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Pink Floyd “Animals” (1977)
Pigs On The Wing Part One/Dogs//Pigs (Three Different Ones)/Sheep/Pigs On The Wing Part Two
“...And in closing, we want to say what a great time was had by all at the Olympics and how all of the success is down to us!” oinked the pig with the greasy hair filling up most of the stage.
“Baah!” nodded all the sheep in agreement.
“Clear off! Labour set the Olympics up not you – you actually made it harder by taking away the school playing fields despite your promises!” I barked “The truth is all going on my dogblog, you know!”
“...Furthermore’ the fat pig continued, “the economy is recovering, unemployment is down and its all down to our methods!”
“Baah!” nodded all the sheep in agreement.
“Hang on!” I howled, “the economy’s getting worse and the unemployment figures are going down because all the jobseekers have been illegally sanctioned and are living homeless in the streets – stop fudging the figures and admit the truth!”
“The problems we see around us, the riots the burglaries and the attacks are because of the awful poor and their disgusting way of life, nothing to do with us! Look at those terrible riots last year. Remember, work will set you free!” bawled the pig, waving his trotters in a faux nazi salute.
“Baah!” nodded all the sheep in agreement. “As if! How can you take away people’s rights and their futures and not expect them to fight back when you live in the life of luxury sitting on your fat behinds all day at taxpayers’ expense?”
Hold on Max, I thought to myself, you might get yourself in trouble. But I was just so outraged I couldn’t help it.
“Thanks to us we taxpayers can sleep better in our beds knowing that we’re cutting down on benefit cheats and those who play the system”
“Baah!” nodded all the sheep in agreement.
“Woah there!” I yelped, really losing it this time, “I don’t call finding the 0.05% of people on benefits who allegedly do cheat at a cost of a million pounds a year to ATOS very fair. And what about the angst and stress the real people who are poorly have to go through – the 90% success rate of the appeals should tell you all something!”
“This is the best time to be alive and you’ve never had it so good!” cried the pig, into his stride by now. “See how we’re much better off these days! Such freedom! Such magnificent success! We’re the centre of the universe!” “Baaaaaah” nodded all the sheep in agreement.
“Hogwash! You call working for free for some big cat corporation who doesn’t pay you or offer you a job at the end of it freedom? As for the centre of the universe –our empire is dead and buried, our money spent by your friends the bankers! And our animal rights went a long time ago, we can’t even complain nowadays or we’ll be under surveillance!”
The pig pricked his ears up at this “Of course not! We wouldn’t do anything to the likes of you! We respect and accept and value your criticism – as long as we agree with it of course. You voted for us after all! See here everybody, we’re here for your own good!”
“Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” nodded all the sheep in agreement. A nearby pig flew past the window just then.
“Vote for you! I didn’t vote for a coalition to have power you swines – and nor did anyone else! And how come your first act when in power was to give yourself an extra year in power so that a Government nobody wanted rules for five years – that’s absolute nonsense!”
“Hmm” growled the pig, stroking his fat chin, “Where was I? Oh yes, we of course are all upstanding citizens who wouldn’t dream of taking your money for the wrong reasons!”
“Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” nodded all the sheep in agreement.
“Haahahahahahahahahaha!” I knew it was dangerous but I just couldn’t stop myself, “The employment minister whose talked so much about weeding out cheats has just cost the taxpayer £10,000 this month to redecorate his house. And what about all you tax dodgers then, how did your old man make his money?!” I said, aiming that last remark squarely at the fattest and biggest pig of all who’d been doing the talking, getting an evil stare from nearby SamCamSow in the process.
The sheep simply carried on grazing, afraid to look up, shuffling back from the platform, afraid of looking at the pigger picture.
“Enough with his animal rights! Get him out of here and lock him up!” the fat pig snorted, while his cronies got the audience to intone ‘Up the coalition: two parties good, one party bad’ over and over and I was forced back onto my lead and led away. Sometimes I hate being a dog. But I simply don’t know any better way. I’m not privileged enough to be a pig – and I’m not uninformed enough to be a sheep.
That leaves me only one recourse, to fight the injustice I see, no matter what happens to me. That’s why I come to be writing this sorry tale for you from my kennel cell, dear readers and why this week we’ve chosen to review Pink Floyd’ 1977 magnum opus ‘Animals’ which I am sending back in time via a hole in the space-time continuum. Because, despite being 35 years old in ‘your’ world and approximately 3535 years in mine, this album has never rung more true and its sentiments have never seemed more apt. Loosely based on George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, you sense that the outraged and moral Orwell would have hated the coalition and loved Pink Floyd, at least more than most of the tributes and art works based on his work (he had it in for Wigan too, which shows how much sense he had). A diatribe against Stalin’s tactics during the early communist era, when some animals were most definitely created more equal than others, you can feel the bile and anger rising from every page – just as you can hear it in every line of this album (what with the surveillance and phone-tapping correctly predicted in ‘1984’ and you begin to wonder whether Orwell had a time machine like mine and simply got his dates a bit mixed up).
