“Progress is a Comfortable Disease” – E.E Cummings
Dystopian, cynical, fearful and disillusioned; these are all adjectives one could use to describe the scathing masterpiece of an album, Animals, by Pink Floyd, released in 1977. This would be the year that punk rock exploded and took the world by storm. Punk was classified by a DIY ethos, it was musically simplistic and accessible, homegrown and mean; Pink Floyd was on a totally different wavelength and in their own league. Pink Floyd, having come out of the underground psychedelic scene in Cambridge and London in the late 60s, could certainly appreciate the dirty punks. However, Animals, musically speaking, could not be further away from the punk sound. This does not mean, however, the psychedelic-turned-arena rockers didn’t know how to get overtly political with their expression.
Pink Floyd was, and still remain, one of the most conscious and socially-driven bands around. At times acting as a vehicle for the band’s chief songwriter, Roger Waters’ vehement, and at times, providing their own disillusioned view of the world and more specifically, of the socio-political and economic conditions of Western capitalist society. The songs found on Animals, of which there are only five, are all long-form compositions and all written by Roger Waters, with some songwriting contributions by David Gilmour, predominately on ‘Dogs’, which was originally coined, ‘You’ve gotta be Crazy’. The songs on the album were very much developed while on the road and were all also considered for the Wish You Were Here album.
Prior to the completion of Animals, the songs were a series of loosely based fragmented ideas. A key ingredient that would give the album its political character, would be George Orwell’s satirical and allegorical novel, Animal Farm. By the way of suspension of disbelief, the story is told through the perspective of farm animals; the animals collectivise, organise and rebel against the human farmer. The rebellion is ultimately betrayed and a dictatorship is established underneath a pig named Napoleon. It has been generally determined as a critique of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and more specifically, Stalin’s regime. The collective of animals who make up the basis of the allegory is eventually categorised into a hierarchical society of social classes, based on the type of animal.
This would be the underlying source of inspiration that Roger Waters would adapt to the 1977 album. Within the polarising and politically polemic Animals, the pigs are the rulers, the dogs are the wannabe imperialists but nevertheless, they possess material wealth, and the sheep are on the bottom, the mindless followers.
Roger Waters used Orwell’s premise and allegory to expertly criticise late-stage capitalism. Stalinist dictatorship and life under his regime was underpinned by the kind of poverty and oligarchy rule that, many would argue, exists today in Western countries. It often intersects in their realistic manifestations; whether it is big government or big corporations, they both represent an anti-democratic form of society where a large majority of people do not have any say in their own affairs. In songs like ‘Pigs on the Wing (Part One)’ Roger Waters points out the devastating effects of alienation and dullness that occurs in people’s powerless lives:
“If you didn’t care what happened to me,
And I didn’t care for you,
We would zig-zag our way through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain.
Wondering which of the buggers to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing.”
The ‘Pigs on a Wing’ is a striking image that triggers a sort of cognitive dissonance. On one hand, it could be viewed as an image of the leaders up high maintaining their position of elitism. On the other hand, Roger Waters made a comment that would actually suggest otherwise: “The flying pig is a symbol of hope.” ‘Pigs on a Wing’ — both parts — might also be more personal to Roger Waters himself and his marriage. Waters continues his remarks on the opening number, “there was a certain amount of doubt as to whether that one was going to find its way onto the album. But I thought it was very necessary. Otherwise, the album would have just been a kind of scream, you know, of rage.” At the very least, there is a tinge of hope within this song.
To add more confusion to the equation, Waters describes a sort of strange concoction of frustration, cynicism and love, about ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’. “’Pigs’ is a kind of fairly compassionate scream of abuse – if you can scream abuse and be compassionate, just by virtue of the last lines of each verse.” Roger Waters also commented on the song’s verse about Mary Whitehouse, who at the time ran an anti-pornography campaign. “I kept throwing that verse away, for about 18 months. But I never managed to write anything else. And I kept coming back to it. I worried a lot about it, because she doesn’t really merit mention, you know? Except in a way, she does.”
Roger described Whitehouse as a “terribly frightened woman. She’s frightened, isn’t she? That we’re all being perverted.” Whitehouse stands out as an archetypal character within Floyd’s Animals concept album; her fear of perversion is the kind of paranoia of the progressing world that modernism tends to sweep over the masses. This paranoia is something we can all relate to, whatever the fear may be. In many ways, Animals, through the prism of the socio-political dystopian lens of Orwell, examines these different aspects of the human experience, whether it be love, fear, paranoia, hierarchies within society, or late-stage capitalism.
Overall, Pink Floyd’s seminal record Animals is a commentary on the sweeping effects of modernism and the alienation that results from technological advances. It took the works of Orwell and updated them through Pink Floyd’s own prog-rock spectrum.
Listen to ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’ from Pink Floyd’s Animals below.