Review Summary: The rawest and roughest record of their entire career
Imagine that your friend has gone both physically and mentally. You are at the top and it looks lonely. A new demographic is rejecting your music and instead listening to something harder, faster and louder. Critics are lukewarm at best, dismissive at worst regarding your previous album. You are beginning to hate your band members because they do not take the job that seriously. You want to remain relevant in popular music without cashing in and you want to make it clear you're not going to be messed around with, not by an A&R fat cat, not by a rival songwriter who you don't hold in high regard anyway, and certainly not by moral guardians who want to censor everything that may even slightly show flesh.
Now, what to do, indeed. What to do when you have to you follow-up the follow-up of your biggest album. Well, it's simple, actually. Revisit shelved material to see if there's gold in the abandoned hills. Voila, you do, from a series of gigs in 1974. These jams were You've Gotta Be Crazy and Raving & Drooling, and then you build on them, jamming some more, trying to play more and more before you end up killing your band members. This actually happened with Pink Floyd, and still reeling after the success of their eighth album from 1973 and coming to terms with the weight of the lyrical themes expressed on Wish You Were Here, their magnum opus, life moved on. Except, of course, for Roger Waters. After putting paid to documenting his sense of overwhelming guilt over losing Syd Barrett to his own mind, an increasingly bitter Waters rounded up the other band members, and slogged on through with what was to be the follow-up for a good eight months or so.
In that time, a lot of the prog rock and hard rock dominating the charts was beginning to be rejected by the younger audiences, instead wanting something that reflected their world and their youth. They wanted no future, and that's what they got eventually, but for now let's just say it was one Tales From Topographic Oceans too far. The excess of rock 'n' roll was becoming a chore. No-one cared about long arse songs when you could rip through a rendition of Johnny B. Goode in less than two minutes. No-one cared about being polished when you can play pop songs sloppily and still create gold, a la Ramones. And there's this cool band called The Stooges. I heard they're really cool. By the time John Lydon donned his infamous t-shirt "I Hate Pink Floyd" - he actually loves their music but did so to court controversy; shocking - it was clear that the band needed to do something.
Based on a vague and loose reading of 1984, Animals was the result. A hard hitting, elongated prog rock album with some of Pink Floyd's best and most aggressive material. The same band who had previously made songs like A Pillow of Winds was not messing around this time; they meant business, and they had something to say that people would not like. Or rather, with him now dominating the lyrics and concepts, Waters did. Gilmour was mostly on paternity leave, getting a writing credit for half of the first of three epic suite of songs, and Wright was being pushed a little more to the back. Mason was Mason.
The new studio that had been constructed for the band, Britannia Row, was damp and smelly. The songs were being recorded close to a pretty bitter winter. Like the front cover of the album, it was all work and dull play, playing this increasingly irate and cynical material that makes the depressing messages on DSOTM read like a nursery rhyme. Gone are the personal and relaxed passages of WYWH, and in come barbed attacks on British society. Imagine being David Gilmour and reading those lyrics to Dogs. Having to laugh at a "sad old man/dying of cancer". Waters really came out of the woodwork and exposed himself as a total bastard. There were shades of it before, of course, particularly in the spiteful parody of The Man on Have a Cigar, or Welcome to the Machine, or even on something like Free Four. Yet, this is the first Pink Floyd album whereby Roger Waters gets truly nasty across an entire record. Animals' choice of critters is not flattering at all, and can read as damn near condescending. There are the dogs, who are the right hand men who work themselves into the ground only to be put out of their misery. There are the pigs, who control everything and live in excess & greed at the expense of others. There are the sheep, who are the mindless masses of people ruled by the pigs and policed by the dogs. You can see where this metaphor is going.
It's generally gathered that the narrator across most of these songs is a dog himself, probably much like how Waters felt about his position in the music industry and society at large. There is some 1st person perspective in Sheep - "we fell on his neck with a scream" - to suggest the character is a sheep himself, but the album reads as a dog realising his place in society and rallying against it; Hence, the rebellion at the end ("the dogs are dead"), and the closing outro suggesting a fugitive situation.
