Classic Rock Review

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Roger Waters Amused To Death (1992)

Roger Waters Amused to DeathFrom johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org

Roger Waters, if nothing else, was a persistent mofo. The man really liked his Wall and Final Cut leftovers/reworkings, and his vocal style of “now i’m soft now I’m loud” while only actually singing in his delivery about a quarter of the time, and his sound effects, and his impenetrably dense concept albums.

The album does have an overarching concept, but it’s incredibly obscure and abstract, and its main purpose seems to be to give Waters a stage on which to rant against war, God, capitalism and complacent people in a span of 75 minutes. If you’re the kind of person that considers The Final Cut “non-music,” you should stay far away from this, and like all Waters solo efforts, Pink Floyd fandom is no guarantee of enjoying this.

I like this way more than his other solo albums, though. With so much lacking in the music from an ‘immediate satisfaction’ angle, the only hope for making me enjoy this would be for it to hit my emotional center with force, and it definitely does that. This is definitely Waters’ peak as a lyricist, and when his honed wordsmith skills are combined with his usual vitriol towards his various abstract enemies, he’s able to convince me (at least in the moment) of the strength of his arguments. It’s not so much that I agree with Waters all the time on here (though there are certainly many times when I do completely) as it is that I can, without difficulty, see the point of this album existing, and that’s definitely not something I could really say about Hitchhiking or KAOS.

Musically, there aren’t a lot of particularly memorable stretches, but the ones that are memorable tend to pop up at very opportune times and are done in very effective ways. I don’t see how it’s possible, for instance, to not have the backing vocals (first done by a woman, then by a throng of people) of What God Wants force their way into your psyche, especially in the way they seem to magnify the power of Waters’ rants in between them (in the first two parts of the song; the third has less oomph and less impact on me, though the ending stretch of sound affects is amusingly bizarre).

I don’t see how it’s possible to not be moved by the rambling-yet-powerful featured female vocal in Perfect Sense Part I (hell, I think it reflects a dangerously oversimplified worldview that I don’t 100% agree with, and I’m still moved by it), or the soft descending piano part or the anthemic build in the chorus of the same. I can see how it’s possible not to be moved by the repeated soft “amused itself to death” coda in the album-ending title track, but I prefer to ignore the possibility.

As usual, Roger’s mastery of sound effects, atmosphere and anything that can be used in music that isn’t actually music is nearly unsurpassed (I’m sure there are others better, but there aren’t many). Starting and ending the album with excerpts from an interview with an old army veteran about his experience in having to leave a fellow soldier named Bill Hubbard behind on the battle field, gravely wounded, and about dealing with the aftermath of it, was simply a fantastic idea, I think.

Arguing against war in abstract terms is always less effective than bringing a ‘human element’ into the picture, and the narrative here is just so moving that I can’t help but tear up a little bit when listening to it with nobody around. And speaking of great sound effects, how about the funny Marv Albert guest appearance in which he announces an attack of a submarine on an oil rig in part II of Perfect Sense? It’s kinda banal, but it works well in context.

Another highlight, mostly driven by atmosphere, is the penultimate It’s a Miracle, which I enjoy greatly despite not having any obvious tangible reason for doing so. It’s mainly just a bunch of light piano and eerie keyboards, a soft rambling vocal, and a some instrumental noodling, with less discernable melody than pretty much anything from the classic Floyd albums, but the combination of these simple elements and the close-to-defeated lyrics and delivery make it into something resembling greatness.

Of course, I don’t even remotely love the album. A solid acoustic ballad or two would have helped things considerably (and no, I do NOT consider Watching TV to fit this requirement), and the general monotony of the sound brings me down over the course of the hour. I mean, there really isn’t that much distance style-wise between this and Hitchhiking; it just so happens that this album does that crappy style in a pretty good way. Still, this is a definite keeper, and it’s definitely the album to get if you just have to get a Waters solo album.

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January 12, 2014 Posted by | Roger Waters Amused To Death | , | 2 Comments

Roger Waters The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking (1984)

20955From amazon.com

I expect that everyone who’s listened to this album, or is a fan of Roger Waters, is at least somewhat familiar with the music of Pink Floyd. Therefore, most of them compare “Pros and Cons” to Waters masterworks like “Final Cut” and “The Wall.”

I won’t. I’m just going to write this for the music lover who’s been directed to this page by a “best of” list of friend’s recommendation.

Most importantly, “Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking” is a concept album in the ultimate sense. This means that it is not actually twelve different tracks that go together — it means that the entire album is really one long track, telling one story. It includes a multitude of sound effects and imbedded dialogue to enhance the narrative. Many musical chords are used repeatedly in various parts of the album to reinforce the cohesiveness. It is virtually impossible to appreciate “Pros and Cons” without sitting down and listening to it all the way through at least a dozen times. Like all of Roger Waters’ work, he requires his listener to put as much thought into the album as he did.

Minor problems do crop up. For instance, it’s a godsend that the lyrics are included with the album, as well as the dialogue, because some of it is quite difficult to understand with no outside reference. Then there’s the usual problem with Waters work: if you don’t pay full attention, you will not “get it.” I can’t put it any more clearly. Waters demands your full participation. Also, some portions of the music don’t run quite as deep as the lyrics. This makes the album as a whole seem shallower than it really is…. And sometimes, if you’re not in a patient mood, some parts seems to drag on. This may be due to Roger not having the safety net of collaborators during the composition process. (This was his first solo album, after all. So he’s allowed to be a little shaky.)

The execution of the music is flawless, though! Mr. Waters is an accomplished bassist. The Legendary Eric Clapton is lead guitarist (and if you don’t know Floyd, I have to assume that you must know at least Something by Clapton…) Michael Kamen plays the piano and conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra. So despite showing signs of lacking in musical composition, the performance of the material gives it an operatic quality. Roger Waters himself gives a go-for-broke vocal performance that quickens the strain of the protagonist’s conflict.

I think the main reason that this album is a bit obscure (except among true Floyd and Waters fans) is that there really are no tracks that could be marketed as radio singles. As I’ve mentioned before, the entire album is the only track on the disc. But for posterity’s sake, I’ll say that there are a few cuts that might have made excellent singles. “Sexual Revolution,” “Every Stranger’s Eyes,” and the title track may have made it… But stripped of the album’s context, they do in fact lose some of their power.

What really kills me is that I can’t think of a single other artist to whom I can compare this album. It has a quite different sound from classic Pink Floyd, and Roger Waters’ later work is even a little more audience-accessible than “Pros and Cons.” I’d say that it could possibly be just summed up as a “country rock opera.” I do think that you would not enjoy this album quite as much unless you first go back and investigate some of Pink Floyd’s earlier work.

“The Wall” and “Final Cut” are absolute essentials in Roger Waters ouevre, and listening to them would help considerably in appreciating this. If you like those, then you’ll probably appreciate this album a bit more. Definitely don’t make this your first Roger Waters purchase. “Amused to Death” is a much more polished work. If you want a good overview of his work, try his “In the Flesh” live album. Then move on to “Pros and Cons.”

Now, if you do happen to be a Pink Floyd fan, and you’re reading this review, you already know what a brilliant lyricist Mr. Waters is. Since this was his first solo album, it’s easy to see his attempts to make his own musical mark, and that’s probably what detracts a bit from this. But I can say that it is a very satisfying work, and anyone with a deeper sense of sophistication would certainly give “Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking” a thumbs up.

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Roger Waters The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking | , | Leave a comment