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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Roger Waters: Amused To Death


1) The Ballad Of Bill Hubbard; 2) What God Wants, Pt. 1; 3) Perfect Sense, Pt. 1; 4) Perfect Sense, Pt. 2; 5) The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range; 6) Late Home Tonight, Pt. 1; 7) Late Home Tonight, Pt. 2; 8) Too Much Rope; 9) What God Wants, Pt. 2; 10) What God Wants, Pt. 3; 11) Watching TV; 12) Three Wishes; 13) It's A Miracle; 14) Amused To Death.

General verdict: Conceptually solid, but musically dissatisfying — just a 70-minute lesson, delivered in lite-Floydian, that teaches you to learn to hate your TV

I suppose that on some sort of pretend-to-be-objective scale, Amused To Death should rigidly count as Roger Waters' best solo album. Long, witty, walking a reasonably thin line between crude political banality and astute social philosophy, well-produced, stocked with recurrent leitmotifs, wisely utilising its session players, ending on a sour, but sentimental note — this is like all the good sides of both Pros And Cons and Radio K.A.O.S. brought together and stripped of their accompanying ugliness, such as the ridiculous concept of the former and the Godawful production values of the latter.

Even so, Amused To Death remains a fairly tedious listen. By the early 1990s, baby boomer geniuses were beginning to come out of their middle age crises and to rise above weird industry de­mands of the Eighties — Roger was no exception to the rule, and he finally came out with a record where his artistic/intellectual personality overcame the layers of silliness and technophilia, and his message to the world could finally be taken more or less seriously. However, as a side effect, that same personality also overrode the musical component. While neither the melodies nor the arrangements for these melodies could clearly be labeled «bad», nothing here reminds of the classic Floyd sonic inventiveness. Most of the time, Waters simply relies on stock-owned blues-rock and folk-rock phrasing, sometimes to the point of inadvertently ripping off a classic (ʽThe Bravery Of Being Out Of Rangeʼ, for instance, takes its chorus directly from Dylan's ʽIt's All Over Now, Baby Blueʼ, without batting an eye).

Naturally, I am not supporting this claim with any serious musicological analysis, but something tells me Roger himself would not mind — recycling traditional musical structures was hardly a sin for him here as long as it would serve a greater good, namely, functioning as the background for a long and winding story about the detrimental influence of the media on each of us as indi­viduals and on humanity as a whole. Not a tremendously original idea, for sure, but one that a rock poet of Roger's caliber could, at least in theory, realize sharply and deeply, with all that experience behind his back; and if you throw in tasteful production and some first-rate musical guests in the studio (like Jeff Beck — probably a welcome change for all the hip people who prefer him over Eric Clapton), your chances go through the roof.

Unfortunately, Amused To Death works better as a collection of rock poetry than a thrilling musical experience. Seventy minutes of music, mostly consisting of slow, ponderous, drearily advancing melodies with a knack for New Age and lite-jazz trappings — musically appealing about as much as late period Camel albums. Energy appears only sporadically and mostly in the form of rather leaden and pompous arena-rock, like the already mentioned ʽBraveryʼ and parti­cularly ʽWhat God Wantsʼ, the album's centerpiece that Roger liked so much that he reprised it as ʽPart 2ʼ and then wrote a completely different song and called it ʽPart 3ʼ (but nobody noticed anyway). For everything else, you have to rely on the magic of the voice, the words, and the sonic gloominess, which the man still provides in spades by means of bass notes, echoes, whispers, synthesized textures, and just the subconscious understanding that if you are listening to Roger Waters, you have to be prepared for sonic gloom at all times anyway.

Any serious review of the album will concentrate on the concept, whose sprawling realization will give you plenty of points to latch on to — like, for instance, praising the man for that bittersweet obituary for an anonymous girl dying in Tiananmen Square (ʽWatching TVʼ), or chiding the man for an undeservedly vicious swipe at Andrew Lloyd Webber on ʽIt's A Miracleʼ (come on Roger, is Phantom Of The Opera really that much worse than Ça Ira?), or reflecting on the continuing relevance of "the shelf life of a teenage queen" from the title track. But this is not a serious review, and if there is one thing that its author is really confused about, it is the reason why all this depth and tastefulness never awakens the same kind of emotional response that something like The Wall always does — even if, let's face it, Roger's social reflections here are significantly more mature than the simplistic-clichéd portrayal of Mr. Pink.

To put it shortly, if the first thing that a warning against amusing ourselves to death does to us is bore us to death, it is not a good sign. I agree with some of Roger's views and disagree with others, but I would gladly listen to the most outrageous outbursts of ultra-leftist propaganda on his part, were they to be delivered with the energy and creativity of classic Floyd. The worst thing about Amused To Death is that this is a record that should supposedly be brimming with anger and bursting with sorrow, but not a single second of it actually made me feel angry or sad — well, except for being angry at having wasted so much time and sad that quite a solid bunch of really good lyrics went to waste. And it is still Roger Waters' best solo album.