My fourth Pink Floyd review fulfills an implied commitment I made in my less-than-impressed review of Dark Side of the Moon: “I gave Wish You Were Here a very positive review and will probably do the same for Animals if I ever get around to reviewing it.”
Five years and nine months later, here we are.
While I might go back and edit that review for tone someday, I still find Dark Side of the Moon a bore. Wish You Were Here remains my favorite, and I’ll always have a soft spot for Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I haven’t explored the period beginning with David Gilmour’s entry up to Dark Side of the Moon in any depth, but I’m intrigued by their musical development and the collaborative nature of the band during those formative years.
It may sound odd to bring up collaboration while preparing to review the album that some believe was the crucial moment in Floyd history when Roger Waters launched his almost-bloodless coup and took over the band. Although I hate getting into rock star soap operas, I’ll just say that Roger Waters wrote most of the music because David Gilmour was caring for his newborn daughter and that Pink Floyd’s main strength—musical collaboration—is demonstrably alive and well on Animals. Gilmour may have shown up late to the party, but his presence is undeniable and his contributions beyond noteworthy. The efforts of Richard Wright and Nick Mason demonstrate that their heads were still very much in the game.
If Mr. Waters developed any nefarious motives following that serendipitous opportunity, they would have been exposed on The Wall . . . which I intend to review in less than five years and nine month’s time.
When you read reviews or commentary on Animals, somewhere in the narrative you’ll find a reference to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some going so far to claim that the album is “loosely-based” on the popular Orwellian work. Even Roger Waters tried to peddle this nonsense in a lame and unnecessary attempt to give his work literary cred.
The only thing Animals has in common with Animal Farm is the use of anthropomorphism involving animals. By the same token, you could say that Animals is loosely-based on the work of Aesop, La Fontaine, Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling or C. S. Lewis. The cows, horses, goats, hens and cats that populated Orwell’s work do not make even cameo appearances on Animals. Animal Farm is a satiric critique of the dynamics behind totalitarianism as manifested in the Soviet Union and now feels somewhat dated; Animals is a study of the impact of capitalism as manifested in the two centuries following the Industrial Revolution and the new social strata that emerged as a result of that tectonic change. At present, Pink Floyd’s opus is the far more relevant work, as the communism-that-wasn’t-even-communism is dead, while the excesses of unfettered capitalism continue to divide society and inflict massive damage on the planet.
Other than the human observer who appears briefly at the beginning and end of the work, Waters gave us only three animals to work with: pigs, dogs and sheep. The pigs are the people at the top, the obscenely wealthy or high-born who control the works and maintain power by feeding bullshit to the dogs and fear to the sheep. The nature of the dogs is captured in the phrase “It’s a dog-eat-dog world.” They have been manipulated by the pigs to believe in the virtues of competitive behavior and are tossed a bone or two as a reward for their pointless pursuit of ephemeral riches and empty status symbols. The sheep are the lambs led to the slaughter who have been narcotized by the pigs through a combination of an educational system that reinforces obedience while discouraging curiosity, and a religion that renders them fearful and meek (though they’re told they will eventually inherit the earth). In accordance with the inherent sadomasochism of a hierarchy, the dogs get to take their frustrations out on the sheep, who fear and loathe them.
In an absolutely brilliant thematic move, the stories of the animals are bookended by an acoustic song in two parts embracing the repeatedly honored rock theme of relationship-as-refuge. “Pigs on the Wing (Part One)” places the entire work in that context by emphasizing the importance of mutual caring as a form of healing, resilience and defense against the mad world we’re about to explore:
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
That beautiful example of poetic economy remains ultra-relevant forty-some-odd years later. Between Trump and Brexit, there are plenty of buggers to blame, but due to pig-designed defects in our allegedly democratic processes, the average person can’t do much to change things. Ergo, the best survival strategy is to find someone to love or a close-knit community and hope the warring animals don’t interfere much with your real life. As one who never voted until I had the opportunity to vote for a woman and against the biggest pig of all, I’ve always believed in the notion of relationships as a sanctuary, and in the end, when my vote didn’t mean dick (nor did the vote of the majority), I still had my partner and my family to fall back on and remind me there are more important things in life than pointless power struggles.
