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Roger Waters: his best albums

Roger Waters onstage, holding his arms aloft
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

When in 1987 Roger Waters toured America head-to-head with the band he was a founder member of in the 60s, he found himself struggling to fill arenas while Pink Floyd, who were playing their first shows without him, were packing out stadiums.

It didn’t matter that Waters had been the main creative force behind every Pink Floyd album since Dark Side Of The Moon in 1973. To the average punter he was just the bass player. Ironically, Waters was a victim of the faceless image that Pink Floyd had deliberately fostered in order to preserve their anonymity away from the limelight.

Decades on, Waters’ contribution to Pink Floyd’s legacy has got the credit it deserves, especially since he buried the hatchet with his former bandmates (although the handle is still above ground) for Pink Floyd’s reunion at 2005’s Live 8

The 1987 agreement that effectively ended the bitter dispute between Waters and his former bandmates gave Waters all rights to The Wall while David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright gained the rights to the name Pink Floyd. Waters’ creative control over Pink Floyd had increased through Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and Animals until by The Wall in 1979 it was complete – and by 1983’s The Final Cut was dictatorial. 

His official solo career started with The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking in 1984 followed by Radio KAOS (1987), and he toured America and Europe to promote both albums. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 prompted Waters to fulfil his promise to the city and in 1990 he staged a massive open-air production of The Wall that was festooned with celebrity guests and watched by upwards of a quarter of a million people. 

In 1992 he released his third solo album, Amused To Death, although there was no accompanying tour. He remained out of public view until the end of the decade when he re-emerged with the In The Flesh tour that combined Pink Floyd songs with his solo material including a couple of new songs and eventually ran for three years. 

Once the unrealistic expectations of a permanent Pink Floyd reunion had died down after their unexpected one-off at 2005’s Live 8, Waters lined up another solo world tour, this time taking a leaf out of his former band’s book and performing the whole of Dark Side Of The Moon (as they had done in 1994). He also released his first album of new material for 13 years – a full-scale classical opera titled Ca Ira

In 2010 Waters took on his biggest challenge – touring The Wall. The logistics of the original production in 1980 had restricted it to just four locations but advances in technology  - and concert ticket prices – now made it an economic possibility. The tour lasted for four years, graduating from arenas to stadiums and taking in every continent. 

He continued to play festival shows (Newport Folk Festival in 2015 and the Desert Trip Festival in 2016) and in 2017 he finally released the “follow-up” album to 1992’s Amused To Death, called Is This The Life We Really Want?, although he had released a handful of isolated singles during the previous decade. He also embarked upon the global Us + Them Tour. In 2018 he narrated a special adaptation of Stravinsky’s theatrical work, The Soldier’s Tale, which was released by Sony Classical Masterworks.

Waters’ dark view of the world, which binds his varied and sometimes visionary themes, is balanced by his obvious passion as well as the occasional shafts of optimism that stand out against the bleak background. And despite his big-scale presentation – whether on record or on stage – he speaks with a convincing intimacy, as if he is with Us against Them.

Alt

Pink Floyd - The Wall (EMI, 1979)

Pink Floyd - The Wall (EMI, 1979)

Gargantuan in scope and execution, The Wall exemplifies the barriers that Waters had been railing against for most of the 70s. The plot-line may be indecipherable at times but there’s no missing the message: the forces of authority that grind down the individual.

Conceived not just as an album but also as a stage show and film, The Wall is high on atmosphere and drama, from the bombastic In The Flesh that sets the scene and becomes a recurring musical theme. Other standout tracks include Another Brick In The Wall Part II ranting against the system, the powerful and emotional Comfortably Numb and the surging Run Like Hell.

Amused To Death (Sony/BMG, 1992)

Amused To Death (Sony/BMG, 1992)

It may be a tightly packed compendium of Waters’ familiar gripes – war, the dehumanising impact of the media reducing war to a reality game show, the corporate takeover of the planet – but Amused To Death is his most successful solo album because he expresses some simple truths with the same force as Wish You Were Here.

What God Wants is enlivened by some potent guitar from Jeff Beck, the lulling Perfect Sense is sung by PP Arnold, It’s A Miracle is cynically sarcastic. Meanwhile, the background voices that were barely audible on Dark Side… now take centre stage and drive the album’s complex plot.