In classic Pink Floyd fashion, it wouldn't be an album of theirs without bookends. The first Pigs on the Wing is a tender love song, just Waters and an acoustic guitar strumming away open chords. It's somewhat hopeful and acts as a stark contrast to the depressing world about to be unfolded. From the final strums, new acoustic guitars rise. A slide guitar, I think, with a synthesizer introduces itself against the melancholic open chords. And then the sole vocal from David Gilmour begins, serving as the opening narrative of the album. It's one of the ultimate backstabbing songs, Gilmour acting as almost a justification for the dogs to act in the way they do. Oh and then there is the first of many delicious solos. In fact, I'd wager that Dogs alone contains David Gilmour's finest axe work. The whole album, actually, is the closest he came to totally shredding. Whilst both DSOTM and WYWH had that, the former was occasional and the latter mainly focused on soul and emotion as opposed to anger. Here, his guitar sounds crazed, bending beyond reprieve. The drums and bass carry on one pace at a time, Wright's work somewhat buried in the mix, and when Gilmour returns things turn very sour indeed.
I know the lyric of this particular verse just ends on "cancer", but it does sound like Gilmour is laughing at the "sad old man" because of this. My Dad reckons that this line is proof alone that Roger Waters is a nasty man.
I need to mention the soaring dual guitars in the first solo. They are truly delicious, sliding guitars occasionally glide across the speaker, the synths warbling, the bass just pummelling along. And then, the final motion - the chord sequence of F to D# against increasingly harmonic bass and intense organs. It's the musical equivalent of two animals melting into one another and one of the best things ever.
That's until, of course, when the song dies down for its next section. Acoustic guitars come back, Waters' bass is more melodic and relies on octaves/higher notes against dog sound effects. Mason fills and Gilmour lets rip another awesome solo. Pinch harmonics galore, a contrast between his drop D guitar tuning and notes well beyond the 12th fret. Check out the bending and the sudden strums after another round. When his guitar squeals and howls, he opens his mouth again to further beat the listener into submission. The music, meanwhile, is tame at first - it stops and starts before finally dying a calm death (before the storm of course).
"So have a good drown, as you go down alone
Dragged down by the stone"
Stone. Stone. Stone. Bark. Bark. Dark. As much as this section is somewhat maligned, I do love me some padding if done right. A waltz like haze between ride cymbals, occasional snares, Wright totally stealing the show with his glorious synth work, Waters' ostinato single note strikes against dog sound effects. Goes on for about five minutes before the song repeats itself, this time with subtle changes. The vibrating ARP Solina/Minimoog accompanies the guitars and you can hear some flanger in the effects. Also, most importantly, Roger Waters opens his mouth again and it's the sole voice you will now hear across the record. The perspective has changed, of course, and so it seems has the dog's opinion of himself. How he's "a little confused", how he views the dog as cynical beyond belief ("no-one has a real friend...you believe at heart everyone's a killer!") And another solo! More Gilmour badassery before the repeat of the dual guitar leads that, since listening to bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, has become my musical G spot. It dies down - will we get another repeat of the first section? Nope, a tom fill, and Roger Waters' favourite thing: repetition, this time arguably driving him some of his greatest lyrics. Again, the music just keeps smashing along the listener's ears, subverting the expectation that Pink Floyd only made relaxing music. Across the way, we get echoed effects - "breaking away...only a stranger" - and harmonised vocals. The ending section, the final stone, repeats a prior motif and ends the song and indeed most of the album on a sour yet deeply satisfying note. Dragged down by the stone, indeed.
