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 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.
Twenty-one years later Waters’s contribution to Pink Floyd’s legacy is getting 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 astonishing reunion for a one-off appearance at 2005’s Live 8. Just to reinforce the point, Waters’s world tours since then have all featured a complete performance of Dark Side Of The Moon.
It was Waters’ themed approach to that album in 1973 that was a key factor in its phenomenal success. It also set the tone for subsequent Floyd albums. When the group got bogged down making the follow- up, Wish You Were Here, it was Waters who suggested dropping two of the three songs they’d been working on and coming up with alternatives that reflected the malaise they were feeling. After that, Waters took increasing control of the concepts and music behind Animals (1977), The Wall (1979) and _The Final Cut _(1983), the latter effectively a Waters solo album.
His official solo career started with The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking in 1984 followed by Radio KAOS (1987). But while he toured America and Europe to promote both those albums there were no shows to accompany 1992’s Amused To Death. And he hasn’t released a new studio album since then, although Waters’ profile has steadily increased since he started touring again at the end of the 90s. He has also been involved in several other projects, notably composing a full-scale classical opera, Ça Ira (2005).
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.
Dark Side Of The Moon
You’ve got to be doing something right to tap into the zeitgeist as comprehensively as this album has done. Even though Waters has described some of the lyrics as being “sixth form” they still strike a chord with most people. Thirty- five years later it’s still some of the most stimulating, evocative and focused music ever created.
Themed around the pressures of modern life and madness, with light and dark musical shades to match, DSOTM is a collaborative effort, but Waters has a hand in most of the songs and is solely responsible for the iconic, till-ringing Money, the stirring, emotive Brain Damage and the glorious finale, Eclipse
Amused To Death
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.
Wish You Were Here
Arguably better than DSOTM – but without the zeitgeist sensors – Wish You Were Here is dominated by the epic, grandiose Shine On You Crazy Diamond, which envelopes the album and is dedicated to their ‘lost’ mentor Syd Barrett whose shadow still haunts the members of Pink Floyd. Elsewhere Waters takes aim at the corporate suits with the caustic Welcome To The Machine (sung by Roy Harper) and the humorously cynical Have A Cigar with its memorable line: ‘By the way, which one’s Pink?’ Even more memorable is the desolate title track. Altogether now: ‘We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year’.
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.
Animals marked Waters’ transition from vague, generalised lyrics to a more specific agenda. There are heavy Orwellian overtones to the greedy, selfish Dogs and Pigs (Three Different Ones), each trying to impose their own petty morals, and the exploited Sheep who rise up against the oppressive dogs, egged on by a parody of the 23rd psalm. A sustained atmosphere of brooding menace permeates the album, apart from the acoustic love song Pigs On The Wing which attempts to lighten the gloom at the beginning and end. If Waters tires of playing Dark Side… he could do worse than roll out the vitriolic delights of Animals.
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 Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking
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 even less developed than the feminists’. Fortunately there are some good songs – especially Running Shoes and Sexual Revolution – and also some fine playing from guest guitarist Eric Clapton.
The Final Cut
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.
Writing a classical opera was a brave, if foolhardy, move for Waters. He had his reasons for doing it: the dynamics of opera are not a million miles from Waters’ own progressive rock instincts, and the subject matter – the French Revolution – has several parallels with his own contemporary obsessions.
But the fact is that opera, like prog rock, is as much a fashion as it is a musical style, and is defined best by those who pioneered it. Waters does a creditable job of recreating a classical opera that is stronger on atmosphere than on arias that you can sing in the shower. But really, if you want hear an opera, you’re better off listening to some Puccini
This was published in Classic Rock issue 119
Read here about the making of Atom Heart Mother
And here’s an interview with Waters