Pink Floyd album Animals is one of the most perfectly realised records in the prog canon: romantic and satirical, achingly personal and deeply political, its themes and lyrics detail the changing Britain occurring in front of the band. It was the sound of a millionaire absolving himself from the guilt he had thrust upon himself by returning to the blue-collar texts that had formed his personal library. But the album emanated within Roger Waters’ orbit, and perhaps inevitably, his ambitions and political predilections helped to further the widening gap between him and his bandmates. By the time Pink Floyd recorded The Wall, Waters’ influence was proving resolute, and by the time they recorded The Final Cut, the band served as little more than a thinly veiled pseudonym for the bassist and musical director.
All sorts of elements led to this supposed promotion: Waters’ self-appointed role as band lyricist put him in the perfect position to direct the band on their albums, corresponding with Richard Wright’s lethargy, a decided contrast to the team spirit that soaked Dark Side of The Moon and Wish You Were Here.
More ominous still was the rise of punk rock: a sub-genre of music that was growing more popular with the working classes, who were likening the prog hierarchy to the bourgeoisie who discriminated against the 1970s giants like a force of lightening aching to strike a neighbouring town. The only way for Pink Floyd to stay relevant was to write an elegy to the changing England, proving to their dissenters that they were as committed to the revolution as John Lydon was.
These grumbles might have been discarded, except for Lydon’s determination to topple the mighty quartet with a charmingly branded T-shirt that read: “I hate Pink Floyd”. And although Waters and his bandmates were above criticism, they had to acquiesce to the rebellion by adapting the novel that seeped into the punk crowd with the fire and ferocity its characters exhibited: Animal Farm.
As it happens, Waters work only borrows some aspects from the towering George Orwell novel, but it was enough to make an impression on the world, especially when radios were demanding accessible works over elliptic pieces from their icons. Yet the band were still happy to construct a number of exhilarating instrumental passages that had long been their trade, and the guitar flourishes – as can be heard on the blistering ‘Sheep’ – maintained the energy, acidity and technical acumen that the band were renowned for.
Waters voice ripples through the album with cut-glass precision, confident in his abilities to service the story in question, and only vacates for one number. Elsewhere, the album soars under the sound of his determined larynx, proving his right to claim the album as much his work as a band effort. But it must have been galling for guitarist David Gilmour, who receives one solitary co-writing credit, when Waters divided ‘Pigs on the Wing’ over two sides of vinyl, thus doubling his royalty rate.
Pink Floyd thrived on spontaneity, a quirk that led the band from recording an album based on household objects into one of their far-reaching ballads, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, and Nick Mason’s drumming performance on ‘Dogs’ is scattered with moments of brusquely-designed cymbal fills. The song is also notable for boasting one of Gilmour’s note-perfect falsettos, lacing the listeners with confection before Waters hurried-sneer rushes in to remind them of their disconsolate stations in life.
By the time the band were ready to perform the album live, they introduced another musician, Snowy White, which liberated the band from certain restrictions: a stark contrast to the rustic performances of their early career. White’s ability to shift from guitar to bass freed Waters to maintain eye contact with the band, as audiences pivoted from the sides of a stage to the sanctity of the front. But his desire to compromise was fading, and he recalled many of the shows with contempt and chagrin.
“It became a social event rather than a more controlled and ordinary relationship between musicians and an audience,” he ruefully recalled, exhibiting frustrations in a manner that reflected Lydon’s nihilism. In July 1977, the songwriter’s patience was pushed too far, and in a moment of incautious fury, spat at a member of the audience.
This wasn’t the action of a rockstar emulating the competitive spark of the punk contingent, but a glaring misjudgement of error, an action Waters still carries to this day. But if any album was written to quash misgivings and surround you with oratory, Animals is the one. And in the changing environment we live in, the tender ‘Pigs on A Wing’, gracefully-produced ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’, and the urgent dissection of wailing vocals and pummeling drums on ‘Dogs’, Waters’ work sounds more prescient than it ever did before.
In 2018, Waters revived the work to discredit the presidency of Donald Trump. Decorating the stage with a series of unedifying objects, before turning the attention of his audience to a painting of the television presenter, presenting the disgraced politician that was even more hideous than the policies he was accused of. Delicious!