But this is 1977 – why use anything by Orwell at all? Well, on the one hand Orwell was very ‘now’ when this album came out: seven years before the D-date of 1984 he’d already correctly guessed several unsightly inventions like CCTV and bullying Governmental tactics and the world was waiting, scared, to see what else from the book might ring true. The recent rise of the punk movement probably didn’t help quell fears much on that score either. But the Orwell influence is bigger than simply being ‘in vogue’ at the time. The Floyd’s chief lyricist Roger Waters was born into a leading socialist family not too dissimilar to Orwell’s; one that was destroyed as all good Floyd fans know when Roger’s father died in World War Two, press-ganged into fighting at the front after years as a conscientious objector and someone you care about dying unnecessarily for a cause they never believed in is inevitably going to cause havoc with young impressionable minds. The ‘real’ story of Roger’s dad won’t come out until ‘The Wall’ and (especially) ‘The Final Cut’, but the unfairness and the rigidity of those in control has been around since as early as ‘Free Four’, the anti-war song included in the Floyd film soundtrack ‘Obscured By Clouds’. We’re a few albums into the ‘Roger Waters’ years by this point and – thanks to unfairly forgotten solo albums by David Gilmour and Rick Wright taking up much of their time and material – Roger’s ideas and politics dominates the band’s sound like never before. To put it simply, this album divides the world up into three sorts of animals: the pigs have all the power and lots of survival instinct but not much humanity; the dogs like me bark ineffectually because they know what’s going on but they don’t have the power to do anything about it; the sheep probably know what’s going on but choose to ignore it, going about their business following all the of the new rules carefully put into place. All three are hopeless, doomed cases: the pigs think they’re respected and revered for their opinions but really everyone hates them and only suffers them because they either don’t know how to fight or are locked up for trying. The sheep believe that ignorance is bliss but become trapped by their own inhibitions and fear, trying their best to steer clear of the truth of what they see because it’s too upsetting.
Most rock opera type concept albums like this one (ie The Who’s Quadrophenia, Jefferson Starship’s ‘Nuclear Furniture’ or The Kinks’ Preservation) would offer a third choice born of hope for the future and a belief that some good can come out of all the wrong and evil in the world, but the Floyd? Nope. The third choice, us dogs, suffer the worst: without the power to challenge anything the pigs tell them, they’re doomed to suffer live in a state of frustration, angry at the pigs for their control and angry at the sheep for not believing what they bark in the night. The bottom line of it is, the dogs know the truth but they can’t do anything useful with it and can only get themselves into trouble. But – and this is the key question on which the whole album falls – is it better to be a sheep living your life in blissful ignorance or a suffering dog who knows the truth but can’t do anything to solve it? (Clearly it’s better to be a pig, but precious few ever become pigs – and those that do seem to be the least deserving of any power over other people). Each of the three groups gets their own song which deals with their circumstances. Clearly the Floyd can’t say in a single album what others have written whole books and plays about, even at the length of song the Floyd usually has, but each sum up the group well, with music that’s a suitable backdrop to their characters. ‘Dogs’ is all twisting and turning angst, switching this way and that, pausing to think before galloping away like a thoroughbred or biting like a boxer dog.
The lyrics are an intriguing mix of the sarcastic and the empathetic, suggesting that of all the animals on this album Roger considered himself a ‘dog’ (a splendid choice says I!) ‘Pigs’ is all squirming menace and cold synthesisers, not a million miles away from previous Floyd song ‘Welcome To The Machine’ – which is basically what this track is anyway. The verses feature one general one aimed at anyone abusing high office (although rumour has it its the EMI chairman Roger’s kicking here...), before attacking then-prime minister and Coalition idol Margaret Thatcher and finally do-gooder and censorship magnate Mary Whitehouse. This song is most definitely sarcastic and adds that if these people didn’t have so much power their stupidity and heartlessness would be merely laughable rather than horrible. The third song, ‘Sheep’, is surprisingly noisy and energetic, with Roger’s vocals turning to synthesised bleating partway through and sung by some third-person narrator trying to wake the animals from their slumber. Interesting titbit for you: according to the Chinese horoscope Roger is, in fact, a ‘sheep’ – although he doesn’t act much like one! (Before you ask, Alan’s Archives was indeed born a dog!) As you can probably tell, ‘Animals’ is not an album for the faint hearted and you have to be a committed Floydian to get the most out of this album (indeed, most of the casual fans buying this album on the back of the success of ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ hate this album, although true fans do love it). There are only really four tracks on this album (the last being a reprise of the first), with three songs over the ten minute mark even though , ‘Dogs’ aside, they only have the standard three verses-and-choruses template of 90% of rock songs.
