Old Sound, New Anger
Pink Floyd was one of the most massive progressive/psychedelic rock bands in the 1960s and ’70s. They were best known for The Wall, a rock opera about a character slowly descending into insanity — based off the band’s former lead singer, Syd Barrett, who actually did — and for the smash-hit album Dark Side of the Moon. The architect of the band’s sound was bassist and co-lead vocalist Roger Waters, who wrote almost every single song himself. Therefore, it’s no surprise that, over the last thirty years, Waters has accumulated a pretty expansive collection of solo material. His newest solo effort, 2017’s Is This The Life We Really Want?, is another brick in his wall of artistry.
A lot of the new LP is exactly what one would expect from Waters: it’s a laid-back, trippy, sprawling effort. There’s a lot of open space where he chooses to ride the vamps out for extra minutes instead of going conventional with the verse-chorus-verse pop format. Waters’s singing voice is so low that instead of just crooning he almost sounds like he’s talking.
Underneath this ethereal façade, though, Waters’s lyrics on a couple of the songs border on punk levels of anger. In “Picture This,” he rattles off a long string of hypothetical images, which get progressively darker and angrier as the song goes on. On other tracks, using the words “picture this” might be just a way to get the listener to think, but in this case Waters piles the scenes on so quickly that we can’t actually picture any of them. They talk about poverty, war and other easily-objectionable topics.
The real anger comes out on the title track. Rather than just being angry about all the world’s injustice, the title track’s raw anger and hatred is directed solely towards President Donald Trump and the culture around him. Waters describes this culture as a fascist dystopia where corporate oligarchy has destroyed the poor, and where fear-based political rhetoric has scared an entire country into hating foreigners. He suggests Americans will have their freedom of speech and freedom of the press suppressed, because we “let a nincompoop become the President.” After each chilling verse he asks the listener, “Is this the life we really want?’ In an era of political unrest and fear, this song is by far one of the boldest and openly defiant heard so far.
Overall, Waters combines his Pink Floyd roots with his modern political musings to create a dark and thought-provoking, but undeniably marvelous album.