If Dogs was about outliving one's usefulness and being laid to waste by karma after years of blackmail and betrayal, then Pigs (Three Different Ones) is totally devoted to spiting the powers the be. It's not a flattering portrayal of power at all, all from the point of view from someone gaining pleasure from decrying and denouncing them. The pig metaphor is, again, not entirely original. What is, however, is the lengths Waters goes through to totally tear these pigs to shreds. In live shows today, he often uses Donald Trump (orange man bad) as a modern day target. The song itself is a masterpiece in tension, from the opening laser beams giving way to an insanely melodic fretless bass (played by Gilmour), and scratchy rhythm guitars. The main organ riff is backed by synths and drum strikes, before the song begins proper, somewhat of a retread of Have a Cigar in both funk feel and sleaze factor. More cowbell, please, and more bending guitars too. Oh and if you're in any doubt that Animals is Pink Floyd's nastiest album and Roger Waters pulled out all the stops to totally poo on everyone's picnic. Allegedly, this section is dedicated to the then emerging MP and eventually PM Margaret Thatcher:
"Bus stop rat bag
Haha, charade you are
You ***ed up old hag
Haha, charade you are"
The bridge section is also Animals' most unsettling moment. From the sound effects of pigs snorting to off-kilter rhythm guitar, employing the 7th note in C to give the song a sour quality, to the thumping bass. When the drums come in on the ride, across some atmospheric organs and Minimoog, it's genuinely scary and imposing. A fill from Mason, and then Gilmour enters on the talkbox for his guitar, snorting and oinking away, squealing with no abandon as the song gradually rises in tension and reaches an eargasmic crescendo. Looping back to the beginning, the main organ part repeats over melodic bass. The scratchy guitars are back, and heavy breathing ensues. So is Waters. Note that "Whitehouse" is a jab at moral crusader Mary Whitehouse and not the American White House, though it could apply in hindsight.
Gilmour kills it at the end. The song explodes to life at the finishing line, with his guitar literally squealing mockingly, screaming against the drums. The bass also performs in octaves, gradually ascending and descending against the sound of fire from Gilmour's six-stringed axe. And from the eventual fade comes the calming, almost too calm sound of sheep on the horizon.
A bah here and there. Munching on the grass. You can hear the insects chirping away with not a single care in the world. Then, from nowhere, Wright's Fender Rhodes twinkles away. Playing around scales like a classical pianist. Something feels very, very wrong. Pay closer attention and a bass not to dissimilar to the ones on One of These Days begins to rear its head over a period of nearly two minutes. Then the root note changes, and changes again. Reversed drums, a growing sense of tension, and then finally the most upbeat and energetic song on Animals begins. Sheep used to be my least favourite, but I now consider it to be one of the many pinnacles of Pink Floyd's career. Waters sounds fiery, the guitars just shred, and the shuffly groove is to die for. Lyrically, too, it's a condescending "I told you so" warning about not trusting authority and the danger of conformity. And yes, Barnet8, we should talk about how Roger’s voice turns into a synth in Sheep. Amazing stuff, that.
Further and further in, you can hear Waters angry at the ignorance of the masses. I still read this as patronising and borderline hypocritical, didactic to the core. Yet, the music is so good I don't really mind. After that, another break section, this time allowing Wright to show off more of his Minimoog chops. The reprise of the chorus ensues with some more scratchy rhythm guitar work, before the bridge section. Complete, of course, with repeating the "stone" motif from earlier on. Waters, over a vocoder, recites a bizarre rendition of Psalm 23:1 against the song's increasingly miserable atmosphere, with dissonant horror movie style synths.
Then, we're back to the action, and the sheep have taken charge once and for all. This time, though, they're now the new masters, and the cycle of oppression and conformity shall continue.
The outro of Sheep. Holy crap. Just hear it. Those guitar leads and the bass octaves against the organs. The drums just thrashing. The sound of a band that could jam on forever if they didn't hate each other so bloody much. Then the song dies down, eventually, and that sound effect at the beginning returns. The status quo has come back, the sheep are ruled by dogs in sheep's clothing. (see what I did there?)
The familiar chords from an acoustic guitar return. You hear a sense of vindication, almost, of relief. The narrator has escaped, for now at least.
It's almost absurd to call this album underrated, but in the wider world, it sort of is. Preceded by two classics and proceeded by a mammoth rock opera, it's almost too easy to forget about Animals and how awesome it is. In today's climate, unfortunately, it's more relevant than ever before.
Animals is surely one of the greatest Pink Floyd albums, easily their second best, and contender for top dog in their entire discography. It's certainly the final moment the band were exactly that: a band. And if that's an opinion that could get me killed, then well, I suppose I better be dragged down by the stone.