Friday, 29 August 2008

Pink Floyd, Animals (1977, EMI Harvest)

The press say it's crap. We say it's great.

Pink Floyd are universally acclaimed as one of the Top Bands of all time. Out of all their albums, Dark Side of The Moon and The Wall are generally those held as the most representative bodies of work. And, in fact, they are absolute masterpieces.

1977's Animals, however, is their most underrated. With a sleeve featuring the post industrial desolation of decaying Battersea Power Station as a poignant depiction of 70s Britain, Animals is often slated as too bitter, suffocating and difficult. Instead, it contains some of their edgiest, most stripped-down, innovative and inspired music - adding an extra dimension to their sound.

It has been written that Animals' guitar-laden, raw atmosphere was Pink Floyd's way of winking at punk. But that would be at odds with the fact it contains five tracks only, with some stretching to over 10 minutes which, by punk's standards, would be absolute sacrilege. So, more likely it was Pink Floyd's two fingers at punk - or any fad.

Lyrically, Roger Waters powerfully dissects, regurgitates and develops George Orwell's Animal Farm in the satire of mankind portrayed as dogs, pigs and sheep. As opposed to The Wall and The Final Cut which blend caustic, vitriolic lyrics with a fairly muted and sombre atmosphere, on Animals Waters' anger, cynicism and internal turmoil all lend themselves well to the stifling, hard-edged music.

Part of its charm consists in its extremely moody quality, as it alternates jumpy tempos, brutal stabs and violent guitars with dark, repetitive, claustrophobic sections, along with a haze of electronic experimentation (the use of vocoder and talkbox, for instance, mangling words for extra-choking effect).

Dogs is one of the heaviest tracks in Pink Floyd's career and contains some of David Gilmour's finest and most neurotic guitar work. Waters is spot-on in his savage portrait of capitalism, yuppies' ruthless ambition and the stab-in-the-back ethos of social climbers:

"After a while you can work on points for style/Like the club tie and the firm handshake/A certain look in the eye and an easy smile/You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to /So that when they turn their back on you/You'll have the chance to put the knife in"

Pigs (Three Different Ones) is Waters' critique of stuck-up, out-of-touch authority. Containing some fine keyboards from Rick Wright (indeed, some consider Animals his last tangible contributions to a Floyd album), it sketches three scornful portraits. There's Mary Whitehouse, guard dogs of old British morals and high priest of censorship; the then-Opposition Leader Margaret Thatcher (though her name isn't directly mentioned) and finally then-Prime Minister James Callaghan. Each of them is described as "nearly a laugh...but really a cry". Gilmour's brutal solo as a round-off to Pigs (Three Different Ones) is easily one of his career's best.

The tempo picks up again with Sheep, a scathing depiction of the passive multitudes, the blind followers who are "only faintly aware of a certain unease in the air" when they're ready for capitalistic slaughter. For each accusation of extreme negativity and defeatism, there's the fact that Sheep offers - in typical Floyd fashion- some blunt social and political commentary.

"What do you get for pretending the dangers not real/
Meek and obedient you follow the leader/
Down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel"

Also included is a parody of Psalm 23 and the bollocks of Promised Lands that the masses have been promised since day one while they're queuing for their metaphorical slaughterhouse.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me down to lie, Through pastures green, He leadeth me the silent waters by. With bright knives, He releaseth my soul. He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places. He converteth me to lamb cutlets. For lo! He hath great power and great hunger. When cometh the day we lowly ones, Through quiet reflection and great dedication, Master the art of karate, Lo! we shall rise up/ And then we'll make the bugger's eyes water."

Animals is hardly radio-friendly material and the lack of a single makes it even more obvious. It was never likely to emerge as their easiest album to get into. But the fact remains, Pink Floyd were never about MOR and Animals makes some clever and moving statements while the music shows a totally different angle of their most popular works.

1 comment:

Planet Me said... is my equally appreciative assessment of their finest work.