I Attended: Roger Waters & Special Guests, ‘The Wall’ at the Berlin Wall, July 21, 1990

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Since none of us will be seeing any concerts soon, I thought I’d reflect on the biggest show I ever attended…

After college, as I’ve often complained about in these pages, I took a job for a mammoth corporation who sent me, yes, to Arkansas. I’ll be the first to admit that Kansas City isn’t Paris, but Arkansas felt like exile, especially in the beginning when I was placed in a small town named Ft. Smith, Arkansas. More like Ft. Hell, Arkansas. Back then no one under forty should have been stationed in Ft. Hell. It felt like the most remote corner of the universe, although admittedly it was only 5 hours from everywhere (Dallas, KC, Shreveport, Memphis). There was a guy in the office who loved Ft. Smith. He had been born there, married there, raised kids there and for all I know he died there. I get it, he was a native son and he loved it. He also used to pull his suit pants up to his nipples…no accounting for taste as the saying goes. He used to stand at my desk and espouse the virtues of his hometown… I always just kinda mumbled, quoting Muddy Waters, “Yeah man, but, uh, “I Can’t Get No Grindin’.”” I guess I was too much of a “yankee.”

By 1989 they’d moved me to Fayetteville, Arkansas, a move I believe that was made out of pity rather than cold profit and loss. That place was infinitely better. There was a college and a groovy little entertainment area on Dixon Street. My friend Ross and I used to pub crawl that street but those memories are more than a little blurry. The only good thing about Arkansas was befriending Ross, who remains a dear friend to this day.  I remember sitting on the used hide-a-bed couch in my apartment (with its lovely cigarette burn) watching the Berlin Wall come down that November. That was a cool part of history to watch happen. However, from Arkansas I thought I was watching it all unfold from another planet. Despite Fayetteville being a better place for a young man, I knew I had to get out of there. History was taking place and I was missing it.

I decided that November, watching the Wall fall that I was done with Arkansas and the mammoth corporation. No more working for the man! I would finish the year, cash any check they gave me and hightail it out of there. In February of 1990 I came careening into my parent’s driveway in my U-Haul with my meager possessions and moved back in with them. They were thrilled. My father didn’t talk to me for six months. It was a pretty hostile atmosphere so I didn’t really hang around at my folks’ house much. Instead I hit the road. I drove to see friends I hadn’t seen in a few years. I was “On the Road.” I went from Kansas City to Dallas to Louisville where I attended the Kentucky Derby, something every bourbon lover should do. Mint Juleps for everyone. All that Jack Kerouac’ing around was fun, but in my heart of hearts, I wanted to go to Europe. Many of my friends had gone, either with siblings or alone and I wanted to tour the continent as well.

A guy I knew, with the unfortunate nickname Flytrap, loaned me his giant backpack which was really nice. When I went over to pick it up, he said, “You know Roger Waters is going to perform The Wall at the Berlin Wall… surely you’re gonna go?” Actually I’d heard but no, I wasn’t planning on it. “You’ve got to!!” exclaimed Flytrap. Apparently I wasn’t the only one watching the Berlin Wall come tumbling down. Roger Waters in an interview had said flippantly to a reporter, “I’ll perform The Wall when the Berlin Wall comes down.” Originally, Pink Floyd had only performed The Wall in the States at 10-gig stints in New York and another in Los Angeles. In the lawsuit against his former mates in Pink Floyd, Waters had won the rights to The Wall and the band got to carry on… The Wall was expensive to stage and not practical in an arena. He was doing it to raise money for the Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief, so it was for a good cause.

The Wall is one of those seminal albums for me. It was the first Floyd album to come out after I’d turned on to rock and roll. I can remember riding in my buddy Brewster’s Mazda, he had a great stereo, and cranking “Another Brick in the Wall (Pt. 1)/The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick In the Wall (Pt. 2).” After hearing “Comfortably Numb” in that same car, I went out and plunked down the then hefty investment of $16 to buy the double-album. Sonically I had heard nothing like it. I had Dark Side of the Moon, but this rock opera/concept album blew my mind… But actually attending the performance with 350,000 strangers…in Berlin? I was too small minded to think it was even possible. But somehow, I had to make it happen. There was no internet back in those caveman days so I would have to figure out how to get tickets once I got over to Europe. At least now I had a mission.

