We should talk about Roger Waters’ Amused to Death for a bit. Well, perhaps we don’t actually have to, but I want to and it would seem the new reissue of his masterful 1992 record would be a good opportunity to do so. Here’s what I thought then, and here’s what I think now.
I was still quite a young lad back in the early nineties, but I vividly remember the release of Pink Floyd’s last proper studio effort The Division Bell, and the buzz it sent through our house at the time. My dad was, and is, a massive fan of the Floyd, which means he was properly excited for a new album. I also very clearly remember the concert in London’s Earl’s Court, which was broadcast somewhere in 1994 or 1995 on the BBC, which we of course taped. We watched a part of it in the early morning – namely the show’s closing numbers Comfortably Numb and Run Like Hell. Sitting in front of the television that morning, I was absolutely gobsmacked. The musicianship, the insane light show, the atmosphere; these guys made music, and they made it especially for me. I bought myself a used copy of Wish You Were Here the next morning.
(In an almost creepy coincidence, the radio station I have playing on the background decides to play Shine On You Crazy Diamond I-V as I’m writing that last sentence. Then again, Wish You Were Here is known for its strange coincidences).
Fast forward a few years, and there’s the entire discography sitting on my shelf. For some reason, however, I never thought to look outside of what the individual band members did on their own, save for Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs. I knew of Gilmour’s About Face, I’d heard of Wright’s Wet Dream and I was faintly aware that Waters was still doing stuff, but other than The Tide Is Turning from the Berlin Wall show at Potzdamer Platz to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, and The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking‘s title song, which they sometimes played on the local rock radio station, I hadn’t heard any of it. This changed somewhere in 1996, when I happened to stumble upon Amused to Death, an album which was at the time largely ignored by press and media alike. Unfairly ignored, too. Luckily, over the course of the years, it grew into somewhat of a classic by word of mouth, and we arrive in 2015, where Waters deemed the time ripe for a remaster. And boy, does it deliver.
2015’s Amused to Death is like having your old car completely refitted and repainted. It’s still the same old beast under the hood, but with added functionality and a fresh lick of paint to make it appear brand new. At least, that’s how I imagine it would be, not having owned a car in my life. Amused to Death is still the same album, but with added bells and whistles, and with a sparkling shine to the overall sound. It’s not every day you get a remaster which actually sounds, you know, remastered, but Waters and long-time collaborator James Guthrie have really updated the sound into the modern age. The balance between instruments is better, the effects are louder (no, really, LOUDER; reminds me a bit of those labels on Running Wild’s Under Jolly Roger album back in the day, where the buyer was warned that “this record contains loud sound effects”), and tiny bits and bobs are added to make this the record Waters had intended in the first place.
Now, added material sounds like sacrilege of course, but I’m glad to be able to report that Waters did not go all George Lucas here, adding creepy blinking eyes to the recordings or changing Bill Hubbard into Hayden Christensen at the end. What is there, to stay in science fiction territory, are the added samples from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which most of us were already familiar with from various live recordings (most notably In the Flesh). And it adds tremendously to the tense atmosphere when you’re being led into Perfect Sense pt. I. It’s not much, but it’s a definite improvement in my book.
Amused to Death’s 2015 reissue thrives on such small, but important details. A hitherto barely audible flurry on the keyboard is brought back to the fore here, and a guitar lick is given just that bit of extra punch there; you get the idea. And it feels like a different album because of it. I’d even swear Waters has done some vocal overdubs here and there, but I can’t say with absolute certainty. I might come back to that as soon as I’ve done a back-to-back listening session. As a whole, however, Amused to Death is still a massive and impressive album, which hasn’t aged one bit. Some of the songs (Amused to Death, Perfect Sense, It’s a Miracle) rank up there with the better Waters-era Pink Floyd, and it’s beyond any shadow of a doubt the zenith of his solo career (although I hold Ça Ira in very, very high regard). Of course, the Don Henley-led Watching TV is still a bit of a dud, but on an overall excellent record, it’s almost inconsequential.
It is also a very relevant album lyrically, and I might argue that it’s more relevant in this day and age, where the world, rife with suicide-bombing terrorists, race riots, intolerance and hatred seems to burn a little harder every day. Lyrically, like everything Waters has written after The Wall, it’s a sociopolitical satire. He aims his critique at mankind (Too Much Rope), organised religion (What God Wants), modern warfare (The Bravery of Being Out of Range), the influence of mass media (Watching TV), the governments of the world (Perfect Sense) and capitalism (It’s a Miracle). It’s still very dark and very relevant. The sarcasm is biting and the cynicism is almost tangible. There are heaps of brilliant lyrics on Amused to Death, which makes it an album that still deserves to be sat down with, lyric sheet in hand and with your headphones on. And there’s still that great, spiteful stab at Andrew Lloyd Webber for purportedly nicking the main riff from Echoes for the opening of his Phantom of the Opera.
Amused to Death was a triumph back in 1992, and it still is. An often and unfairly overlooked gem, which deserved a decent polishing and the chance to have a second go. Talk to the average Roger Waters fan, and they’ll probably tell you that this is their favourite solo album of his. It’s also the best Pink Floyd album they never released after The Final Cut. If you haven’t given it a chance yet, now is the perfect time to do so. It’s a miracle.
Release: Out now
- The Ballad of Bill Hubbard (4:20)
- What God Wants, Part I (6:00)
- Perfect Sense, Part I (4:14)
- Perfect Sense, Part II (2:51)
- The Bravery of Being Out of Range (4:44)
- Late Home Tonight, Part I (4:01)
- Late Home Tonight, Part II (2:12)
- Too Much Rope (5:47)
- What God Wants, Part II (3:39)
- What God Wants, Part III (4:08)
- Watching TV (6:06)
- Roger Waters – vocals, bass guitar, synthesisers, guitar
- Patrick Leonard – keyboards, percussion programming, choir arrangement, vocals, acoustic piano, Hammond organ, synthesisers
- Jeff Beck – guitar
- Randy Jackson – bass guitar
- Graham Broad – drums, percussion
- Luis Conte – percussion
- Geoff Whitehorn – guitar
- Andy Fairweather Low – guitar, vocals
- Tim Pierce – guitar
- B.J. Cole – guitar
- Steve Lukather – guitar
- Rick DiFonso – guitar
- Bruce Gaitsch – guitar
- James Johnson – bass
- Brian Macleod – snare, hi-hat
- John Pierce – bass guitar
- Denny Fongheiser – drums
- Steve Sidwell – cornet
- John Patitucci – bass guitar
- Guo Yi & the Peking Brothers – dulcimer, lute, zhen, oboe, bass
- John “Rabbit” Bundrick – Hammond organ
- Jeff Porcaro – drums
- Marv Albert – vocals
- Katie Kissoon – vocals
- Doreen Chanter – vocals
- N’Dea Davenport – vocals
- Natalie Jackson – vocals
- P.P. Arnold – vocals
- Lynn Fiddmont-Linsey – vocals
- Jessica Leonard – vocals
- Jordan Leonard – vocals
- Don Henley – vocals
- Jon Joyce – vocals
- Stan Farber – vocals
- Jim Haas – vocals
- Rita Coolidge – vocals
- Alf Razzell – vocals
Review by Ralph Plug