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Roger Waters - Amused To Death CD (album) cover

AMUSED TO DEATH

Roger Waters

 

Crossover Prog

3.92 | 472 ratings

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KyleSchmidlin
4 stars It's got a fairly simple philosophical message, but there's genuine heart burning ? or perhaps, beating tragically feebly ? under the overt cynicism at the top of Roger Waters's Amused to Death.

The way everything is spun out of and related, sometimes wildly tangentially or only in the vaguest universal sense, to the story of Bill Hubbard is a curious artistic move. On the one hand it grounds the album, but on the other hand it grounds it too much. Waters is making incredibly serious statements, particularly with the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-detached title track. When one is speaking of alien excavators uncovering people frozen in transfixed and absent glares at their televisions after extinction of the species, a soldier's tale ? however heart-wrenching and sincere and powerful that is in its own right ? just doesn't quite seem to do the grandness of the topic justice.

Take a look again at the end of the title track. The way Waters concludes it is almost as if the statement, "This species has amused itself to death," is less important than what follows. What follows is beautiful and tender and very emotionally seizing, but it's a much less grand statement; the only musical excuse to so jarringly conclude the final proper chorus is if a statement of greater emotional weight follows, or a shift in the emotion being experienced, but instead it's just something slightly less sad. Much as I love the song, its lyrics, and its message, it always disappoints me at exactly the moment the final chorus ends.

But, maybe that's the point. Roger Waters never won points for making things easy on his listeners. Even during Pink Floyd's heyday, there is much to question in terms of melody or delivery, but it works because of the emotions it's tied to. And Waters is definitely dismayed that his species is destroying itself ? in his telling, mostly through war, media, and profiteering, which doesn't sound so far off to me. It's an ambitious record that mostly backs itself up, and it's as psychologically heavy as anything Waters has done.

And yet the album does have tremendous heart. The animals taking notes on "What God Wants" are whimsical, charming allegorical flourishes that save this album from being too heavy to bear. Funny moments abound, and the aforementioned Bill Hubbard does provide a nice, if almost entirely unrelated, secondary narrative to follow. I'm not entirely sure who Bill Hubbard was, but a war buddy of his recounts Bill's death, their time serving together, and conversations he had with Bill on subjects of life and philosophy. I actually wish there was more of it on the album; it basically just bookends it. The Bill Hubbard sections are atmospheric, told by one of the most honest voices you'll ever hear, and backed up with quiet guitar passages from Jeff Beck.

Aside from the Bill Hubbard sections and the title track, much of the album is fairly standard Roger Waters fare. This means it isn't standard at all, but if you've listened to The Wall in its entirety or The Final Cut, nothing should really surprise you. Actually, the most surprising song to me, and still my favorite, is What God Wants. Waters is at his most aggressive and determined, spouting off a list of frivolous, dangerous, and important human advents that God ? a figure who's not supposed to be the Abrahamic deity, but might just as well be ? has ordained. It stomps in a manner very similar to Waiting For the Worms, but its far more in your face about it. I'd also say the lyrics are better, and I'm a big fan of Waiting For the Worms. And while there's virtually no lead on Worms, Jeff Beck reigns terror all over What God Wants, screeching and wailing and trilling like he's a guitar god or something.

Other than that, you really have to get to the end of the album before anything else really grabs you. The last four songs really change things up, and if they formed more of the album's basis it's easy to imagine the album having done better. Each is entirely distinct from the others, unlike much of the first ten tracks. Don't get me wrong, there are moments of beauty and poignant stings throughout the other songs, but you sometimes feel lucky when you get to them. The last four songs, though, each present an entirely different musical idea and use distinct instrumentation.

Watching TV is an acoustic ballad following in the vein of some of Pink Floyd's famous acoustic outings, with very simple chords strummed in very simple strokes. It's weird, and the way there's a different number of syllables in every verse will likely throw many listeners off, but it's very charming. It's also very dark, but its dark story is told in such a whimsical way. The point, I guess, is that we watch these historical atrocities ? like the massacre at Tiananmen Square ? on our televisions, from a happy distance. It's programming to us, not real-world killings.

Three Wishes is a big highlight. It probably comes the closest to resembling the kind of thing Pink Floyd might have put on the radio at one point, but like nearly all of the album, its instrumentation is so spare it could never have made it. However, it does have a somewhat standard structure. It's also got great lyrics, an emotional and catchy melody, the record's best guitar solo, and lots of clever use of the bass.

It's a Miracle is good, although Waters sounds perhaps too bitter on this one. It's very dark, and the lyrics are probably the most pessimistic thing he ever wrote (and this is Roger Waters we're talking about). I like it. A lot. The part I like best, though, is when he sings about an earthquake hitting one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's operas. The piano player gets it the worst ? at one point, "The piano lid comes down and breaks his fucking fingers." Waters can say "fuck" like few other people I know, and he should be proud of it.

Sadly, it's just far too overstuffed of an album. It's difficult to listen to without hitting the skip button a few times. I can still recommend it, because there's enough good in it to fill an entire album. But there's too much sludgy atmosphere weighing the whole affair down; with more judicious editing, it could've been a minor masterpiece. I know it's difficult to delete one's work, but sometimes even some stuff that might not be necessarily bad has to go in order to let the truly great bits really shine.

(For those interested in numbers, I'd probably call it a 3.5, but with the option to round up or down, I'd round it up).

KyleSchmidlin | 4/5 |

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