I left the United States on July 3rd and arrived in Rome, Italy on July 4th. I guess I’m not a Yankee Doodle Dandy, leaving my country on its birthday. When I arrived in Rome they were experiencing a 100 year heat wave. I didn’t sleep on the plane and after securing my hotel room I got lost looking for it… the street signs were up on the buildings in that ancient city, not on the stop lights and I couldn’t navigate. I was, to say the least, addled. I was accosted by a group of gypsies, but before anything weird could go down, in frustration I let out a giant Ginsberg-ian “Howl.” That scared them and calmed me down… I found the street signs and breezed to my hotel. It was a wobbly start.

Rome was a hot, hazy blur but by the time I moved on to Florence, I’d gotten my travel legs. Eventually I went on to Venice and then to Munich. I remember pulling into the train station in Munich and someone was blaring AC/DC. I love Germany. I found a phone number to buy tickets to the impending Waters concert (billed as Roger Waters and Special Guests) on a poster and called and bought a ticket. They said it would be at “will-call,” which I never found. Luckily the concert wasn’t sold out and I was able to buy another ticket, pictured above, the day of the show. By the time the concert rolled around I was an old-pro, hardened veteran at the whole traveling by train thing.

I was hanging in Amsterdam prior the concert. There were no hotel rooms in Berlin. I’d actually been in Berlin prior to that and had gotten the lay of the land before coming to Amsterdam. My plan was to take an overnight train into Berlin, find a locker for my backpack and go to the show. There was no train out of Berlin until the next morning and I figured I’d do what I’d seen so many travelers do, sleep at the train station on a bench. When I got to Berlin on the 21st, all the lockers were taken in the train station. I didn’t want to lug the enormous backpack to the concert… I was starting to panic when at the last second I spotted an open locker. Another American was standing there and when I exultantly threw my backpack into the locker he looked at me and said, “Do you realize how lucky you are to have gotten that locker? It’s probably the last one in Berlin.” Indeed I am my friend, indeed I am.

The stage was set up on a patch of ground between Potsdamer Platz and the famous Brandenburg Gate. The area was known as “No Man’s Land” as it was a patch between East and West, between Communism and Democracy. Many people had been shot trying to escape tyranny on that very spot… This was hallowed ground indeed. The gates opened at 2pm in the afternoon and after rebuying another ticket, I was in line when they opened. I had never been that early for a show… or that sober. I didn’t even sniff a beer before the show. I had never seen a crowd this big in my life. I was able to get relatively close to the stage, but it was far enough that I thank God they had video screens.

I bought a bottle of water in a crush of people at the concession stand and took up my spot in the middle a fair ways back but still able to see everybody on stage… they weren’t so tiny I couldn’t make out who was who. I remember an Irish band playing, it might have been the Chieftans. Then the Hooters came on… I was not impressed with the Hooters. But then, the Band came out and did a set. Obviously Robbie Robertson wasn’t there (and Richard Manuel was sadly already gone) but Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm were all there. They even drug Ronnie Hawkins out to recreate his “Who Do You Love” from The Last Waltz. That was truly great. I’d have rather seen Dylan pop out than Ronnie Hawkins but dirty travelers can’t be choosers.

I don’t know why but there was a moment that has always stuck with me from that dusty afternoon surrounded by people. In between acts, they were playing music over the PA system. They put on Prince’s “Sign ‘O’ the Times” and the crowd went nuts. It was the first time I’d ever heard the song… I’d kind of lost track of Prince after Around The World In A Day. Maybe it was the huge cheer of the crowd, or the great sound system, but I’ve loved that song ever since…

Finally, the main event began. I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of the “Special Guests” and I was wondering who might show up. When the show started and Waters’ back up band, the Bleeding Heart Band launched into the opening track, “In the Flesh,” I realized that Germany’s own, the Scorpions were on stage. I love Klaus Meine and he was really into it. This was going to be something very different. I will say all the guest stars Waters brought on stage made this feel like the Who’s Tommy movie. I enjoyed the spectacle but it made me wish Gilmour, Wright and Mason were there instead… It was like a photo copy of the Mona Lisa. It was still a great, great show… but I’m a purist.

