Sunday, February 27, 2011

Roger Waters 3: Amused To Death

Undeterred in his quest to strive forward without his former bandmates, Roger Waters first mounted an all-star performance of The Wall in recently liberated Berlin. “All-star” is up to personal preference, with appearances by the Scorpions, Van Morrison, Bryan Adams, Joni Mitchell, Cyndi Lauper and of course, Jerry Hall.
In the absence of the other guys, he went back to work at an album kicking around since the end of the Radio K.A.O.S. tour. Amused To Death started out as a continuation of that story, but morphed in the process into a more general rumination on the effects of mass media, and how it’s dumbed down society. Without a linear plot to shackle its progress, the listener doesn’t feel forced into trying to follow whatever story is buried between the lines and within the obligatory sound effects. Naturally, war is still front and center of his main complaints, framing the program with an interview with a veteran of the First World War, and mixing in references to recent battles in the Gulf and Tianenmen Square.
Having already used Eric Clapton, this time he turned to Jeff Beck to have a distinctive lead guitarist in the absence of David Gilmour. (Steve Lukather from Toto shows up too, among other “special guests”.) After the opening montage, “What God Wants” combines pounding drums, a one-note theme and a list-style lyric, but there are a couple of bridges that weave in a decent transition. An abrupt switch to “Perfect Sense Part I” wanders for a while underneath a backwards message—kind of futile when most listeners wouldn’t have a way to decipher it on their cassette or CD players. The vocals make a welcome switch to the soulful voice of P.P. Arnold (reminiscent of “Home” from K.A.O.S.) “Part II” of the song then becomes a setup for a Marv Albert commentary on an oil rig attack, complete with cheering crowd effects, continuing over the “In The Flesh”-style arrangement (booming drums again, and Hammond organ) of “The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range”. “Late Home Tonight” marries an acoustic guitar to chirping bird effects for hardly the first time in a Waters anti-war statement. “Too Much Rope” even gets Floydian towards the end, but his delivery works against the novelty of profanity to keep it from being catchy.
“What God Wants Part II” continues the litany of the first part, without much variation; “Part III” has a nod to “Echoes”, then works around the bridges from the first part at a mournful tempo. Don Henley shows up to duet on “Watching TV”, an otherwise excellent attempt to humanize the Chinese massacre that’s undermined by the title and repeated references to the victim having “yellow” skin. Something of a dark Dire Straits song, “Three Wishes” takes far too long to deliver its theme (surprise! The singer forgot to wish for love) and the vocal effects on the genie’s voice are distracting. “It’s A Miracle” is even slower, wandering for eight minutes before culminating in a rant against Andrew Lloyd Webber. Finally, the title track works in a mood similar to “The Tide Is Turning”, but with a much less hopeful theme.
While not exactly uplifting, Amused To Death is certainly the least annoying of his non-Floyd albums. The thing is, unlike the band he left, he wasn’t able to devise songs with memorable hooks. Also, being designed for the CD format, it’s lengthy at 72 minutes, with individual tracks in the six- to nine-minute range. It could easily have been shorter, but just as Roger insists on singing his own lyrics (P.P. Arnold on “Perfect Sense Part II” notwithstanding) he’s never been his own best editor.
It must have irked him no end to see the album only sell a million copies, while the other guys made a mint two years later with The Division Bell. In the decades since this album, he’s only released a handful of new songs, concentrating instead on an opera and various restagings of The Wall.

Roger Waters Amused To Death (1992)—3

1 comment:

  1. Can't tell you how many times I picked up the phone around that time, but no one was on the other end - it was just a sound effect from this record. Then I went back to slashing my wrists, as instructed by this record.

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