The theme of the album is also spelt out solely in the lyrics – there’s no ‘story’ on the back sleeve to digest, no ‘video’ to explain the songs or even a set of captionless photographs like there was in ‘Quadrophenia’. That expects a lot out of an audience who probably only bought the album because of the funky cover (a pig stubbornly flying across the stormy skies above Battersea Power Station, one of the ugliest buildings ever built, the one shred of hope on the whole LP), but then Pink Floyd were always expecting a lot from their audience. Or some of their audience anyway. Remember 1977 when everyone under the age of 30 seemed to be wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’?! (as first worn by Johnny Rotten?) I’ve never understood why the punks hated the band so much as, really, there’s not much difference between the one classic punk line ‘no future for youuuuu’ and the bleak austerity of this record; a landscape where both ignorance and rebellion is futile so the characters within might as well do their worst to a state that doesn’t care and is controlled by ‘pigs’. That sounds like the perfect setting for a punk record to me and certainly the Floyd were still very much the thorns in the establishment in the mid-70s, unlike the other punk targets of the Beatles (‘Mull Of Kintrye’ being perhaps the worst defence a solo Beatle could have given in punk’s year zero) and the Rolling Stones (who had indeed been cruising since 1973, albeit with their own punkish return of ‘Some Girls’ around the corner). The Floyd may have been roped in with all the ‘prog rock’ bands of the early 70s, but there was nothing peace and lovey about them at all, which is what the punks confessed to hating – the band had been shadowy and slightly abnormal since its earliest Syd Barrett days, offering up a rage and eeriness that transcended the Floyd’s own generally well-off circumstances. The only real difference is that the Sex Pistols et al released two minute bursts of raging anger and the Floyd were more likely to diffuse their rage into twenty (the passages linked by a noodling guitar or keyboard solo, anathema to punk where every second was vital).
In terminology and theme, though, there’s nothing the punks said that wasn’t said by the Floyd first, especially on this their punkiest and angriest album that’s clearly somewhat inspired by the music of the day, whatever Waters was saying in interviews. (In theory it’s the happy vibes and polish of next weeks’ review stars the Moody Blues that is the true antithesis of punk rock, especially the idea that however horrible the world in the present it must surely, sometime, get better. Guess which oldies band suddenly becomes fashionable when punk dies circa 1980? Best selling band in America, the Moody Blues, that’s who). Interestingly, punk music seems to have been the ‘missing link’ these songs needed, because even by Floyd standards they took an inordinate amount of time to make it to record.
Both ‘Dogs’ and ‘Sheep’ were first heard in concert as long ago as the Dark Side tour of 1974 (known as ‘You’ve Got To Be Crazy’ and ‘Raving and Drooling’ respectively) and have only just been released at the end of 2011 (in the ‘Wish You Were Here’ Immersion box set). Neither sounds all that different, but there are changes to both lyrics and music, which sounds more like a youthful energetic band than the rather tired sounding mid-30s somethings of 1974. ‘Raving’ has a strummed acoustic guitar riff similar to ‘Run Like Hell’, is a fraction quicker and has some fascinating changes to the words that have no mention of ‘dogs’ and seem more to do with the band (or perhaps Roger), sarcastic on the same grounds as ‘Have A Cigar’: ‘You gotta believe they gotta believe you, gotta appear to be see through, gotta make sure you look good on TV, gotta make sure you’re not a human being...You gotta be sure gotta be quick, gotta divide and take from the sick, gotta be nimble, gotta stay fit, gotta keep people buying this shit...They gotta get you started early, processed by the time you’re 30, work like fuck till you’re 65, then your time’s yours until you die’. The move to a song about ‘dogs’ rather than ‘rockstars’ is surprisingly simple though: both are nice characters covering up their ‘bleeding hearts’ because they’re in a lifelong fight with those in power – a battle they’re destined to lose thanks to the strain it puts on them and their families. David sings the opening and Roger the ending on both versions, albeit Roger sings a verse ‘early’ on the 1974 version. ‘Sheep’ is slower and a lot more languid, with all the same pieces here in the same order (the intro, the snide verses, the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ spoof is heard as an instrumental and the classic closing guitar riff) but taking its time over each piece instead of flowing from one into the next. The song also starts with the third verse, misses out the first two and adds a few more before ending up where we began: ‘Raving and drooling I fell on his neck with a scream, he was caught in the middle and between the illusion of safety and being brought to his knees!” (This also means that, between 1975 and 1980, the Floyd released just two completely ‘new’ songs as a band: ‘Pigs (3 Different Ones)’ and ‘Pigs On The Wing’).
