Review Summary: A fiery indictment of modern affairs, and Waters' best solo album.
Roger Waters is back and angrier than ever. After twenty five years of relative absence dating back to 1992’s Amused to Death
, it was not entirely certain that we’d ever hear from the Pink Floyd legend in any sort of meaningful way again. As circumstances would have it however, it seems that the current state of society has stirred him – and Is This The Life We Really Want?
is the sound of a man in his seventies who isn’t afraid to say exactly what’s on his mind. Not that Waters has ever been shy in that regard, but even Amused to Death
’s most biting sarcasm can’t hold a candle to the Waters of 2017, in a time where luxuries such as subtlety are no longer affordable.
The politics of Is This The Life We Really Want?
are unavoidable because they’re the driving force behind the entire composition. The record hinges on its lyrics more than any other musical aspect, taking protest poetry and setting it to Waters’ trademark brand of cynicism, as well as the most Pink Floyd-reminiscent sound of his solo repertoire. ‘Déja Vu’ washes in at track number two – following a brief sound clip interlude – like a cool breeze, feeling like a weathered ‘Wish You Were Here’ that boasts the same beautiful acoustic guitar work, subtle piano undertones, and Waters’ impassioned, swaying vocals. The music stands in stark contrast to the lyrics though, which lament everything from God (“If I had been God, I would’ve sired many sons / And I would not have suffered the Romans to kill even one of them”
) to drone strikes (“If I were a drone, I would be afraid to find someone home / Maybe a woman at a stove”
) – a common dichotomy present in Waters’ music. It doesn’t take long from there for him to dive right into the dark, cynical reflections that make up the heart of the record.
Picture a courthouse with no fucking laws
Picture a cathouse with no fucking whores
Picture a shithouse with no fucking drains
Picture a leader with no fucking brains
‘Picture That’ feels like the album’s pulse, arriving with a sinister-sounding rhythm that only strengthens as Waters gradually lets his pent up rage out, spitting dark imagery that culminates in the above passage. It feels like a track accidentally left off of The Wall
, which is among the heftiest compliments that can be paid. Spanning nearly seven minutes, it ushers in Is This The Life We Really Want?
’s greatest stretch – both musically and lyrically. The subsequent ‘Broken Bones’ marks a return to the softer, more reflective aura with which the album began; Waters sets something of an abstract tone – “Sometimes I stare at the night sky, see all them stars a billion light years away / And it makes me feel small like a bug on the wall / Who gives a shit anyway, who gives a shit anyway”
– before offering a glimpse of what could have been, if only we’d learned from history: “When World War II was over…the slate was never wiped clean / We could have been free, but we chose to adhere to abundance – we chose The American Dream.”
. Set against the final line of the stanza – “Mistress Liberty, how we abandoned thee!”
– it feels more like the laments of a founding father who returned to find a once hopeful and promising nation festering in self-wrought carnage. Waters always had a knack for capturing the political climate of both America and our entire global society, but the lines he has penned on this album reside among his most potent expressions to date. The title track completes the album’s trifecta of top songs, weighing in with the most transparent anti-Trump moments that include a sound bite of him criticizing the media and innumerable allusions to a fascist regime: “Fear drives the mills of modern man / Every time a student is run over by a tank…Every time a Russian bride is advertised for sale…Every time a young girl’s life is casually spent…Every time a nincompoop becomes the president…Every time the curtain falls on some forgotten life / It is because we all stood by, silent and indifferent. It’s normal!
The primary downfall to Waters’ politically-charged return is that there isn’t more of it on this record. A good deal of Is This The Life We Really Want?
alternates between songs that feel frighteningly relevant and grounded in the present, versus abstract/romantic intellectualism that sometimes hits the mark (‘The Most Beautiful Girl’) and at other times falls by the wayside – such as the underwhelming, three-track collective outro that is ‘Wait for Her’, ‘Oceans Apart’, and ‘Part of Me Died.’ Too much of these stylings feel placated and moderately pleasing, and they stand in a rather awkward contrast to the emotional fire brought forth by ‘Picture That’ and similarly-minded tracks. Despite this criticism there are still positive takeaways, such as the clever turn-of-phrase that composes the majority of the closing track in which Waters spends a great deal of time lamenting what feels like every evil in the world (greed, targeted killings, lethal injections, piracy, perverts, the buying of power, children in pain, indifference) only to counter it with the line “But when I met you, that part of me died”
– an unexpectedly uplifting twist to what feels like a spiraling condemnation. No matter what musical approach is being explored on Is This The Life We Really Want?
, it never abandons being clever and lyrically adept.
Should this be Roger Waters’ swan song, he would be leaving a final chapter worthy of his legacy. One can only hope that he’ll resurface again though, perhaps more hopeful and under better circumstances. Through all of the darkness and anger emanating from Waters’ words here, however, he never once resigns himself – or the world – to its current state. As bleak as things appear to many of us right now, its people that bring about the tides of change – not government, and certainly not one single leader. It starts in our communities, and works from the ground up. Roger knows it, you know it, and so does every oppositional force in our way. So if your answer to the album’s title is no, then Is This The Life We Really Want?
makes a damn fine soundtrack to working towards change.
Is this the life we really want?
It surely must be so
For this is a democracy and what we all say goes