A ticking clock, a clear reference to the seminal Dark Side of the Moon, opens the first album of Roger Waters’ post Pink Floyd career that feels like the stakes are high again. Roger speaks in a hushed tone as an “Animals” era guitar floats into the mix. With that, Waters launches his most confrontational and concise lyrical swordplay since the Wall. The track “Déjà vu”, asks many “if” questions of the listener. A crescendo of strings and sound collage give the chorus charge. What is being said, and whom it’s being said to becomes immediately apparent. What roused Roger from the comfort of rock and roll legend to a tour and album?
Roger Waters hates the President.
“If I had been God,” he pleads, “ with my staff and my rod, if id been given the nod, I believe I could do a better job.”
Produced by the legendary Nigel Godrich, Waters gets to get his feet wet in the waters of the band he inspired most, Radiohead, with whom Godrich became known for sonic advancement and multi tracking in the extreme. Godrich made OK Computer the coda on the Nineties. It’s an epic of ennui about the close of the millennium and the uncertain times ahead in the digital age. How little they knew that they would get it almost exactly right, exploring themes of isolation and individualism. He also turned pub rockers like Travis into a delicate and sumptuous band where guitars rang like bells over Fran’s underrated voice. Like George Martin, Phil Spector, Don Was, Rick Rubin, Brian Eno, or Steve Albini, Godrich’s production is immediately recognizable. He elevates it to equal footing with the bands he works with. Some can handle that shared attention for the sake of collaboration, some cannot. Roger clearly thrived.
On “The Last Refugee, “ a Meddle era tempo frames more audio collages of radio broadcasts, overdubs and eventually a signature PF mournful piano line. Waters sings of “the sweet hover of lips, just barely apart, tearing me apart.” Few rock artists have addressed the worldwide refugee crisis underway. Waters not only doesn’t shy away but looks at it head on, speaking to the pain, isolation, hopelessness, and separation a refugee faces. He reminds us it is NOT a choice to be a refugee, but survival.
Where to begin with the title track? Trump is in the crosshairs as Waters pulls his sardonic trigger.
“Is it not enough that we succeed, we need others to fail.”
With those words he gives voice to the frustration of the so-called 98%.
“Fear drives the mills of modern man.”
Waters is calling for a course correction in democracy. A keen observer of confused populism in both the 70s and in the present, he lays out his case on Is This The Life we Really Want?
“It surely must be so, for this is a democracy, and what we all say goes.”
He attacks not the system but the manner in which the system uses, manipulates and sells the big lie. If it sounds like familiar territory for Waters, it is. I didn’t expect the best Trump era albums to be coming from the baby boomers. After all, he’s one of them. But Neil Young and Waters are the only artists in Rock and Roll to affectively take on the news of the day. Is it because they have experience with this? They have seen this movie before, and as a last gasp, are giving final warnings not to take anything lying down. Don’t let these clowns dial back the progress they helped document and indeed create in their musical prime.
“So like ants, are we just dumb? Is that why we don’t feel or see? Or are we all numbed out on reality TV?”
It’s a legitimate question, and Waters doesn’t pretend to have the answers. It’s a rock opera where the hopes of something like Hamilton are counterpoised with the bleak observation and diagnosis on the malignancy of the uninformed electorates that make up modern democracy.
When a reality star is President, does it really matter anymore? Have we lost the fight? Should we take the power back, 60s style? Take to the streets? Or is everyone too apathetic. Just keyboard warriors and marchers on the malls.
Waters isn’t satisfied with that. He’s calling for active revolution.
Is this the life we really want? Or should we take what is rightfully ours, the life we NEED.