That leaves just the one song, ‘Pigs On The Wing’ to discuss and it seems to exist outside the album somehow, split in two as if to sandwich the rather terrifying sentiments inside with as sweet and simple a love song as any the Floyd ever recorded. What this song does, in both short parts, is to first offer hope and then restore it in the face of an often dark and cruel world, offering hope that things won’t always stay the way they are now. The theme of ‘Pigs On The Wing’ is that although we fight like animals we are still at heart human beings and have ‘raised’ ourselves from other species not through our ability to make weapons or have a structured economy but through our connections with each other, our help and support to each other. Despite being completely unlike anything else on the record – or anything the Floyd did before or since – we need ‘Pigs On The Wing’ to exist on the record because it offers the one thing ‘Dark Side’ or ‘The Wall’ offered: hope that change will come, however unlikely (hence the ‘pigs might fly’ expression of both the song and the record). That brings me on neatly to the cover. It’s a fine specimen isn’t it? A moody sow flying against the backdrop of a bleak dark night above Battersea Power Station, one of the biggest symbols of capitalism in the UK (even if this album and an appearance in a Dr Who episode gives it something of a cult status nowadays...Interestingly that episode also involved pig-human hybrids – has someone at the production team been listening to this album a little too much?!) At first glance the mood is bleak, but pigs can and do fly on this album, spreading their messages of hope to a sea of people who could believe in them if only they looked up from their obsession with the material world and getting on in life. The band did try to use a real pig on the cover and went to the trouble of getting album cover colleagues Hipgnosis to build their own inflatable sow. A day of shots didn’t result in anything usable so they tried again with a skeleton crew on a second day – sadly someone they failed to bring along was the trained marksman who could shoot the pig down in case of trouble and, yes, you guessed it, the pig flew away and was nearly shot down by a scrambled fighter jet afraid of a terrorist attack before meekly crumbling to dust in a field.
The world at large thought it was just another publicity stunt but no – it was perhaps evidence that hope isn’t always fulfilled on this album! The end result, ironically, is a cropped picture of the pig added to a different photo of Battersea Power Station and the band didn’t need to have built their sow to such a large specification after all! To finish, critics have been scratching their heads over this album for years, perhaps because it doesn’t have the ‘everyman’ status of ‘Dark Side’ or the storyline of ‘The Wall’. Frankly, ‘Animals’ isn’t quite as good as either, although it does for me improve on the slightly wishy-washy-you were here album that came before it. In fact in small patches scattered across the record ‘Animals’ comes as close to perfection as anything the Floyd ever did (the guitar riff on the end of ‘Sheep’, turning a stumbling song into an urgent one; the towering 11 line rhetorical question conclusion to ‘Dogs’ and the delicate acoustic nakedness of ‘Pigs On the Wing’) and although sometimes overcooked the lyrics are fantastic throughout. The problem with this album is that it’s simply too big and too unwieldy to take in easily – the two 10 minute tracks could easily have been condensed into five with only a tiny bit of snipping and the 20 minute ‘Dogs’ cut in half to 10 (the noodling solo in the middle of ‘Dogs’ and the Lord’s Prayer section of ‘Sheep’, though funny once, aren’t really built for repeated listening). There’s also nothing to ‘hook’ the listener into this album the way that ‘Money’ did with ‘Dark Side’ and ‘Another Brick’ did for ‘The Wall’ (clearly the idea was to make ‘Dogs’ the ‘epic’ of the album in the same manner as ‘Wish You Were Here’, but it’s not as universal or as likable a song for that to work, however important a statement it is and was). What we are left with ultimately are some good ideas that arguably needed work - even after some three years in preparation – and another one or two ‘new’ songs to make the most out of the album (I don’t know about you but this little lot could have made a storming side one ‘before’ picture to be answered by, I don’t know, the hopeful hopping hare suite of side two when the flying squirrels from outer space have squared things with the captors, the pigs have been turned into bacon and the sheep no longer have the wool pulled over their eyes. Heck it could still happen – somebody ring up Roger Waters and ask him for a squirrel based sequel!)
In all seriousness, though, perhaps what works best about ‘Animals’ is the very grown up way it suggests there are no happy endings and that everyone is suffering from something – whether it’s from too much ignorance, too much frustration or too much power. We all have a little of at least one of these species in us and its that message of trying to understand and help each other and getting annoyed at others who don’t respond that makes ‘Animals’ an important work, easily up there with ‘Dark Side’ and ‘The Wall’ in turns of message, if only occasionally execution. Turn to opening song ‘Pigs On The Wing’ (Part One) and you might wonder what I’ve been talking about, with all these references to heaviness and brittleness. For this opening acoustic ballad could not be lighter or prettier and only the weight of some of the (brief) lyrics stop the song from joining the pig flying across the window in joy. Like its close cousin ‘If’ from ‘Atom Heart Mother’, this is Roger Waters opening his vulnerable heart to us and saying that he’s looking for a connection, of someone to care ‘what happens to me’. The rest of the album can be seen as a kind of re-action to what happens when that connection between people is lost and causes us to treat each other like ‘animals’. While the sheep are baah-ing their way through the structured world already built and designed to trap them by the pigs, this is the tale of two lovebirds ignoring all that and ‘zig-zagging their way’ through the ‘boredom and pain’; the life events that matter and the long stretches when it doesn’t, unafraid of filling their days with nothing.
