Friday, December 6, 2019

Roger Waters 4: Is This The Life We Really Want?

Much like a certain character in a Dickens novel, Roger Waters had a change of heart in the 21st century, and began to embrace his former bandmates in public. An actual Pink Floyd reunion for Live 8 in 2005 amazingly did not involve a Fender Precision bass soaring across the stage, and when he took his latest update of The Wall on tour, both Nick Mason and David Gilmour contributed to one London performance.
Still, despite a kinder, gentler Roger, many of the new images and messaging within the staging of The Wall proved he could still be plenty disgusted over world issues, and when he finally got around to a new album after 25 years, it showed. Is This The Life We Really Want? isn’t much different from his other solo albums, except that there are no all-star guests and exactly one guitar solo. While there isn’t a storyline, most of the things that pissed him off on Amused To Death have multiplied, particularly the media and global terrorism. Nigel Godrich, most famous for producing Radiohead and Beck, takes charge here, tethering Roger in much as he did Paul McCartney in 2005. The album still sounds somewhat Floydian, with familiar strings, keyboard flourishes, octave notes on the bass, and so on.
Sound effects like ticking clocks and conversations abound, some not easy to discern in the murk of the mix. The songs are mostly slow and depressing, his voice either gravelly and disgusted or howling with rage. He occasionally lapses into lists instead of lyrics, and did not write a distinct melody for each of the tracks. F-bombs are spat, particularly when railing against Donald Trump.
“When We Were Young” is a “Speak To Me”-style intro, with ticking clocks, a heartbeat pulse, and muffled voices, moving into “Déjà Vu” (a title that doesn’t appear until the end of the tune). It’s a profound rumination on what he’d do if he were God, then if he were a drone, complete with startling effects. A drumbeat that evokes Bowie’s “Five Years” drives “The Last Refugee”, a sad reflection that erupts into the much angrier “Picture That”, with a wonderful rant culminating in “a leader with no [expletive deleted] brains”, all over music that sounds like “Sheep”.
That takes a lot out of him, and a cough that reminds us of the first grunt on “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” heralds “Broken Bones”, a mostly acoustic elegy for Mistress Liberty. The title track maintain tension over several minutes, then detours into a strange monologue in south London accent about ants before ending on what sounds like a patient flatlining. Some “Welcome To The Machine” mechanics continue the same tempo and heighten the tension on “Bird In A Gale”, which is less political but just as bleak. The Bowie beat must be a theme for lost children, as it returns on “The Most Beautiful Girl”, about another victim of random government-sanctioned violence.
As before, a song about an innocent is answered from the point of view of the finger on the trigger, and “Smell The Roses” brings in the funk a la “Have A Cigar” filtered through the second half of “Dogs”. It’s a good way to set up the album’s finale, which is really one song with three titles, and the middle one is just one verse. Taken together, “Wait For Her”, “Oceans Apart”, and “Part Of Me Died” may well be, dare we say, the most beautiful thing he’s ever released. The suite ends with a positive message, but also on an unresolved, minor chord, almost abruptly.
While not an easy listen, the music on Is This The Life We Really Want? is certainly moving, and serves the lyrics, whether or not you understand what he’s talking about. While he’s preaching to his choir, the album is a lot better than it could have been. In other words, it was worth the wait.

Roger Waters Is This The Life We Really Want? (2017)—3

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