Monday, April 12, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 115: Roger Waters

Man, that last review really made me question whether nineties concept albums are a good idea. Fortunately, the Gods of Randomness responded by giving me an artist who has a bit of a stronger track record on making them.

Disc 115 is...Amused to Death
Artist: Roger Waters

Year of Release: 1992

How I Came To Know It: Like most people I am familiar with Roger Waters through Pink Floyd, but this particular album was a combination of me liking the radio single, "What God Wants" and the recommendation by my buddy Craig, who is an avowed fan of both Pink Floyd and Roger Waters. Thanks, Craig!

How It Stacks Up: I actually have two Roger Waters albums; this one, and 1984's "The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking". Despite the fact that the latter's cover features a woman wearing nothing except a red backpack, I am still going to say I prefer "Amused to Death".

Rating: 3 stars.

Roger Waters knows concept albums. Remember, "The Wall" is principally this man's brainchild (don't be mad David Gilmour, I'll say nice things about "Momentary Lapse of Reason" when I roll it).

Of course, "The Wall" is an iconic record - and "Amused to Death" pales significantly in comparison. But taken on its own, it is a solid piece of work, in the traditional Roger Waters style - by which I mean it is deeply depressing.

As near as I can tell, this is Waters telling the tale of our species - and how he sees our self-extermination as a near-certainty. In his narrative we are basically just apes, who have come to dominate the earth as a species - to the point of developing nuclear weapons - but without any sense of how to possess them responsibly. As he sums up in "Too Much Rope":

"Preacher or poet who was it wrote
Given any one species too much rope
And they'll fuck it up."

Waters combines this nuclear threat, with religious fanaticism, and our obsession with being passively entertained by the television into a thick gumbo of despair. (Mmmm...gumbo). If one of our vices doesn't kill us, he's convinced another one will get it done. He ends imagining aliens finding our planet years after the collapse:

"And when they found our shadows
Grouped 'round the TV sets
They ran down every lead
They repeated every test
They checked out all the data on their lists
And then the alien anthropologists
Admitted they were perplexed
But on eliminating every other reason
Four our sad demise
They logged the only explanation left
This species has amused itself to death."

Like I said - it is a depressing, apocalyptic album.

Musically, it is solid, if overly repetitive (there are three different versions of "What God Wants", none significantly different from the others). Fortunately, "What God Wants" is a good track (my favourite version...Part Two!).

I also really like "The Bravery of Being Out Of Range" which captures the impersonal nature of modern warfare, where someone can kill from a great distance, and never know the face of the enemy.

The album is slightly overlong. There are fourteen tracks, and five of them are over six minutes. I found that by around track ten, I was wanting the story to wrap up. Of course, a happy ending would've been nice - but this is Roger Waters we are talking about.

It is a record that aspires to greatness, but falls a little short. It's still worth a listen or two - just don't expect to be amused.

Best tracks: What God Wants, Part II, The Bravery of Being Out of Range, Perfect Sense Part I

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