There’s a short glimpse of Roger’s ‘dog’ qualities as he battles against his oppressors in the line that leaves him complaining about his lot in life, ‘wondering which of the buggers to blame’ and dreaming of the impossible – of pigs on the wing outside his window. At just 85 seconds this song is too slight on its own to work as the counterbalance this most angry of albums badly needs, but heard together with the closing second part (which runs to an identical length) its still a lovely song. I do wish Waters hadn’t cut the song in half however (was this a vain attempt to earn more royalties when the band realised they’d only got four songs on the album or, more generously, an attempt to bookend an album filled with frustration, fear and arrogance with hope?) and this song still works best to these dog ears heard as a full 200 second song via eight-track cartridge (where part two is looped into part one via a glorious guitar solo from Snowhy White and the album plays on a loop forever...) ‘Dogs’ is the ‘big one’ on the album – if it was a mutt it would be a 14 stone Rottweiler with big teeth. But you sense that this song’s bark is ultimately much worse than its bite and for all the dog characters’ attempts to throw the system, to buck trends and stab their oppressors in the back their successes are small and the pain they carry tremendous. It’s essentially a dog-eat-dog world on this album, but the problem is that the pigs in power are untouchable and all the dogs are really doing is making life difficult for each other. There are six verses to this song and an extended ending, but the tune sounds much longer, linked by various solos from the band (Gilmour’s guitar howl in the first half being the best – the barking vocoder dogs in the middle being the worst). Interestingly, on its earliest versions from 1974, the second half of the song is near-enough the same but the whole opening three verses are completely different, the song sounding more sympathetic to the dogs and less sarcastic and mean (could it be Roger recognised the ‘dog’ in himself when he came to fit this song into the Orwellian concept?) By 1977 relationships between the Floyd were fractured – so much so that you might note that Gilmour only gets this one co-credit, drummer Nick Mason gets a credit for the album graphics (of all things – well he did train as an architectural student!) and keyboardist Rick receives...absolutely nothing!
Both Gilmour and Waters are, by definition, dogs, willing to fight each other for their own often very different views on how a record should sound – ‘Dogs’ is one of the few examples where both get their own way. The guitar-based opening, backed by Gilmour’s more polished soul style begins the record, passing the dog leash over to Roger when the song gets more desperate, edgy and lyrical towards the end. It’s a rare near-last chance to hear the pair in harmony and rarely have they sounded better, Gilmour’s humanity and stability tempering the crazed and angry rhetoric of Waters. Gilmour said later that he came up with ‘about 90%’ of the song – that’s clearly nonsense (the words are pure Roger Waters from first to last) but this song is a rare example of a true 50-50 split between the pair and is all the better for it. In fact it’s only the linking segue section, the vocoder voice intoning ‘stone...stone’ so often you think he’s a madman shouting for more on a bad quality Rolling Stones bootleg, that can’t bridge the gap between their two styles. The theme of this song is that, however strong you think you are, there’s always somebody out to tear you down. The ‘stone’ is a weight that comes out of nowhere that ties up everything the dog tries to do, both noble and unjustly, leaving him to bark futilely into the wind (typically Floyd their hybrid dog is part canine and part synthesiser). All the social climbing, all the being nice to people in clubs, all the sticking it to them and taking their positions when you can, is revealed to be a pointless game because ultimately the dogs are still just the ‘pets’ of the pigs in power, dancing to their beat. The dog then suffers remorse for the people he stood on to move higher up in the world, but by then its too late: the classic line ‘It’s too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around’ is now working against the dog and leaves him friendless, with no one able to trust him anymore. Whilst nobler than the ignorant sheep, ultimately the dog is an even sadder character, dying of cancer in old age with no one to care for him, the stress of fighting against his lot in life taking it from him against his will. Roger’s words have rarely been more bitter or more unsettling than the song’s second half, which is a real tour de force of outrage wrapped in sympathy. Interestingly, a couplet left over from the 1974 version on verse five finds Roger singing in the first person – every other verse talks about the ‘dog’ in the third person (more evidence of how close to Roger’s heart these lyrics were; anyone who doubts that should read the ‘Rough Guide To Pink Floyd’s entry on this song, which has a teenage Roger jumping on his friend’s pets out of nowhere in order to ‘toughen them up’).
