This was an album I wasn't expecting to write about. Or ever hear, for that matter. Roger Waters had, for the most part, slipped from my awareness years ago after Live8. He briefly re-entered my thoughts with Pink Floyd's release of 'The Endless River', and only once more since then in relation to his stance on Israeli politics. Largely, it didn't occur to me that he might still be interested in making another album.
Yet here it is, despite my lack of either expectation or longing. And if ever I had hoped for what a Roger Waters album might sound like – which I haven't, truth be told – this would be it.
Let's make a clear point to start with: this is probably the best Waters material since 'The Wall' - at least - and more likely since 'Animals'.
Both Pink Floyd albums, you'll notice. Despite a certain nostalgia for 'The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking' (I had a mate who played that album to death in the late 80s, and it reminds me of … well, that's my business), the majority of Waters's work since 'The Wall' has left me a tad chilly. (As a dramatic aside, my first Pink Floyd album was 'The Final Cut', a very strange gift from my mother, of all people, who – I assume – randomly picked some cassette in an airport terminal when she was on holiday in Spain. I liked it enough at the time to fully investigate a band I only knew of for 'Another Brick In The Wall – Part 2', and was subsequently rewarded very well indeed).
At this point it would be customary to mention something about ageing rockers. So, I will. Roger Waters may be 73, but – to me, at least – his internal driving force remains the same as it always has. Yes, there are certain elements of retrospective glances, matters of ageing, and so on, but his anger is not just 'grumpy old man'-ism. It is a vital force. And he lacks any sense of resignation. He is certainly one to rage against the dying of the light.
Above all else, Waters has not succumbed to some of the less endearing ageing rocker tropes e.g. distorted guitars that are so cleaned up, you can almost see the perfectly ironed crease in each leg of their jeans. By contrast, he has either waded in, or allowed Nigel Godrich to wade in, with somewhat unnecessary throwbacks to Pink Floyd's 70s conceits and tropes (heartbeats, BBC voices, clocks, etc; not to mention certain direct references to specific tracks).
However, none of the production choices are actually detrimental to the overall effectiveness of the songs, any more than they enhance it. Having said that, I did find myself with a hankering for a Dave Gilmour solo on more than one occasion. If I was to say anything specific about this, though, it would have to be that it creates a suitably familiar vehicle for Waters's lyrics – whatever allows the message to be carried, I guess, is the overarching notion in relation to the production.
Lyrically, Waters is on top form. As an occasional lyricist for hire myself, I have found that it has become increasingly difficult NOT to become political in the current climate, and I've found myself writing down some particularly angry rhyming couplets (which might find their way onto an album somewhere to earn me a tenner over or 5 years) instead of the romantic overtures I'm most often asked to conjure. If that's how it is for me, it's actually a credit to Waters that he didn't merely make an album that had a single long scream of 'FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCK' as the only lyric.
My personal favourite lyric, though, has to be this:
Picture a courthouse with no fucking laws
Picture a cathouse with no fucking whores
Picture a shithouse with no fucking drains
Picture a leader with no fucking brains
If there was a lyrical disappointment, though, it's one that doesn't appear: nowhere does he put into music his feelings/views about the Israel/Palestine situation. Perhaps that's a song too difficult to write, or get right. Or he was strongly advised against it. Or prevented? Whatever the case may be, it's a shame this part of his worldview didn't get a real, full inclusion.
Some songs display a Roger Waters capable of not only having but expressing more positive emotions: love songs, tender, lyrical, gentle, with good-natured humour. 'Wait For Her' and 'Oceans Apart' display a side of Waters that he had previously only tapped for ironic effect (e.g. his description of Margaret Thatcher on 'The Final Cut'), but here delivers with a heartfelt sincerity.
However, what we tend to expect – and get – for the most part is the Roger Waters that spits bile like some dinosaur in Jurassic Park. And for me, that's a good thing. Let anyone who thinks that art should ignore what is wrong in the world go and get pissed with Ed Sheeran and drive irresponsibly through the countryside. We can't all be escapist, or worse things will happen … although it really looks as though a helluva lot of them already have …