Radio K.A.O.S. (Sony/BMG, 1987)

Radio K.A.O.S. (Sony/BMG, 1987)

Drawing an unlikely link between a maverick Los Angeles radio DJ, a severely disabled boy from the Welsh valleys and a striking Yorkshire coal miner, Waters constructs a diatribe against the inhuman power of market forces, the misappropriation of technology and the lengths people will go to in pursuit of their goal.

It’s not casual listening, and some might argue that the use of drum machines constitutes its own misappropriation of technology, but once you get past that there are rewards aplenty to draw you further in, not least a rare optimistic ending, The Tide Is Turning, where Live Aid appropriates technology in a positive way.

The Wall (Columbia/Legacy/Sony Music, 2015)

The Wall (Columbia/Legacy/Sony Music, 2015)

The CD soundtrack is a pretty pathetic memento of this visual extravaganza but the DVD gives you a glimpse of the scale of Waters’ ultimate Wall as well as it’s emotional pulling power as a stadium full of Greeks (or are they Argentinians?) howl the chorus of Comfortably Numb with all the passion and fervour they can muster. 

But beyond the bombast and the special effects which are right in your face, there’s a contrasting insight into Waters’ character as he drives along Italy’s Anzio coastline where his father died in World War II, something Waters has never forgotten or forgiven.


Is This The Life We Really Want? (Sony/Columbia Music 2017)

Is This The Life We Really Want? (Sony/Columbia Music 2017)

Twenty five years after his last studio album Waters is still lamenting the gloomy prognosis he issued to humanity in Amused To Death. Producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck), who worked on 2015’s The Wall soundtrack, has put more emphasis on Waters’ voice and lyrics, both of which have matured with age. 

Indeed there are moments, like The Last Refugee, where he is in danger of becoming a dreamy old romantic. Then again, vitriol is never far below the surface, like this genial rhyming couplet from Picture That: “Picture a shithouse with no fucking drains/Picture a leader with no fucking brains”.

The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking (Sony/BMG, 1984)

The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking (Sony/BMG, 1984)

Conceived at the same time as The Wall, The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking became Waters’ first solo album. It’s a sexual reverie that weighs up the relative merits of monogamous family life against what Waters terms ‘the call of the wild’. If that’s not politically incorrect enough, the cover of a naked female hitch-hiker is guaranteed to raise feminist hackles.

In fact there’s a lot of dry wit on the album, even if Waters’ sense of humour is less developed than most. Fortunately there are some good songs – especially Running Shoes and Sexual Revolution – and also some fine playing from guest guitarist Eric Clapton.

In The Flesh (Sony/BMG, 2000)

In The Flesh (Sony/BMG, 2000)

Taken from his American shows during his live comeback at the end of the 90s, In The Flesh reclaims Waters’ Pink Floyd legacy, which makes up over three-quarters of this double album along with a modest sprinkling from his solo career. 

But it’s not simply a ‘greatest hits’ collection; Waters has taken care to compile a set-list that makes for a great show, allowing him to bring in some more unfamiliar songs – a good reason to get the DVD version. And there’s one previously unreleased song to be savoured, not least because Waters’ songs don’t grow on trees these days. Each Small Candle rounds off the concert with a simple ray of hope.

Pink Floyd - The Final Cut (EMI, 1983)

Pink Floyd - The Final Cut (EMI, 1983)

Most Pink Floyd fans regard The Final Cut as the disappointing sequel to The Wall. Better to think of it as a good start to Waters’ solo career. The album’s subtitle, A Requiem For The Post-War Dream, explains the concept (which is personal for Waters, whose father was killed near the end of World War II). There’s also an inevitable link to the recently ended Falklands War.

Devoid of most Pink Floyd trademarks, apart from the occasional bursts of David Gilmour’s guitar, and with few hummable songs, the album relies instead on dynamics and sound effects to make its point, which it does with devastating effect.

The Wall: Live In Berlin (Mercury, 1990)

The Wall: Live In Berlin (Mercury, 1990)

Eight months after the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989, Waters’ Wall stretched some 500 metres across Potsdamer Platz along with a star-studded cast that included Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, The Band, Bryan Adams, Thomas Dolby, Paul Carrack, Cyndi Lauper, Jerry Hall (?) and The Scorpions

There are some memorable moments – The Scorpions arriving in a limo that looks like a Dinky Toy next to the wall, Thomas Dolby suspended 20m up between inflatable arms and legs and Bryan Adams rocking out to Young Lust – but the conflicting demands of the live spectacle and the TV cameras trying to shove it into your living room make for a disjointed show.