It’s the last verse, however, that’s the best. Roger often used ‘list form’ to reveal his truest feelings – feelings he was unable to pack into tight rhyming couplets. For me the last verse of ‘Dogs’ is a better use of this style than the better known ‘Eclipse’ finale on ‘Dark Side’ even if in many ways it’s the mirror opposite: a long relentless unmoving riff joined by accusatory stabs of just how bad the dog’s lot in life is. After 15 minutes of a riff that doesn’t quite settle anywhere or a melody that quite nails the tune from one verse to another in many ways it’s a relief to hear the song stay still for so long. However, the genius of this track is that it’s the minute the dog stops running and starts thinking about life that he comes undone, ‘dragged down by the stone’ and dying, friendless, ‘on the phone’ – a very Floyd image of being cut off from any real human emotional contact. Listen out for the confusing line ‘was trained not to spit in the fan’ – I know now that this is likely a reference to Roger becoming so incensed by his own audience that he spat at a particularly loud and obnoxious member of it on the Floyd’s 1975 tour (the same incident that led to the idea of ‘building a wall across the stage separating band from audience’ – see our review for ‘The Wall’ to see where that idea goes...) After some 17 minutes of trying to evade capture, the dog is finally caught and ends his days every bit as miserable and powerless as he started – albeit he now knows the value of humanity. In all, ‘Dogs’ has so much going on that it’s hard to wrap your head around it all. Personally I think it would have been better still with a lot of the pointless middle section taken out (the synthesisers wrapped around the word ‘stone’ and the ghostly barks; it speaks volumes that when this song was revived by Roger on his solo tours in the 1990s most of the band took a break during this sequence to have a game of cards, in full view of the audience!) which threatens to undo much of the good work. The music is often clunky, often for good reason as the ending makes good on the promise of ‘standing still’, but even so it’s often ungraceful leaps and bounds don’t make for as angry-yet-sympathetic a response to the idea of entrapment as the lyrics do. It’s the insightful lyrics and the brilliance of the band performance (especially Gilmour’s fluid but still anguished guitar) that turn this mutt into a dog fine enough to be exhibited at crufts.
Onto side two already and ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’ is an equally hard and uncompromising track, but this time with the sympathy and the humanity removed. It’s played on icy tip-toeing synthesisers throughout (a world away from the warmth with which Rick usually plays and suggesting that Roger at least wrote the part, even if he didn’t play it). Roger sings lead throughout the song (and indeed the rest of the album), making up for giving the similarly structured angry laugh that was ‘Have A Cigar’ away to Roy Harper to sing with a double-tracked vocal dripping with bile and venom. The first verse is a general rant, even if some fans think its the chairman of EMI John Read (appointed to the role in 1974). That might be true – relations between the band and company get very rocky in the 1980s, when its revealed that most of the profit made from their uncompromisingly anti-war album ‘The Final Cut’ is being spent on missiles in the far east sold to dictators at a profit – but it works well as a general dig at the powerful businessman who can get anything he wants with a snap of his fingers. There are lots of puns on the words ‘pig’ and ‘big’ throughout the song (a little too many to be honest, even for my pun-loving ears), but the song comes alive on the line about the pig standing in front of his people, with ‘his hand upon his heart’, giggling little piggy grunts at the ridiculousness of the situation. It’s the second and third verses that either make or break the song, though, depending on your politics. If the third verse calling the censorship interfering Mary Whitehouse a ‘house proud town mouse’ is a little harsh (while no one should have the right to filter what everyone else gets to see, at least her heart is – almost – in the right place, even if she did play a major part in getting Dr Who cancelled and for that alone should be exterminated), the second verse about Margaret Thatcher is spot on. No one who suffered then (or still suffers now) from the evil schemes the Conservative Government came up with in the late 70s will do anything else apart from cheer when the lines about the powerful pig whose ‘hot stuff with a hat pin and good fun with a hand gun’ come on. For the day the lines about Thatcher being a ‘fucked up old hag’ are strong indeed and closer to punk rock than most punks would admit (this album was released the same year the Sex Pistols were victimised for using the f-word on television; although the f-word had been around on record ever since Jefferson Airplane used it in 1970 it was still pretty rare and only used for special occasions). The problem Waters has with both figures of fun/hate isn’t what they do but the hypocrisy with which they do it – Whitehouse pretends not to feel the feelings that she abhors in others but is obviously lying to herself (climaxing in a very risqué simulation of sex on the line ‘do you feel abused?’ that must have been pretty uncomfortable listening in 1977. In Waters’ words ‘She is a terribly frightehned woman isn’t she? Terrified! Why does she make such a fuss about evertything if sdhe’s not motivated by fear?’) Meanwhile Thatcher pretends to be the champion of the ordinary people whilst quietly slaughtering the masses through unnecessary hardship and civil unrest. All three verses climax in a wonderfully cathartic chorus of ‘Ha! Ha! Charade you are!’, but the song struggles to maintain interest throughout all its 11 minutes and in places goes a little too far even for a dedicated left-wing dog like me (the juxtaposition of Thatcher’s supposed feminine beauty and her masculine actions is a joke too far and doesn’t make Waters’ narrator the whiter-than-white unprejudiced soul he needs to be to make the song work). The chorus line ‘You’re nearly a laugh/treat...but you’re really a cry’ is also a surprisingly childish one for this late into the Floyd’s career. There’s also yet another wobbly instrumental interlude where not a lot happens, even if the synthesised pig grunts are impressive given the vintage and lack of technology around to produce them. No, the one element that makes this song catch fire is, sadly, relegated to the fade, when Gilmour’s guitar which has been chomping at the bit for several minutes finally gets the chance to let loose with a stinging tirade of angry guitar licks far more impressive in its condemnation than anything Waters can write. For its last two minutes ‘Pigs’ is a first class demonstration on how to channel frustration into music and deserves to run a lot longer. Until then this song only occasionally hits the spot, with Roger’s most self-indulgent song brightened only by a sterling band performance (the rhythm work between Roger on bass and Nick on drums is especially superb) and the odd witty line. Easily the weakest song on the record and the only track from the album never played live.
