Release Date: Jun 2, 2017
Record label: Columbia
Roger Waters may not have made an album of new material between 1992 and 2017, but he was very active during that quarter-century. He toured regularly, wrote an opera, reunited Pink Floyd for the 2005 charity concert Live 8, and revived The Wall several times, turning the self-absorbed rock opera into a political piece. Is This the Life We Really Want?, his fourth song cycle, picks up on this thread, functioning as barbed protest music for the age of Brexit and Trump.
"Picture a shithouse with no fucking drains/Picture a leader with no fucking brains," snarls Roger Waters near the start of his first proper rock LP in nearly 25 years, unsubtle as a hammer between the eyes. But the grim charm of this set, a 12-track dystopian concept LP that makes The Wall read like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, is precisely his emeritus off-the-leash ranting, a fitting response to the stench and stupidity of our present moment. Is This The Life We Really Want? is not without humor.
You have to hand it to Roger Waters: never one to shirk from a challenge, and never one to mince his words, he's picked the exact moment Pink Floyd enter the V&A for the Their Mortal Remains exhibition to put out his first studio solo album in almost 25 years. Although to be fair, he's at least on speaking terms with his former band mates these days, and thankfully that means I can leave the rambling essay/ history lesson for another day. Not that I'd be able to say anything you don't already know, as the lives and careers of Waters and the Floyd have been dissected about a million times over the past 40-odd years: if you do want a bit of background to both, I'd recommend Nick Mason's memoir Inside Out more than anything.
In this unflinchingly bleak era of nationalism and despotic madmen profiting from institutionalized intolerance, listening to a Roger Waters record doesn’t sound like a clinically advisable move. Too catastrophically depressing. Fortunately, the mastermind behind some of the darkest sociopolitical records in rock history is alight with the fire of rebellion.
Roger Waters critiqued capitalism and the decay of society of his native England on Pink Floyd's Animals in 1977, a body of work whose his lyrics feel eerily relevant to today's world. For his first solo effort in 25 years, Waters moves his gaze beyond Britain to take stock of the world at large in asking listeners, Is This the Life We Really Want? Over 12 tracks, Waters paints a sonic portrait of a future that could become reality should we let it: A world consumed by the politics of fear, where "the temple's in ruins" and "the bankers get fat," as he sings on "Déjà Vu. " Of course, some of these visions need no forethought, as he belts about a "nincompoop" becoming president on the record's title track after asking listeners to "picture a leader with no fucking brains" on "Picture That.
It's been abundantly well documented that by the time Pink Floyd set out to record their sprawling 1979 double album The Wall, internal friction over bassist/frontman Roger Waters' push for creative control had reached a breaking point. In a sense, The Wall crushed the classic lineup of Pink Floyd, but it's been Waters who's had the hardest time getting out from under its weight. For much of his solo career--1987's Radio K.A.O.S.
M usically, Roger Waters's first album of new material in 25 years, produced by Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck etc), is like a compendium of best moments and motifs from Pink Floyd's early- to mid-70s heyday, from the ticking clock and heartbeat that run through opening numbers When We Were Young and Déjà Vu to vintage synths, swelling strings and station platform announcements. Lyrically, the album finds Waters in pissed-off older man mode and is none the worse for it. Picture That is a litany of modern outrage, from prosthetic limbs in Afghanistan to having an idiot for president.
It's ironic that the former major‑domo of the quintessential stoner band should in recent years have recast himself as rock's last angry man. We knew from their 70s output, from Dark Side Of The Moon to Animals and The Wall, that Pink Floyd specialised in a sort of melodic mordancy or ambient acrimony. And yet their rails against the system seemed designed to erase or raze your consciousness.
"Picture yourself…," Roger Waters sings on his new album, and given the record's arrival on Friday -- nearly 50 years to the day after the Beatles released "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" -- you can't help but think of a boat on a river. But Waters isn't imagining tangerine trees and marmalade skies. On "Is This the Life We Really Want?," his first solo rock release since 1992, Pink Floyd's mastermind offers far darker visions of drone warfare, terrorism, the refugee crisis and, most vividly, what he views as President Trump's reckless endangerment of everything good in the world.