As the performers sang, the crew slowly built the wall around them. There’s the sound of a helicopter early on the album and for this performance Waters flew over in a real helicopter… knowing the history of that patch of land it sort of gave me goosebumps. My memory of specific guest stars is spotty… I remember Cyndi Lauper coming out for “Another Brick In the Wall (Pt 2)” and she was awful. Apparently Joni Mitchell was there and I have no recollection of that. Sinead O’Connor was great during “Mother.” They brought Bryan Adams out for the rocking “Young Lust” and I guess that was an appropriate choice at the time. I read later that Rod Stewart was the original choice so I look back at that performance as a bit of a missed opportunity. Jerry Hall did the “Are all these your guitars?” monologue and it was the low moment in the performance… her reading was as flat as a pancake, truly cringe-worthy.

The highlight for me was naturally “Comfortably Numb.” The Bleeding Heart Band did a great job with the material and by the time they were playing from behind the actual wall, I was only slightly still missing Gilmour. When they played “Comfortably Numb” taking the Gilmour vocal was none other than Van Morrison. I love Van the man. That was truly a great moment to witness. “The Trial” was over the top… The ultimate moment for me came at the end of “The Trial,” when the crowd was chanting (along with the band), “tear down the wall, tear down the wall.” The crowd of lusty Germans were screaming so loud you could feel it in your chest. Right before the wall fell, they projected an image of the actual Berlin Wall’s graffiti onto the giant white space that was “The Wall.” A crowd that was loud before got even louder, their ecstatic cries practically lifting me off my feet. I felt like I was floating, it was an ecstatic moment…and then the wall fell and it was fucking pandemonium. People were suddenly hugging me. I had tears in my eyes.

Waters and the entire company came out and did his solo track, “The Tide Is Turning” from Radio K.A.O.S., and it was the perfect choice. For the first time since sitting on the couch watching the Berlin Wall fall while exiled in Arkansas, I felt like I was alive again. I was back in the middle of something great.

Was it the greatest concert ever? I can’t say it was, but it was a very special show at a very special location at a very special point in time and history. I’m glad I got that gentle nudge from Flytrap that helped spur me to go. By the end of the show, I’d floated backwards and when it was over I fled to the train station where I discovered they’d scheduled a midnight train to Amsterdam to get rid of some of the concert goers. I jumped on that packed train and by the next day was sitting in a bar named the Bull Dog where I debated the Waters vs Pink Floyd issue with some guy from Cleveland.

Needless to say, it was quite a trip. As I like to say, buy the ticket, see the show. Always!

Cheers!

B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?

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“This is no social crisis, this is you having fun…” The Who, “Another Tricky Day”

We’ve all made mistakes in our lives and we’ve all had to learn to live with those bad decisions… Here it is, only day 2 of the enforced “Stay At Home” order and I suddenly feel the need to unburden myself of all my sins. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t left my house since nine days ago and the only sins being confessed to here are musical in nature. All other sins… well, those records are sealed until 25 years after I’m gone and forgotten. While I was always someone who people confided in, I must say this confessional mood seems to be catching. I’m hearing all sorts of sordid things. I just had a friend admit to me that he saw the Little River Band in concert. Everybody loves the Little River Band but no one will ever admit to it. Ironically, I happen to have an almost sentimental attachment to their song “Reminiscing.” There, now I’m on record as an LRB fan…more confessions. The Rock Chick admitted to me this morning, for the first time in our marriage, that she saw Molly Hatchet in concert but doesn’t remember much of it… We’ve all been there (The 10 Concerts I Should Have Skipped). I’m still trying to wrap my head around her being at a Molly Hatchet concert but that’s my issue to contend with.

We’ve all made those musical mistakes. You’re standing in the record store and you have Pat Benetar’s Precious Time in your left hand and Beggars Banquet in your right hand and you end up leaving the store with the Benetar “saving” the Stones’ classic for another day. That is sadly based on a true story. Sigh. Not that there’s anything wrong with Pat Benetar but I didn’t buy Beggars Banquet until I was in college, years later (and I’m the Stones freak?).  We all have albums that we’re perhaps embarrassed about now. Maybe the album is “of its time” so to speak. I actually had a Bryan Adams record (Reckless) for a long time that I bought in the 80s. Or perhaps a relationship or friendship led you to a bad choice. I had a TLC’s CrazySexyCool for a while based on the recommendation of an adamant squeeze I had back in the day. Not every woman I dated had the Rock Chick’s impeccable taste in music.