‘Sheep’ is my favourite song on the album – sacrilege I know, seeing as I’m a dog and all, but there’s something tremendously exciting about this song’s magnificent build up tension, which is released in dazzling form some 10 minutes into the song and anyway Roger’s sentiments are clearly with the dogs desperately trying to force the sheep into bleary-eyed action. Allegedly the song was inspired by the Brixton and Toxteth riots, mingled with Roger’s memories of some early 60s riots near his home and how they did nothing in the long term but cleared the tension in the air in the short term. In fact, Roger’s comments about the beginnings of this song sound even more powerful when related to the London riots of 2011: ‘There are too many of us in the world and we treat each other badly. We get obsessed with things – products – and if we’re persuaded that it’s important to have them, that we’re nothing without them and there aren’t enough to go around, the people without are going to get angry’. Roger’s lyrics, more general than on ‘Pigs’ and less humanistic than ‘Dogs’ are a terrific example of his powers of observation at their best, mercilessly attacking and criticising the bleating masses who are content to be told what to do by others. The idea that any individual should have to bow to the state is clearly anathema to the socialist Waters, who barks, nags and threatens the huddled masses into action on this quite breath-takingly exciting if scary song. The lolloping riff which underpins the song is terrific, sounding like a bounding dog heading straight for the listener at incredible speed and about to sink it’s teeth into your leg, while each line in the song is so long its literally dragged out of Waters at his vocal best, with the long held last notes cascading into a piercing synthesiser note. His madman laugh, a familiar Floyd tactic by now, has also never sounded scarier or more unhinged, more animal than human. How the band manage to create beauty and melody out of all that noise is beyond me, but ‘Sheep’ also sports one of the prettiest tunes of all Pink Floyd tunes, only losing its way on a third straight pointless instrumental passage.
Actually, that middle section not a complete instrumental: low in the mix you can just about hear a synthesised voice (Roger’s again) relating a slightly modified version of psalm 23 (‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’) which is Roger’s attack on organised religion in controlling the minds of peasants (back in the days when only the rich ‘needed’ to be educated, the church was always seen as the best means of controlling the poor and keeping them from revolt). Whilst Christianity has fallen to its lowest level yet in the present age (correctly guessed by John Lennon in his ‘Beatles bigger than Jesus’ quote, whatever garbled message he meant to give), its grip is still powerfully strong in England, where a majority of primary school children are taught to say words like these without the chance to think about or question where they came from. It’s not the religion itself that Waters is picking on here so much as the idea that there is no choice: that other options for religion or agnosticism are there only if you think about and choose to hit out against the system, an act of rebellion Waters applauds because it means people are thinking (though Waters never offers an alternative in the song). In this verse the trusting sheep look on when their leaders ‘releaseth my soul’ with ‘bright knives’, ‘converteth me to lamb cutlets’ before – in a gloriously wrong mental image – the sheep all practice karate and dream of overthrowing their oppressors. Alas, however worthy the idea, the execution leaves a lot to be desired with the listener straining to hear the words (a church organ might have been a better accompaniment than yet another cold dry synthesiser too). Against all odds the sheep actually do rise up in the final verse and overthrow their masters, in a rare display of hope, but then calmly walk back home, realising that they’re better off safe (if trapped), staying home and keeping to themselves. In this way all revolutions are damned, so Waters seems to think, with only those selfish pigs and bitter dogs competing for power – ironically the two species that really shouldn’t inherit power because they’ll only do the wrong things with it, time and time again. ‘Sheep’ remains the most powerful song on the album, both because it has the clearest theme of the record (the pigs have power whatever we try to do about it and the dogs are doomed to an unhappy death, but the sheep really do have the power to make their lives better) and the greatest band performance on the record. Rick understandably sounds lost on most of this record (the punkish ‘Animals’ is everything this most musical and gentle of souls isn’t) but he excels himself with his synthesised howls that merge seamlessly with Roger’s barked vocals, turning him from a philosophising onlooker into a fighter at the heart of the action. Nick Mason revels in the idea of the band returning to a simpler rock and roll tune and adds some terrific backward drum fills (made famous by Ringo but played here with power and precision). David Gilmour’s crashing flurry of guitar chords have never sounded louder or more fierce, especially his glistening repeated ba-da-da-da riff that ends the song and finally gives release to one of the tensest 10 minutes in music history (if the punks weren’t thrilled by this menacing guitar part, which sums up everything they stood for in its economy of style and bitter anger, they should have been). Finally we get two basses, playing more or less the same part as on the Floyd song ‘One Of These Days’, but with the excitement ratcheted up another notch to sound like an unrelentless system leading the poor hapless animals to their deaths (both Roger and Dave have claimed to have played both bass parts – I’m willing to bet that they play a part each, bouncing ideas off each other, to my ears sounding like Roger in the left and the rather more guitar-based slash chord approach of Dave on the right). A masterclass in noise and technique, balancing its ingredients just right and saving the big hook till the very end, ‘Sheep’ is a good lesson in how powerful, straightforward and excited the Floyd could be, even when getting across such complicated ideas.
