Roger Waters: Amused To Death

Waters’s proudest solo moment and 23-year studio full stop reflects on social disintegration.

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In 2000, Roger Waters told Classic Rock that he’d been involved in two truly classic albums, Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall, adding “and if you haven’t got Amused To Death you haven’t got the full set”. A bold statement, to align his 1992 solo behemoth alongside two of the greatest concept albums ever made, like the final part of a monumental triptych.

One might point instead to the mournful elegance of his Floyd swansong The Final Cut or the more succinct dramatic impact of 1987’s belatedly respected Radio K.A.O.S., a comment on Thatcherite monetarism in which – massive spoiler alert – a disabled Welshman instigates world peace by faking a nuclear war.

By comparison the 70-minute Amused To Death seems bloated by Jeff Beck guitar atmospherics and thematically scattershot, mingling religion, capitalism, warfare and cultural disintegration with a flitting focus. A veteran tells of failing to rescue an injured comrade from no-man’s-land (The Ballad Of Bill Hubbard). A submarine attack on an oil rig is commentated like a ball game by US sports broadcaster Marv Albert (Perfect Sense Pt II). And a monkey flicks through the songs like channels of human horror, watching the world fall to pieces as if it’s entertainment. A metaphor for our dumb, TV-brainwashed species distracting itself extinct.

Yet Waters considered Amused such a resounding, complete statement on global ills that he’s released no studio rock albums since. Observing it from two decades’ remove, you see his point. Though it leans heavily on gospel bombast and indulgent mood fondling, the stirring sections of Perfect Sense and the pastoral Late Home Tonight are among Waters’s finest solo songwriting moments and, when he wasn’t fantasising about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s piano lid breaking his fingers (Waters believed Webber had plagiarised Echoes), he was writing his most socially and politically disparaging imagery.

The Young Lust-alike What God Wants paints a blues-rock portrait of the crime, terrorism, war and ‘clean up rock campaigns’ conducted in the name of some great sky pixie. The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range mocks the ‘laser guided missile’ operators via the medium of widdly stadium rock 20 years before Muse’s Drones.

As the flamenco-tinged Late Home Tonight sweetly laments the dehumanised, mechanised death industry of the first Gulf War, and Don Henley duet Watching TV mourns a tragic heroine of Tiananmen Square, it’s pin-point powerful stuff. ‘Give any one species too much rope and they’ll fuck it up,’ Waters summarises on Too Much Rope. Thankfully, in retrospect Amused To Death doesn’t suffer the same fate.

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Mark Beaumont is a music journalist with almost three decades' experience writing for publications including Classic Rock, NME, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times, Uncut and Melody Maker. He has written major biographies on Muse, Jay-Z, The Killers, Kanye West and Bon Iver and his debut novel [6666666666] is available on Kindle (opens in new tab).