 2014 - Posted by | Pink Floyd Animals |

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