Radio K.A.O.S. tells the story of—surprise surprise!—a traumatized individual cut off from society, not unlike a certain deaf, dumb and blind kid or, say, a jaded rock star who’s built a symbolic wall around himself. This time out, the individual in question is a paraplegic vegetable, albeit one who can communicate via “radio waves” and a speech synthesizer. His concerns about his unemployed brother, Maggie Thatcher’s policies and the silenced Welsh Male Voice Choirs lead him to hack into certain computers to simulate a nuclear war (which you might recall from the movie War Games).
There are various themes running around here, though it’s impossible to take the album without the overarching story. What’s more, “Billy” converses in between the songs with legendary LA DJ Jim Ladd, turning the album into a faux-radio broadcast (much like another Who album). Sometimes the songs are sung by Billy, sometimes they’re about Billy.
The plot is spelled out in the album art, but there’s not enough within the songs to enhance it. That makes the last part of the album so anticlimactic: we know there’s “Four Minutes” until the world explodes, so the song of the same name is merely aural decoration, and not that frightening. Enough complaints about the non-commerciality of The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking must’ve sunk in, because the majority of the songs are delivered in a slick but not wholly sterile contemporary rock style. He even includes the Japanese flute everyone was putting on their albums in those days. Unfortunately, while the songs have a wide variety of chord changes, he still didn’t write any melodies outside of a three-note range, rasping his list-style lyrics like Mark Knopfler with a head cold. “Who Needs Information” is one of the better songs; it’s just too bad that it’s shackled to the story. “Home” has a great middle eight that’s dwarfed by the lazy litany around it. “The Tide Is Turning” does offer something in the way of hope, and in the form of an actual song worth hearing again. (Written in the aftermath of Live Aid, it would also close his restaging of The Wall in Berlin following the unification of Germany.)
One does wonder how this stuff would possibly sound if played by his old band, or if it would be any better. Radio K.A.O.S. was supported by a tour, of course, that included some of the music left off the album for space considerations. One wonders why, since it seemed so important at the time, he hasn’t since bolstered the album with more of the music intended to tell the story. The album his nemeses put out may have been fake Floyd, but Roger’s insistence on working alone took him too far away from a sound that might have helped sell more than a handful of copies. Put together, the two Floyd-related albums sum up the blandness of the 1987 Classic Rock scene, soon to be overshadowed by hair metal.
Roger Waters Radio K.A.O.S. (1987)—2