Roger Waters: The New Single “Smell The Roses,” Uncle Cranky Returns

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In the 70’s and well into the 80’s the true Titans of Rock were Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. You didn’t get much cooler street cred than listening to those 2 bands. Potential friendships could be dashed by the wrong answer to, “Do you own ‘Dark Side of the Moon’?” I was in high school when ‘In Through The Out Door’ from Zeppelin came out. I remember older guys from my high school trying to scrape together enough money to rent a bus to get to Chicago, Zeppelin’s closest concert geographically from Kansas City. Sadly, John Bonham succumbed to alcoholism and died the way all rock stars really ought to, choking on his own vomit, before those concerts ever happened. It was only a year or so later when ‘The Wall’ from Pink Floyd came out. Man, were we obsessed with that album. I always thought the line, “you can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat” was actually, “you can’t have any pussy if you don’t beat your meat” which was really good news for a high school kid, if you know what I mean.

Alas, ‘The Wall’ was the last great record Pink Floyd put out. Shortly after that record, they fired founding-member, keyboardist Richard Wright. Their final album, which didn’t come out until I was in college, aptly named ‘The Final Cut,’ was a somewhat underwhelming album. In retrospect it was a patch work of ideas. It was really a Roger Waters’ solo album as played by the remaining guys in Pink Floyd. Although not many people liked that album, I always loved the great tune, “The Gunner’s Dying Dream.” The problem with ‘The Final Cut’ is the musical chemistry had been knocked out of whack by Wright’s departure and Waters’ totalitarianism within the band. Waters was the lyrical genius but he needed Wright and especially Gilmour for the melodic sensibility they brought to Pink Floyd. They were the yang to his yin, if you will. Joe Strummer was right when he said, “never underestimate the chemistry of the right four guys in a room…”

I wondered back then what the members of Pink Floyd were going to sound like solo. David Gilmour made “About Face,” which I didn’t like. Roger Waters came out with “The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking,” which was loosely based on a morning’s dream cycle. It’s always gotta be some weird concept with Roger. I remember my college roommate Drew coming home with “Pros and Cons,” and despite boasting Eric Clapton on lead guitar, the album left me cold. I know Drew dug it and it’s been a long, long time since I’ve listened to it, so maybe it deserves another spin. Drew always has a great ear for music… Shortly after that Gilmour, Wright and drummer Nick Mason reformed Pink Floyd and had the smash hit “Momentary Lapse of Reason” which resulted in years of bitter acrimony and law suits.

While the now Waters-less Pink Floyd soared, Roger’s solo career sputtered. I bought both ‘Momentary Lapse…’ and Roger’s second LP, ‘Radio KAOS’ which was another weird concept album. I really liked ‘Radio KAOS’ but I think I stand alone in doing so. I remember debating both albums with some stoner kid from California I ran into in a train station in Paris way back when. He was pro-Floyd, I was pro-Waters. The problem with Waters’ solo work is he always sounds like he’s singing through clinched teeth, like when my dad caught me sneaking out of the house to meet a girl. His vocals are already nasal-y, add that angry dynamic and it can be off-putting. I saw Waters in concert many years ago and for the encore, he asked for silence – at a time in a show when most musicians are trying to get the crowd to a state of hysteria – he wanted a quiet moment. He was so pissy, he actually folded his arms, stared at the ground and said, “I can wait…” Try the de-caff Rog… That was when I started calling him Uncle Cranky.

I must admit, despite all that crankiness, I was a little surprised when I realized it’d been around 25 years since Waters’ last solo LP, “Amused To Death.” I remember buying that album, it’s long since disappeared, and it had multiple versions of the song, “What God Wants.” While I agree religion can be somewhat maddening, I think I’m safe in saying, what God wants is maybe some different lyrical ideas, Roger. That album wasn’t successful and around the same time Pink Floyd returned with ‘The Division Bell’ and another record setting tour. Those had to be tough times for Roger. I’m still unclear why he chose to disappear for a quarter century. Of course, he really didn’t disappear, he did an opera and has toured almost constantly, often staging ‘The Wall,’ his magnum opus. Even Gilmour showed up for a performance of “Comfortably Numb” in London a few years ago. Nice to see the lads getting along. Now that Wright is gone, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a reunion, however. Some grudges can’t be let go.

Over the weekend I finally heard Uncle Cranky, er, Roger’s new solo tune, “Smell The Roses” from the upcoming LP ‘Is This The Life We Really Want,’ which is a pretty ponderous title for an LP. I couldn’t stop humming the melody. I’ve been traveling for work a lot lately, and I couldn’t wait to get home to listen to this song again. Obviously if you’ve read B&V before, you’ve likely guessed I share a lot of Roger’s political sensibilities so lyrically you know he’d have me, but this is a great TUNE. It boasts some funky keyboards and a great guitar solo. There’s even a break for the sound effect of dogs barking harkening back to ‘Animals’… the guy sure stays true to his vision. But oddly, it all works.  Roger finally put together a great song to go with his great lyrics.

And what lyrics they are… “wake up and smell the roses, close your eyes and pray this wind don’t change.” Set to all the great music these lyrics are full of deep foreboding. This is a rock and roll Cassandra, standing on a hill warning society, whose likely fate is not to be heard or worse, not to be believed. “Wake up and smell the phosphorous, this is the room where we keep the human heir…” I wonder if that was just a pun, decrying fascists elements in world politics today. He works in climate change, “nothing but gold in the chimney smoke, come on honey, it’s real money,” which also harkens back to Pink Floyd’s most recognized song. He even invokes the Doors’ “Light My Fire” when he sings, “throw a photo on the funeral pyre, yeah now we can forget the threat she poses, girl you know we couldn’t get much higher.” Mind blown!

I have no idea what the whole album will hold. Will Roger be able to keep up the musical excellence of this tune over a whole album? Hard to know, but this is a great first single for an album I can now say I am hotly anticipating. Keep your ears on this space!

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