Our first deep dive into the album’s cast of furry characters involves the dogs, who are presented as an insanely competitive and thoroughly self-destructive bunch. You generally find dogs in the upper tiers of business, especially in the sales and marketing departments, but the species also includes politicians and other high-powered grifters. The dogs described in the song reflect the pack animal rather than that cute little Yorkie sitting in your lap, and understanding the social order of pack mentality is crucial to appreciating the song. Beyond the observable traits of a pack (fighting amongst themselves for the top dog spot, intense territoriality, hierarchy enforced through sadomasochism), “Pack mentality is a phenomenon in which people make decisions based upon the actions of others, sometimes without even realizing it” (Inpathy Bulletin, 11/7/14). In other words, the dogs have created a social structure based on aggressive competition that contains a built-in self-destruct mechanism in the form of GroupThink. The genes that give them the ability to protect themselves in the wild aren’t balanced with genes that would give them self-awareness. They lack the capacity to recognize that they’ve been seriously fucked by their genetic make-up and can be easily manipulated by the pigs.
If you’ve spent any time working in business, you should be pretty familiar with dogs and their contradictory behavior: they possess the social graces necessary to fit in and can be quite charming, but beneath the smiles and handshakes there’s a near-rabid animal who sees you as another enemy to eliminate on his way up the corporate ladder:
And 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 backs on you,
You’ll get the chance to put the knife in
This dynamic creates a toxic environment where people work in a constant state of fear because you’re never quite sure who is a friend and who will screw you in a New York minute. The music supporting the first three verses reflects this perpetual tension through a combination of high-speed acoustic strumming, a markedly eerie organ and a set of chords that defy resolution (Dm9, Ebmaj7sus2, Asus2sus4, Absus2), all fixed to a D note drone. The soundscape is one of nervous tension, of frantic uncertainty, of rabid intensity. Gilmour’s first guitar solo (between verses two and three), where he smoothly navigates the warped scales of the unusual chording, captures the inner dissonance of the pack, a point punctuated by hysterical laughter in the background and descending augmented chords as the solo fades. In another brilliant move, Waters and Gilmour begin to establish the narrator’s manic depression in the still frenetic music of the third verse, foreshadowing the musical descent into half-tempo where the narrator makes the full transition from cutthroat competitor to self-pitying mortal:
You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder
You know it’s going to get harder, and harder, and harder as you get older
And in the end you’ll pack up and fly down south
Hide your head in the sand,
Just another sad old man
All alone and dying of cancer
(transitional verse, half-tempo)
And when you lose control, you’ll reap the harvest you have sown
And as the fear grows, the bad blood slows and turns to stone
And it’s too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around
So have a good drown, as you go down, all alone
Dragged down by the stone (stone, stone, stone, stone, stone)
That tempo shift is extremely well-executed, beginning with a barely perceptible easing up on the accelerator that eventually slows the music to a crawl, then a dead stop. A double lead guitar follows the brief caesura with a bluesy mournful duet in the upper register, and gradually the music dies down, the tempo turns funereal, and the narrator delivers the transitional verse in a tired, defeated voice over a background of acoustic guitar and barking dogs.
An extended synthesized wall of sound follows, a reflection on inevitable doom that eventually takes us back to the original chord pattern. The narrator finally seems to get it, but that fleeting moment vanishes in a second as he reverts to learned behavior:
I gotta admit that I’m a little bit confused
Sometimes it seems to me as if I’m just being used
Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise
If I don’t stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze?
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results,” wrote Rita Mae Brown (no relation to Einstein). “Hell yes, you’re being used, you idiot!” I scream into the ether, fully aware that the dumb mutt can’t hear sounds beyond his frequency. The slow march of the closing verses form a sort of eulogy to beings who pissed away their entire lives in pursuit of someone else’s profits, all the while believing they were important people doing important things.
“Dogs” was originally a song called “You’ve Got to Be Crazy” slated for Wish You Were Here, recast by Waters and Gilmour to sync with the themes of Animals. The final product is a superb composition, a thoughtful and impactful blending of music, lyrics and mood. Gilmour is in full command here, his voice and guitar consistently in sync with the tension, aggression and pathos of the species.
No less powerful but for entirely different reasons is the encounter with the elite in “Pigs (Three Different Ones).” The lyrics are bitter, sung in a sweet spot between sarcasm and outrage. The chording is far simpler, largely based on paired chords with slight variations. The simplicity of the foundation allows the instrumentalists to explore a variety of possibilities, but here Floyd avoided the temptation of excessive embellishment by creating a suitably diverse and disciplined arrangement that fills every second of the eleven-plus minutes of the track with dramatic, compelling music.