Despite the false ending of ‘Sheep’, which leaves with no physical change, there is a message of hope in the album’s last song ‘Pigs On The Wing’ (Part Two). Like the first part, this is a simple naked love song where Roger reiterates how much a loved one means to him. If the first part imagines a scary version of the world where love might not exist, the second raises praise and thanks for the fact that this love keeps the narrator going, keeping him strong to fight his battles against ‘pigs’ and wake up the ideas of ‘sheep’. Listen again for how closely Roger identifies himself with ‘dogs’ – here he’s found ‘somewhere safe to bury my bone’ and ‘any fool knows a dog needs a home’. The album seems to be heading for a pretty ending, but wait – what does the last line of the album mean? Roger’s narrator now says he needs a ‘shelter’ from ‘pigs on the wing’ – is this simply a mistake and that Roger means a shelter from ‘pigs’? Or does he means he needs sheltering from his forlorn stupid hopes that pigs might ever turn over a new life (yeah, right, and pigs might fly?) Either way ‘Pigs On The Wing’ is a pretty song, albeit one that deserves more space and a longer running time to come to fruition. To close ‘Animals’ is an often glorious, sometimes boring album that rewards close attention and tries to hold a mirror up to the world that’s actually pretty accurate despite reducing Orwell’s original work to just three characters. Everyone is a dog, a pig or a sheep – including the band if a hilarious Record Mirror album review is to go by (‘The adoring ewes shook their fuzzy heads, bleated and went off into the night, telling themselves over and over that what the experts had said was right’).
Rockier than any other Floyd album, ‘Animals’ partly goes in for noise and energy rather than their usual spaced-out silence and it kind of half-works: ‘Sheep’ especially manages to make the Floyd sound powerful and important again without sacrificing their love for big ideas. The concept too, while less appealing than the everyman problems of ‘Dark Side’, is not without its charms and offers a good background for Waters to get some more of his anti-human humanity concerns off his chest. I just wish that the band had added a couple more dynamite songs and edited the ones they had to a more sensible length – but then nothing here drags as much as the second side of ‘Wish You Were Here’ (when the torturous second part of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ slows the album to a crawl) and there’s no ‘filler’ instrumentals as there were on Floyd albums as late as ‘Dark Side’. Animals remains, however, a curious beast: a hybrid of a new sound that works quite well and remains of the old, lumbering Floyd that don’t suit it as well. Play this album at your peril – it’s not easy listening by any stretch of the imagination, but then it wasn’t meant to be easy listening: this is an album determined to shock and for the most part is shocking still.
Fans of Waters’ rhetoric will love it, fans of Gilmour’s guitar will worship it and prog rockers and punk rockers alike will find much to enjoy. Just don’t expect to love ‘Animals’ from the first note to the last – and be warned that the softer, quieter moments fans used to use to take breath on their more intricate works lasts barely 3 minutes spread either side of the record. My scribbling over, I await my sentencing wearily, knowing that whatever the pigs try and pin on me (breach of the peace, refusing to co-operate, etc) I can throw it back in their faces worse and at least try again to make the sheep see sense about what they’re really up to (kettling peaceful protestors seems like more of a breach of the peace to me – and what about them refusing to co-operate with me?!), I remain half petrified about what will happen next time I dare to make a sound and yet half thrilled that I might, just once, cause the masses of sheep to take stock and think about what the pigs are up to. No matter the cost to me I just have to make the sheep listen and then, just maybe, the world will be a better and brighter place. And, goodness, is that a flying pig I see going past my cell window? Perhaps ‘Animals’ does offer a glimpse of a better future after all...