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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Roger Waters: Amused To Death

ROGER WATERS: AMUSED TO DEATH (1992)

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.

17 comments:

  1. Rogers' main problem with Phantom of the Opera was that it resembled the final part of Echoes to some extent. So he probably didn't think it was bad, but blamed Lloyd-Webber for copying him (or Pink Floyd): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Me5iigC9uqY

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  2. "And it is still Roger Waters' best solo album."

    Not a fan of Is This the Life We Really Want?, I take it.

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  3. RW is now in the middle of his South American tour. He will visit my home country, Uruguay, in a few weeks. His show is based on Pink Floyd classics. No signs of his solo career records.

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    1. like Steven Tyler said in the Aerosmith live album at hard rock Vegas" Do you want to hear old shit or new shit?"

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  4. He plays 4 songs of his last album, and sometimes 'Bravery Of Being Out Of Range'.

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  5. "come on Roger, is Phantom Of The Opera really that much worse than Ça Ira?"
    I haven't heard Ca Ira, but I think the bigger point Waters makes is the never ending showing ("Runs for years and years and years") of Phantom.

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  6. I don't want to bug you, but I also don't want you to think that I don't miss the reviews. :(

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    1. Temporary break. A lot on my plate right now. Reviews will probably be sporadic during the next month, but I hope to get back on track by December.

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    2. Good to hear, thanks George. We appreciate your great reviews. Good luck coming month and looking forward to see new reviews come up.

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  7. Indeed. It is amazing that the 365 streak that started in 2010, kept on till 2016 (including 366 for 2012, 2016 and for that extra announcement in 2015). But I must confess that it is to the old site that I go to more often. Your current reviews are a lot more thoughtfully worded and that is fantastic, but I also enjoy the blasts from the past.

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  8. The following isn't about this post - regarding legacy post of "s.f. Sorrow" : you said "Listen to 'Balloon Is Burning' and tell me this doesn't predict the chaotic jams of Yes. Listen to the 'love love love' chants on 'Bracelets Of Fingers' and tell me this doesn't render Freddie Mercury superfluous. Come on, you tell me all this and I'll just reply that you're not able to build up a solid historic perspective. :)"

    I just wanted to parrot you and agree ..the influence of the Pretty Things has been the 'pretty little secret' of some later rockers such as the ones you mention.. they obviously mined much from this era of the Pretties. That's ALL i hear when I hear a Queen song.. not just influence from Bracelets. Since SF Sorrow was the first album Pretties released in North America, no wonder they are still obscured to the general public today.

    Roger Waters, is as close to a modern day folk hero for speaking the truth about Israel. One of the few entertainers with the balls to keep the heavy truth visible. The fact Howard Stern chokes and spits about Roger almost every show, brings a wide smile to my face. Waters is over the target.

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    1. If you're going to comment off-topic on a review, why not at least provide a lead-in to give the appearance of relevance. Suggestion:

      "Boy, that Roger Waters, not only is he a folk hero and needle in the side of Howard Stern, he's one of the few rock opera composers to boot! This particular album doesn't interest me, but The Wall? Well, that rock opera masterpiece is right up there with Tommy and SF Sorrow in my book. Which reminds me, about your review of the latter..."

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    2. I have never heard this album in this post by the musical artist Roger Waters, so I cannot make the comments you suggest, and if I did have an opinion about the album, I would have my own to make. I could care less if it's off topic and maybe you shouldn't either.

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  9. It would be ironic if this review was the last one, indicating George's loss of interest in the project.

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    1. Hi Gorgon - excuse my ignorance, but what exactly is the 'project' , I thought this was just another personal opinion blog.. there are thousands. Maybe I'm missing the point, what is the project?

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    2. oAtStAo, as may be apparent by the alphabetical nature of this blog, Starostin was apparently trying to catalog all of human history.

      Also, I'm sure he'd at least want to get through the Kinks catalog. Hope he's OK.

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  10. The author of this post said " . While neither the melodies nor the arrangements for these melodies could clearly be labeled «bad», nothing here reminds of the classic Floyd sonic inventiveness."

    Do ANY Roger Waters albums capture the "Floyd" vibe?
    It appears Gilmore and co. were given this formula to some degree
    to play off, Momentary Lapse for example. It's mid 80s but has most Floyd elements in tact and is a good record, the big hit from that LP was playing on the radion when I was 12 - and it was one of my top 10 songs for that year, it sent my mind into the dreamy state, as Pink Floyd is very capable of setting the stage for.. then when my older brother caught wind I was vibing on the 'floyd' he bought me the 'twofer' album A Nice Pair.. and I was like.. uh what is this.. LOL. At 12 I certainly enjoyed the latest incarnation of Floyd (Momentary) than the Barrett floyd as that was drenched in psychedelia my young mind was pretty much rejecting as 'junk'. (not the case now, but still annoyed by alot of acid excurusions of chaos..) To this day I find most of saucerful still 'junk' but I'll grab those Canadian capitol 6000 copies up when I see them for resale. Very surprised the Floyd survived after saucerful but we all know the story by now with the metamorphosis into Gilmore and co.

    You also said "
    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.. While neither the melodies nor the arrangements for these melodies could clearly be labeled «bad», nothing here reminds of the classic Floyd sonic inventiveness.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."
    The bible tells us this. I can't quote the passage and chapters, but this is a long held fundamental teaching of what entertainment brings about in the PASSIVE and this is the world we are entering now. We will see more apathy , weakness, indecision and lack of personal control , dystopic state of the world to be seen. Just look at what's happening online with thoughts and opinions being censored obscured ect just to let the mainstream dogmatic crap rule the day.

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