For the most part, as a “serious” collector I’ve culled through my collection and weeded out the outliers. I try to keep everything, vinyl or CD, that I’ve ever owned but being married has forced me to thin the herd. Every time we move I find myself selling at the Used Record store vs buying… although I’m usually a sucker for that “store credit” gambit. I sell off a certain number of albums and come home with a few new ones… it’s just the circle of life. Being cooped up at home these last few nights has sent me looking through my vinyl collection yet again. I discovered a few albums that, I must confess, I just love but have less than stellar reputations. Either the critics were “meh,” or fans didn’t buy the albums but I did. Since I only write about stuff I like – God knows there’s enough negative bullshit in the world – I am often accused of being a tad “over positive” about certain artists and albums. I have to tell you, I’ve really enjoyed listening to these albums over the last few nights. These just might be albums that need a reappraisal. I asked the Rock Chick if she had any albums she loved and no one else did and she said, “I love Oasis and let’s face it nobody but me and (her friend) Rich likes them.” Rich is the one who always asks me at parties I throw to “put on some Oasis.” Although oddly, on those occasions I’ve been at his house, he never seems to play Oasis.

While only one of these albums is truly embarrassing, the rest are solid if not spectacular as some of the entries in the respective artists’ catalogs. Not every album can be Every Picture Tells A Story or Who’s Next. If you’re a career type of artist – one worthy of following an entire catalog – there will be ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys. Since nobody is really going anywhere for a while, put one of these on and dig a little deeper into the catalogs of these great artists. We all have guilty pleasures… these are mine.

