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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Roger Waters: The Pros And Cons Of Hitch-Hiking


1) 4:30 AM (Apparently They Were Travelling Abroad); 2) 4:33 AM (Running Shoes); 3) 4:37 AM (Arabs With Knives And West German Skies); 4) 4:39 AM (For The First Time Today, Part 2); 5) 4:41 AM (Sexual Revolution); 6) 4:47 AM (The Remains Of Our Love); 7) 4:50 AM (Go Fishing); 8) 4:56 AM (For The First Time Today, Part 1); 9) 4:58 AM (Dunroamin, Duncarin, Dunlivin); 10) 5:01 AM (The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking, Part 10); 11) 5:06 AM (Every Stranger's Eyes); 12) 5:11 AM (The Moment Of Clarity).

General verdict: A reminder that we probably should NOT be rushing off to convert our dreams into musical form if they come to us in the interval between 4:30 and 5:11 in the morning.

The pro-est of all the pros of hitch-hiking is that this is one of the most unpredictable projects in Roger Waters' history. When, in 1978, he offered his bandmates the choice between The Wall and this project, they most likely settled on the former simply because it made more sense — not just more sense from a traditionally Floydian perspective, but more sense in general. With The Wall, Roger was clearly being Roger; with Pros And Cons, he seemed to express a desire to become pop music's modern day equivalent of Jack Kerouac and James Joyce rolled in one. The concept was either genius, or bollocks — and Gilmour, Wright, and Mason decided that it might be wiser not to put their money on the former. You know, just in case.

In theory, Roger's concept is quite intriguing, not to mention refreshing: for somebody who, since 1973, seems to have become completely obsessed with social (and eventually political) issues, this deeply intimate musical treatise on one's inner fears, neuroses, and crises, with a special focus on personal relationships rather than man's place in society at large, was a great chance to break out of the stereotypical mold. Unfortunately, in practice the artist probably ended up out­smarting himself. Ever since Pros And Cons came out, the typical reaction of the average listener has been commonly registered as «what the hell is all this about?» Midlife crisis? Sub­limation of sexual desires? General triumph of the subconscious? Good old madness? Frustrating as hell, especially coming from somebody who had previously proven, quite successfully, that accessible messages can be packaged as unequivocally great musical statements.

The main problem with Pros And Cons, however, is not the obscurity of its message, but rather the poverty of its music. Perhaps the concept might have fared better, had Floyd decided to settle on it instead of The Wall (in fact, Gilmour himself went on record saying that in its original incarnation, Pros And Cons was musically stronger). As it happened, five more years, one more half-Floyd, half-solo album (The Final Cut) and a radical change of teammates ended up lying between the original incarnation and the final product — and ultimately, the final product itself sounds rather like a bunch of outtakes from The Final Cut, which, in its turn, already sounded like a bunch of outtakes from The Wall. Most of the good moments on Pros And Cons are really only good inasmuch as they remind us of their Wall predecessors; and most of the other moments are... well... not too good.

Quite clearly, the lyrical content of the album takes precedence here over musical ideas. The main theme, for instance, which goes on to repeat itself quite a few times, is just a standard folk ballad pattern, well known from generations of singer-songwriters (e.g. John Lennon's ʽWorking Class Heroʼ); and too many others are built either upon standard 12-bar blues patterns, or recycle ideas from The Wall. None of this bothers Roger as long as he gets the chance to pour his new wine into the same old bags, apparently doing so with the same level of dedication, tension, morose­ness, anger, and fury that we always expect from him — it is just not clear, this time around, how he expects us to sympathize with all that.

Possibly, if you live the boring life of a boring 40-year old male boringly married with boring children, and your fantasy of choice is, one of these days, to commit adultery with a hot young hitch-hiker, or something like that, American Beauty-style, you might get some emotional support from this album (just do not let the wife hear you, or there will be a lot of symbolist explaining to do) — not to mention physical support from its (uncensored) album cover. But Pros And Cons neither endorses nor condemns these types of activities (it is, after all, about the pros and cons): it kinda just sits there, brooding and ruminating in the gloom. Every once in a while, some gospel / R&B vocalists show up to play the part of God's angels or heralds, usually with an ironic twist; more often, it is just Roger ʽSpiderʼ Waters grumpily weaving his confusing cobwebs.

To make things slightly more different, or, perhaps, to lure in some extra innocent customers, Roger endorses the services of Eric Clapton for the sessions — the one man who, I would imagine, must have felt extremely uncomfortable with all this Freudian / modernist bullshit (in fact, he is known to have notoriously defected from Roger's tour in support of the album), but still managed to wrestle himself into a suitably somber blues mood and deliver a few of his trademark solos (ʽSexual Revolutionʼ); these are, of course, just as predictable for Clapton as the whole Wall-style atmosphere is for Rogers. The two styles are not at all mutually incompatible, though it is telling that Clapton had to dub his solos over the already completed tracks; and as somebody who does not despise Clapton-blues simply because it cares less about psychedelic effects and unique tones on prolonged notes than Gilmour-blues, I certainly do not view Eric's presence on the album as an additional flaw. However, if the source material is weak, no gently-weeping guitar is going to save the day.

Still, The Pros And Cons Of Hitch-Hiking is worth remembering just for the sake of its bizarre position in Floyd's / Waters' catalog — at the very least, its «monumental blunder» status makes for a nice set of thought-provoking challenges, which is more than could be said about, say, Radio K.A.O.S. It might have been even more fascinating if Roger had decided to play completely against type and arrange all these tunes as polkas or liturgies, instead of sticking to the tried and true and dusty musical carcasses. As it is, I have nothing against musical recreations of one man's series of odd dreams, naked butts and Arabs with knives included; but when the whole set turns out to sound like a passable footnote in the history of young Pink's sexual awakening (or old Pink's erectile dysfunction, whatever), this results in the worst that can happen — a loss of adequate balance between ambition and performance.


  1. "the lyrical content of the album takes precedence here over musical ideas."
    For someone with my esthetical values (I totally enjoy David Byron singing the alphabet - also backward) this is the end of discussion. This can only be inferior to Animals.

  2. Just a terrible record. Should have been "Lighthoused" ( I know, bad Who reference, but appropriate.)

  3. This is a hard album to love, as stated by the lack of musical development. There truly only 3 songs on here (Sexual Revolution, Pros And Cons and Every Strangers Eyes) te rest play out as if they were part of a dull opera.
    That said, Waters does tackle some interesting things about relationships. He did it better, and more succontly with Wish You Were Here.
    But I can't helped but awed by a lyric like " fixed on the front of her Fassbinder face was the kind of a smile that only a rather dull chold could have drawn while attempting a graveyard in the moonlight". Obtuse, yet awesome and it has stuck with me all these years.