By Dave Gebroe
Animals is an ugly record. The music is cold, coked-out aggro-prog, possessing none of the light, playful touches that made much of the Floyd’s previous work so alluring and transportative. The lyrics are depressingly downbeat and glum, and its grotesquely off-putting misanthropy remains almost unparalleled in the history of popular music. This is where uber-successful rock star Roger Waters’ vision became clouded over with his miserable hatred of humanity. Was the record-buying public turned off by the sudden about-face? To the contrary, they in fact followed him down this dark alley like the lemmings he’d already presumed they were. No wonder a couple years later he was trafficking in images of schoolchildren falling into meat grinders. How could he possibly work up any respect for an audience willing to lap up such abject curmudgeonliness?
Animals was quite obviously inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Waters must have felt that cloaking his influence with any more subtlety would have sent it sailing way over the heads of the stoned-out, cough-syrup-swilling zombies who bought his records. As in Orwell’s high school syllabus perennial, Waters has various societal types represented by different types of animals (the businessmen are dogs, the corrupt leaders are pigs, and the clueless hoi polloi are the sheep, of course). This highbrow set-up is perfect for Waters. He gets to sheathe his contempt for humanity within his effort to pull down a degree of literary respectability, thus having his cake and stuffing his face with it, too.
The problem is, Roger’s hang-ups aren’t just limited to hating the world and the ways in which it works. My gut tells me, in the midst of the now legendary power struggle within the band and Roger’s far less than grateful attitude toward Floyd’s massive success, that beneath it all the venom is directed toward Gilmour, Wright, and Mason, as well as anyone who’s ever bought a Floyd LP or 8-track. This is exactly the kind of hateful, solipsistic, ego-driven monomania that ushered in the punk movement. Ironically, Animals actually seems to be a concession to a certain kind of sneering punk attitude, but really what it does in the final analysis is confirm the need for punk’s brevity and connective, audience-bonding philosophy to puncture the bloated hide of stadium rock pomposity and drag the carcass back home where it belongs: at the feet of the fans who love the music so passionately. Animals makes the divisions inherent in Waters’ vision quite clear—band up here, audience down there.
Of course, The Wall would only further confirm this notion, proving once again that we want that which we cannot have. Like a guy who’s got it bad for a girl who won’t give him the time of day, we imbue the unattainable with all the power in the world and elevate it to mythic status. Once Waters gave his audience the snub, his self-fulfilling prophecy was set into motion and the swaying masses followed him hither and thither. Thus an attitude of bite-the-hand derision—interpreted by their devoted following as “honesty”—elevated Pink Floyd to legendary status, and made them one of the biggest bands in the world.
Lest we forget, back in the day when they referred to themselves as “The Pink Floyd,” Waters had no songwriterly vision to speak of. Their brilliant debut Piper At The Gates Of Dawn contained only one Waters original, the utterly laughable “Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk,” by far the worst song on the record. It was only as a direct response to acid-addled bandleader Syd Barrett’s relinquishing of the reins that Waters took it upon himself to work toward anything resembling a vision, and frankly—for all the great work that he wound up producing in the 1970s—that vision was primarily piggy-backed off of Syd. In the end result, with all the hatred directed out at the rest of the world, Animals feels like it’s also promoting a strong sense of self-hatred. The bile that Waters spewed, and in which he eventually drowned, may well have originated with his frustration in being unable to stand on his own two feet aesthetically. Dark Side Of The Moon was in large part a Barrett-esque treatise on madness, and of course Wish You Were Here was about their dear departed leader from top to bottom. By 1977, I’d have been resentful at myself as well. Anyone would have.
Animals also marks the moment when Waters began to impose himself creatively on the rest of the band. But to what end? The record is basically just three bloated, noodly, sub-standard Floyd tracks, sandwiched between an unconvincingly optimistic pair of intro/outro snippets that would have us believe that somehow there’s meaning to be found outside of the insanity of everyday life. I couldn’t be any less sold on the idea that Waters actually believes this.
Musically, Animals is pure monotony. Although similarly insistent in its nihilism, at least The Wall would have plenty of variation in its motifs and musical styles. Animals, on the other hand, is a real slog. The band sounds uninspired, and there’s a surfeit of tired stretches that seem to be promoting some kind of bad-ass, cock-grabbing stance. It’s all a load of bottom-of-the-barrel, Seventies Stadium malarkey.
This era of contemptuous disgust in the Floyd ultimately swelled to a bursting point, leading as it did to the infamous “Spitting Incident.” Roger tells it best, in a quote scrawled up graffiti-like on an exhibit based on The Wall at the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland: “…Success overtook us and by 1977 we were playing in football stadiums. The magic was crushed beneath the weight of numbers. We were becoming addicted to the trappings of popularity. I found myself increasingly alienated in that atmosphere of avarice and ego until one night in the Olympic Stadium, Montreal, the boil of my frustrations burst. Some crazed teenage fan was clawing his way up the storm netting that separated us from the human cattle pen in front of the stage screaming his devotion to the demi-gods beyond his reach. Incensed by his misunderstanding and my own connivance, I spat my frustration in his face. Later that night, back at the hotel, shocked by my behavior, I was faced with a choice. To deny my addiction and embrace that comfortably numb but magic-less existence or accept the burden of insight, take the road less traveled and embark on the often painful journey to discover who I was and where I fit. The wall was the picture I drew for myself to help me make that choice.”
So, in essence, instead of seeing this horrifyingly dehumanized gesture as a clear sign that the time was nigh to address his shortcomings and attempt to become a better person, he chose to capitalize on it as a validation of his alienation aesthetic and base an entire double album around it.
It would not be much of a surprise, then, if while writing “Pigs” Waters snuck a peek in the mirror when he wound up with “Ha ha, charade you are.”
To read more of Dave Gebroe’s “On Second Thought” columns, click here.