  1. The Who, Face Dances -I will always be fond of this, my first Who album. “You Better You Bet” was huge on radio and I bought this record on the spot. With Kenny Jones (formerly of the Faces) on drums and Townsend’s guitar seemingly missing this doesn’t really sound like anything that came before it but I still love this album. “Another Tricky Day” is the perfect antidote for today. “Daily Records” is the nicest statement of purpose in all of rock and roll. “How Can You Do It Alone” about masturbating is funny. The Entwistle songs, “You” and “The Quiet One” both rock with that Who grit. There’s a lot to like here.
  2. Fleetwood Mac, Mirage – Sure, this was a pretty good seller, but after the epic success of Rumours and wild experimentation of Tusk this album seems like a retreat. I am drawn to the melodies and harmonies on this record. Stevie Nicks’ tracks are the gold, from the hit “Gypsy” to the country-rock of “That’s Alright” to the shimmery, sexy track “Straight Back” she could do no wrong. While none of the Buckingham tracks were “hits” I really like a lot of what he’s doing here on tracks like “Empire State,” and “Oh, Diane.” It’s a quiet little pleasure.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Black And Blue – This is basically a recording of the auditions being held for Mick Taylor’s replacement. While many guitarists tried out for the Stones – Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck amongst others – they finally settled on Ronnie Wood. This album is criticized for being a bunch of jams and reggae stuff but that’s what I like about it. The two ballads, the only tracks that required them to actually write a song, are two of my favorite Stones’ deep tracks – “Fool To Cry” and especially “Memory Motel.” In college a friend asked me if this album was any good and I said, no. I would amend that answer to yes, if your expectations for another Exile On Main Street are properly leveled. This is a fun record and “Hand of Fate” is an awesome rock song I’d love to hear live.
  4. Rush, Caress of Steel – I don’t know why this album doesn’t get more love. It’s really the precursor of 2112. All of side 2 is one track, “The Fountain of Lamneth.” It’s a fabulous epic. My all time favorite Rush deep track ends side one, “The Necromancer.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted that song…”weakening the body and saddening the mind.” The playing is impeccable. “Bastille Day” became a mainstay of their live act. This is a great Rush album that the critics savaged.
  5. Led Zeppelin, In Through The Out Door – It had been almost three years since Zeppelin had put out Presence and in that time my rock and roll awakening had occurred. I already owned Led Zeppelin II and IV (or Runes) and was eager to hear new, contemporary Zeppelin. The record industry was pinning its hopes on this album and Tusk to bolster lackluster sales. I think a lot of people were disappointed in this record but I wasn’t. Presence was such a heavy album – really shepherded by Bonham and Page – but both of those guys were in the serious throes of addiction by the time they recorded In Through the Out Door that Plant and Jones took over. The result was a mellower, more synth/keyboard oriented album. “In The Evening” is one of my all time Zep favorites. “Fool In The Rain” showcases Bonham’s still formidable drumming. I love the bluesy last track, “I’m Gonna Crawl.” God knows where they could have gone from this… alas.
  6. Rod Stewart, Blondes Have More Fun – Ok, I’m embarrassed I still like this album. I actually sold the vinyl, thus was my shame. But then I bought it again on CD. It’s a truly guilty, guilty pleasure. It’s Rod’s disco album, the record that burned the bridges with his old fanbase. I didn’t buy it for the disco camp of “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” I liked “Ain’t Love a Bitch,” I was always a sucker for ballads. “Dirty Weekend” and the title track are Chuck Berry/Rolling Stone riff rockers. I dig Rod. This is my big confession today.
  7. Jackson Browne, Lives In The Balance – After the failure of Lawyers In Love, Browne decided to get deadly serious about politics. Set that aside, these are great songs. “For America” remains a favorite of mine. The title track, “Soldiers of Plenty,” and “Lawless Avenues” all sound like dispatches from the nightly news set to guitar. The one intimate love song, “In The Shape of a Heart” is one of Browne’s most endearing songs. This isn’t for everyone, it kind of depends on your political feelings…
  8. Eric Clapton, Behind The Sun – People will shudder when I say Phil Collins produced this album. Well, he did the initial sessions but the record company rejected it. They brought in some songwriters and Ted Templeman to shore it up. That troubled history sounds like a disaster, but I dug this record. “Forever Man” remains a huge favorite. “Tangled In Love” is a great rock tune. “Same Old Blues” is an epic at over 8 minutes long. I even like the cover of “Knock On Wood.” Blasphemy? Perhaps.
  9. Neil Young & The Bluenotes, This Note’s For You – The 80s were terrible for Neil Young. He first showed signs of creative life on 1987’s Life with Crazy Horse. Then he did a 180 and put out a horn driven blues album. The blues has always been a great showcase for guitar and I love Neil’s playing on this album. I even bought the live album of this tour, put out 30 year later (Review: Neil Young, “Bluenote Cafe” (Live)). “One Thing” is the ultimate breakup song. “Married Man” is a funny upbeat track. Whether he’s playing a mellow, sad blues or a horn-drive rave up, this is a fun record. The blues will always win out for me.
  10. Roger Waters, Radio K.A.O.S. – My college roommate Drew and I may be the only two people in the world who bought this album. I really dug the title track. Clapton plays guitar on this album and joined the tour as well. If you ignore the bizarre narrative, you can really get into songs like, my favorite, “Who Needs Information,” or “Home.”
  11. Queen, A Kind Of Magic – My college roomies and I were big fans of the Sci-Fi thriller, ‘Highlander.’ This is basically the soundtrack to that film with the addition of “One Vision” which I think was from anther movie. Queen was on the downturn in America, but this is a bunch of great music. “Who Wants to Live Forever” is a great ballad. The production is very much “of its time” but this was the first sign Queen would come back from Hot Space. 
  12. CSNY, American Dream – Neil Young committed to CSN that he’d record another album with them, the first since the live album Four Way Street, if Crosby could get clean. After the much publicized police chase and incarceration, Crosby emerged clean. The bill came due for Neil. People’s expectations were for Deja Vu 2.0 and yes, this album disappoints from that perspective. I loved the title track and bought the album. Crosby’s “Compass” is a wonderful, confessional track. I love Stills and Young working together and have since the Buffalo Springfield. They spark up a little guitar battle in “Drivin’ Thunder.” Stills shines for me on “Glad That You Got It Made.” Graham Nash’s “Never Say Goodbye” is a tune that used to make me mist up. It’s gorgeous.

I get that many of these might not be your cup of tea. You never know… you might discover something you like in this pile of records. If there are “guilty pleasure” albums for you out there, let me know what they are in the comments as I may want to check those out. I’m open to anything during this time of social distancing!

Stay safe and healthy out there! And remember, as the Who sang, “this (really) is no social crisis…this is you having fun” listening to music.

 

LP Review: Roger Waters, ‘Is This The Life We Really Want?’