The discipline is apparent in the extraordinary introduction, where every sound appears at exactly the right moment, where the superfluous has no place. Opening with the grunts of a satisfied pig, Richard Wright gives us a shot across the bow from the synthesizer before switching over to the organ to produce the foreboding minor-key refrain—one of several repetitive figures in the piece. Gilmour enters on fretless bass with a clever counterpoint melodic line played with almost classical precision while a pig grunts away in the background. The smoother textures provided by Wright and Gilmour then give way to the deliciously rough sound of Roger Waters on rhythm guitar. As the volume builds, Richard Wright slips in an echo of the organ theme from somewhere on the astral plane, high above the tension produced by the warring textures, a move that gives me the shivers. Nick Mason then gives us a simple pair of triple beats on the toms to cue Waters’ explosive opening lines:
Big man, pig man
Ha ha, charade you are
Roger knocks me on my ass every time I hear his multiple-breath vocal on the first line, violating every rule of proper breathing techniques but perfect for the communication of deep moral outrage—then he gives me seizure-level shivers with the harmonized line “Ha, ha, charade you are.” It doesn’t matter how many times I hear it, or what kind of mood I’m in—the opening to “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” commands my complete attention, like the music is clutching every fiber in my being.
That may imply that the rest of the song is some kind of letdown, but nothing could be further from the truth. The ominous tension produced by the spare arrangement is as absorbing as a great Hitchcock film, and the explosive variations just as thrilling. The extended instrumental passage, which alternates between two chord pairings (Em/D and C/Bb), features an excruciatingly slow but terribly exciting build. As the song moves from electric guitar chords lazily floating over grunting pigs to a Gilmour solo where he mimics pig sounds on his guitar with the help of a Heil talk box before soaring to the heavens, the soundscape is transformed into one of swirling madness. As the solo ends, Richard Wright is right there with that minor-key organ refrain to pull it all together. Though sometimes Floyd can overdo it with lengthy spacing between movements, they frigging nailed it here.
Though not as comprehensive as “Dogs” or “Sheep” in terms of cataloging the habits of the species, “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” gives us vivid samples of pigdom in the form of three different types and assumes that the listener can fill in the blanks. We can infer from the three samples that pigs are gluttonous, greedy, cruel and controlling. In each sketch of a pig, Waters gives us one or two memorable lines that pretty much says it all:
- Pig 1: “With your head down in the pigpen/Saying ‘Keep on digging.”
- Pig 2: “You radiate cold shafts of broken glass.”
- Pig 3 (moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse): “All tight lips and cold feet.”
Though Waters occasionally crosses the line into making the song about his personal feelings as opposed to evoking the listener’s emotions (“You fucked up old hag”), most listeners can identify with his “How dare they!” orientation, feeling the same mix of astonishment and indignation that such morally corrupt beings have been granted control over the whole works.
We now plummet to the bottom of the social hierarchy in “Sheep,” another song rescued from the Wish You Were Here scrapheap. The original (“Raving and Drooling”) was conceived as an extended jam piece, which may explain why “Sheep” lacks the compositional strength of its companions. The music is oddly uptempo, and I don’t know about you, but when I think of sheep, speed isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. The brilliance of “Sheep” is found in the lyrics, a marvelously wicked take on Psalm 23:
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
In the end, they respond to the news of the dogs’ self-inflicted demise by deciding to stay home and out of sight . . . like sheep.
The album ends with “Pigs on the Wing (Part 2),” where Roger Waters not only returns to the theme of relationship-as-refuge but surprisingly admits that he’s as much of a dog as anyone else in the music business:
You know that I care
What happens to you
And I know that you care
For me too
So I don’t feel alone
Or the weight of the stone
Now that I’ve found somewhere safe
To bury my bone
And any fool knows a dog needs a home
A shelter from pigs on the wing
I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t found anyone online who picked up on the erotic pun, but I’m happy for Roger that he found a nice wet pussy where he can bury his horny rockstar bone.
In the end, Animals reflects both the dreary gloom and the accompanying anger of the British populace in the late ‘70s as they realized that the system had failed them. The punks of the era also expressed similar sentiments in shorter, rougher bursts of frustration, but really, the difference between the punks and Pink Floyd was a matter of form over substance. Though the whole “I Hate Pink Floyd” thing was overblown, the band became a symbol of what the punks considered musical excess and unbridled pretentiousness. That was unfortunate, for the acrid, focused and insightful social criticism featured on Animals clearly indicates they were all on the same side.
Talk about dog-eat dog.