As the legendary Christopher Thelen said in our first Pink Floyd review during this retrospective, it's interesting to see how a band went from point A to Top of the Pops.
But two categories are just as interesting: how a band deals with stardom and how a band implodes. The latter category is the underlying theme during Animals, which saw Floyd go from cohesive and unified on Wish You Were Here to fractured and polarized on this release, just two years later.
This is the third straight Floyd album to move away from spacey themes and into firm Earthly territory. By this point, bassist and singer Roger Waters had taken control of the band, writing most of the songs and lyrics and shunning most anything keyboardist Rick Wright may have contributed. Musically, the songs are straight-up rock with winding repetitive instrumental passages, a lot of good guitar work from David Gilmour and almost nothing noteworthy from Wright except a few background sounds.
The concept is the best thing about this album. The lyrics are based a bit on George Orwell's book
Animal Farm, and the three major pieces on the album separate humans into three categories -- "Dogs," "Pigs" and "Sheep." The other two songs here bookend the album and sound like Waters made them up on the spot, but since they are so short they're not worth mentioning.
"Dogs" is the longest, a 17-minute epic that touches on those of us who take advantage of whomever we can to rise to the top, accumulating money and power but dying lonely and broken. It goes by quickly, for such a bitter and nihilistic piece, but drags a bit in the middle when a dog starts howling through a Vocoder -- still, it's worth hearing now and again.
Equally bleak and harsh is "Pigs (Three Different Ones)," wherein Waters takes aim (by name) at politicians who preach judgment from on high but are themselves weak and immoral. More than anything that came later, this song is what Waters is all about -- harsh, unforgiving, very left-wing and a bit of a prophet, as the figures he was singing about came into power around the time of this album. Musically, it's not especially creative, repeating only two simple motifs (one for the three verses and one in the too-long instrumental bridge), but in its own way it's hypnotic and even a tad funky.
The shortest and best piece is a tribute to the mindless "Sheep," who have no idea what is going on and do whatever they are told (like reality-TV fans and Christians and...ooh, sorry, Waters got to me. See what reviewing music does?) Waters twists the ending by having the sheep revolt (set to an altered Psalm 23, spoken before the third verse) against the greedy and corrupt pigs and dogs. The music builds in intensity and ends with a triumphant jam.
Animals is accessible, but barely. Honesty this blunt and politics this explicit put off many listeners, despite a brilliant concept and the usual high musical value Floyd produces. But for the first time, the words seem more important than the music, a trend that would continue with every album the band has made since (don't try to tell me at least half of The Wall is not just filler to advance the plot). Also, this marks the point where Waters becomes the group's dog, trampling the others on his rise to power. He seems to have since relented, if the Live 8 broadcast means anything, so maybe dogs learn their lessons after all.
Upon repeated listens, Animals will grow on you, but don't be surprised if you take a rather dim view of human nature after you hear it for the next few hours.
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