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“Who gives a fuck, it’s never really over…” – Roger Waters, “When We Were Young”

Much like when I reviewed David Gilmour’s last solo album, I found myself reflecting on Pink Floyd. How couldn’t I? In the 70s when I first started collecting records, one of the first albums I ever bought was ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’ It was, and still is, required listening. Along with Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd ruled the 70s. They were the greatest, coolest rock bands around. Sure the Stones were very productive in the 70s, but that rock n roll decade was owned by Zeppelin and Floyd. In the waning days of the 70s, Zeppelin fell apart but Floyd soared to greater heights with ‘The Wall.’ By the early 80s both were seemingly gone. One of the joys of being a music obsessive is reading the liner notes of LPs. This comes in handy when bands break up because you’re able to follow those key contributors to the bands you love into their solo careers. I must admit, the guys in Floyd have been tough to follow.

In 1983, Pink Floyd released what was on the surface supposed to be their last LP, ‘The Final Cut.’ It was a sequel of sorts to Roger Waters’ magnum opus, ‘The Wall,’ another of the first LPs I was to ever buy. The album sleeve for ‘The Final Cut’ read “A Requiem For The Post War Dream, by Roger Waters, Performed by Pink Floyd,” which sort of tipped me off that this was more of a solo Waters’ LP than a real full-fledged Pink Floyd record. Waters fired founding keyboardist Richard Wright prior to recording the LP which was another clue. ‘The Final Cut’ was another “song cycle” with a theme but it came across like a bit of a patchwork of ideas to me. The song “Not Now John” was clearly an angry reaction to the crew who made the movie of ‘The Wall” and the superb “Two Suns In the Sunset” while incredibly moving, didn’t fit the theme. I will admit, ‘The Final Cut’ seemed to be the album when Waters was finally able to express his overriding themes with the greatest clarity. Musically, however, ‘The Final Cut’ sounded different than usual Floyd albums. Waters was so obsessed with telling the story he’d crafted lyrically he stripped the musicality from the record. His dictatorial control of the band neutered the rest of the band, even David Gilmour. So while I liked certain tracks on ‘The Final Cut’ (especially ‘The Gunner’s Dream”) and even appreciate the construct of the story, I felt like it was an opportunity missed.

By 1984, Waters had left Pink Floyd, assuming that once he took his brilliance down the road, that would be the end of Pink Floyd (little did he know). He released his first “proper” solo album, ‘The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking,’ an album based on a man’s dream cycle. He was so dedicated to the construct of the song cycle, each song is even time stamped. The man dreams of his midlife crisis and all the fears and worries that it brings. Again, I loved the construct but Waters neglected the music side of the equation. It’s akin to what Springsteen did after disbanding the E Street Band, he focused too much on lyrics and neglected melody. Even the presence of none other than Eric Clapton on lead guitar couldn’t save ‘Pros and Cons’ for me. My college roommate at the time brought it home, Drew was always the first guy to have a new LP, but it left me stone cold. Well, I liked the nude chick on the album cover, but I was barely 20, I was allowed a little leeway in that department. I haven’t heard it in years, and frankly I still don’t think I’m missing anything.

In 1984, Waters’ released his second LP, ‘Radio K.A.O.S.’ which I listened to again for the first time in a long while this weekend. I really liked this album despite the fact the back story Waters’ concocted for the music was preposterous. He’s got Jim Ladd, famous LA disc jockey talking between songs, which I could have done without. “Radio Waves,” the hopeful “The Tide Is Turning” and the amazing “Who Needs Information” are all great songs. I will admit, all these years later, the production is very much “of it’s time.” But I still enjoy this album even if Roger doesn’t.

In 1987 Waters released what was to be his final solo album for 25 years, ‘Amused To Death.’ It was another song cycle tied to a theme, this time, basically mankind was going daft watching television, ignoring the real problems of the world. It was many of the same themes he’s been covering since ‘Dark Side,’ anti-war, anti-greed, and anti-media. I didn’t really warm to the album and ended putting it away for, well, twenty-five years. I also listened to it this weekend and was surprised at how well it’s held up. There is some searing guitar on that album by Jeff Beck. At least Roger seems to have realized he had big guitar shoes to fill by splitting with Gilmour.

