Is This The Life We Really Want?
Over a quarter century after his last studio solo album, Roger Waters returns and fittingly – since we’d already amused ourselves to death he’s now concerned with whether this is the life we really want. As if he warned us back then and we didn’t listen. But it’s not a form of gloating nor any humble-bragging, Waters’ anger is seething, palpable, perhaps it’s finally real in fact. Those familiar preoccupations – a distrust of technology, a worry around the alienation it causes, along with political and personal concerns of wealth distribution and anti-fascism…well of course 2017 is a good time for the return of Roger Waters. And Trump is his enemy. And the situation with refugees is in the crosshairs. And it’s not so much that this is a sequel to Amused to Death, though it’s most certainly (at the least) its equal. No, actually, this palinode of an album is Waters’ masterstroke. It’s his best solo album. And it’s the one that most closely resembles the sound of Pink Floyd if they’d recorded again with Roger Waters after he walked away from his own group in the mid-80s.
The musical templates are very Floyd-ian. Self-referential in an enticing, sometimes intoxicating way. Just as there was not a lot to separate the various strains of The Wall, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and The Final Cut – all three sharing many musical motifs if not lyrical concerns, so it is here. With call-backs, throwbacks and continuations. Though The Life We Really Want echoes the post-Dark Side Pink Floyd, particularly Wish You Were Here and Animals, the swirl and curl of textures, the cinematic sweep, the brooding moods and mixed modes.
Producer Nigel Godrich has a hand in it – all but repaying a debt I should think. Master drummer Joey Waronker is brilliant. And the inclusion of solo artist Jonathan Wilson is a clever touch; again some debt repayment in the scheme, no doubt.
But it’s The Roger Waters Show of course. And that’s usually both good and bad. And fans know that as much as any detractor. Here however I’m genuinely amazed by how much I love the sound of Roger Waters in 2017.
I do think you need to have (always) been a fan. I do think there’s a sweep of nostalgia here. I listened to Amused to Death so much at one point in my life – and I still revisit it with happy experiences by and large – and to hear a new version of that album, something that builds from it, and in many ways succeeds and exceeds is not at all what I was expecting.
There’s brilliant anger on Picture That (“Picture a shithouse with no fucking drains/Picture a leader with no fucking brains”) and Smell The Roses sounds like he’s tapped right back into the voice (singing and writing) that drove Dogs, Pigs, Welcome To The Machine and many of the mid-70s dystopian odes that still haunt and intrigue.
But there’s great beauty and thoughtfulness in this album too, particularly on The Last Refugee and The Most Beautiful Girl. Waters gets his sneer under control at the right time, for the right moments.
There’s not a note out of place, as far as a swansong goes – if this is what it is – then it’s majestic. But all that rage and bile needs an outlet and the tour and adulation that is to arrive on the back of this might mean we’ll have even more of Roger on record before too long. If it’s as good as this it’ll be worth whatever wait, and worth its weight in gold.
You are justified in not caring about this at all – though why you’re still reading now would be the big mystery I guess. But if you were ever a fan of Floyd and Waters you owe yourself and your collection a copy of this album.