After ‘Amused To Death’ Waters went silent. Well, that’s over-stating it a bit. He toured almost constantly. He put on several different tours centered around ‘The Wall.’ I’m proud to admit that I was in Berlin when he did ‘The Wall’ at The Berlin Wall in 90, one of my concert highlights. I saw him on the tour that produced his live LP, ‘In The Flesh’ and it was a great show. He had three guitarists with him to replicate Gilmour’s sound but I think I’ve pounded that point enough by now. It’s clear that those two were yin/yang. He also produced an opera, because, let’s face it, everything he’s done is basically rock opera, why not go full on “the fat lady in the Viking helmet is singing.” For whatever reason, perhaps it was the bile he felt toward the rest of the guys in Pink Floyd for carrying on without him, he stopped doing new music for a quarter of a decade.

I was stunned months ago when I heard that Waters was in the studio putting together a new album. I figured this would be another album I’d end up blowing off. But then I heard the first single, reviewed earlier on B&V, “Smell The Roses,” and I realized, wait a minute, we might have something here. I liked “Smell the Roses” immediately and said so. My dearest friend Doug said to me over beers at a ClassicAlbumSunday, “Hey, I read your Waters review. I didn’t love the song. It was ok, but it sounded like Pink Floyd.” Well, isn’t that the point?!? For perhaps the first time in his solo career Waters actually put great lyrics together with great music. There was even a melodic guitar solo in the middle…

I had expected ‘Is This The Life We Really Want’ to be an angry screed full of rage. There is anger here, especially in songs like “Picture This” where he says “picture a President without fucking brains,” which is clearly aimed at Trump. “Bird In a Gale” also musters some good ol’ Roger Waters anger. But to me the overwhelming emotion I get from this album is… despair. Not, I’m giving up despair, just a resigned sadness. It’s as if the narrator can’t believe, this far along in life, he’s having to address these same problems again. The song, “Deja Vu” is one of the most beautiful melodies Waters has written. In the song he imagines, “if I had been God” and all the things he’d have done differently. It’s a brilliant song set to a lovely acoustic guitar.

All the usual Waters’ themes are here: anti-fascism, anti-war, anti-greed, anti-hate but this time he fleshed out the music to match the epic nature of his themes. The music here is more lush and more, for lack of a better word, grand than anything he’s done in his solo work. This is the most Pink Floyd sounding solo album Waters has ever recorded and that’s a good thing. I hear shades of ‘Animals’ and ‘The Wall’ on this album. He’s finally embracing his past musically and the results are great. How much of this can be attributed to producer Nigel Godrich is hard to gauge. I’ve always thought Nigel was a dip-shit, based on his treatment of Paul McCartney during the recording of the ‘Chaos & Creation’ sessions, but perhaps I’ve judged him harshly.

Other standout tracks here are the melancholy “The Last Refugee,” and “Broken Bones” where Roger wonders, “who gives a shit, anyway?” On the title track, after listing a litany of crimes that still occur in society, he describe the current U.S. President as a nincompoop, a term I haven’t heard since my grandparents passed. The song “Broken Bones” laments that after WWII we lost the opportunity to move mankind forward, but we went for the greedy answer. We opted for unbridled capitalism at the expense of liberty… “we cannot turn back the clock… but we can say fuck you to your bullshit and lies.” Heavy stuff. I haven’t heard this much cussing outside of hip hop records in a long time but it’s fitting. The sometimes coarse language helps deliver the message more forcefully. And, well, I like cuss words.

It seems that with the dark times we face in the world, be it climate change, corrupt politicians, poverty, hunger, and greed that we have finally caught up to Roger Waters’ dark vision of humanity. This album feels, to use the cliche, “ripped from the headlines.” That can make this a very tough listen for some fans, especially of a certain political stripe. If you want music to distract you from our current situation in the world, this is not the album for you. This is not an album you’d put on a party. But then, Pink Floyd wasn’t really the type of music you’d put on a party… it was music to get high to. “Headphones music” as we used to say.

With all those caveats in place, I do recommend this album. I think it’s the best, most fully realized, musical album Roger Waters has done since, well really, ‘The Wall.’ There’s no overt story you have to read the liner notes to figure out, which is probably a good thing. This is like a brutally honest newscast, set to music. And despite the despair I hear, underneath it all remains a stubborn hope that maybe, eventually, we’ll get it fucking right. Because Roger is right, “it’s never really over…”

Enjoy!

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!