Is This The Life We Really Want?

Roger Waters

It only seems logical that Roger Waters would want someone like Nigel Godrich to produce his 2017 release Is This The Life We Really Want?. The Pink Floyd lyricist and bassist hasn’t released a solo album since 1992, and he needed some fresh blood to make this new record sizzle and pop — not a sad attempt at relevance. Given the good ears and nuanced sensibilities of Godrich, who has made a name for himself working with Radiohead, a band often associated, in one way or another, with Pink Floyd, the possibilities seemed endless. It may take a few spins to get at what Waters is trying to say, but gradually it all begins to sink in and make sense. Well, as much sense as you can take away in the vitriol and often ominous tones that encompass the record.

It’s almost too easy to think Waters' fifth solo album is yet another attempt to capture the lingering ache that resounded so powerfully on The Wall. After playing that album live in its entirety for three years, something clearly rubbed off — hard-boiled cynicism, distrust of politicians, uncertainty at every turn. Sonically, Is This The Life We Really Want? draws more than a few Floydian flavorings for inspiration — staticky radio and TV talking heads, late-night phone conversations, bombs, blasts, machinery, pan effects. In between are 12 songs, plaintive, responsive, driven by ebullient piano work, tight drumming, layers of keys, heavy orchestration, stretches of guitar.

“Déjà vu” is a moody, dramatic piece that eventually unfolds into a smoldering hotbed of Waters’ commentary on everything from religion to politics and whatever else falls in between the two. “The Last Refugee” offers up as much heavy guitar as you're going to get, whereas “Picture That” balances on a simple, sharp riff, so as to put the focus on Waters’ insolent lines — “Picture a leader with no fucking brains…” The synths, cast very much in a Floydian mode, only make the song more engaging, especially as the tempo comes to a crawl and a spacey, stormy ambiance swallows it to a close.

The title track opens with a Donald Trump sound byte, so you can only imagine where it goes from there. The steady flow held down by Waters’ impressive bass runs only makes the grim and pain-evoking lyrics that have it out for ants and the current president of the United States less choleric. It all falls into a woeful barrage of broadcast announcements, before “Bird In A Gale” explodes over the airwaves like a leftover from Animals. At long last, things lighten up somewhat on “The Most Beautiful Girl,” then the mood shifts for the more pointed “Smell The Roses,” which seems like a natural fit on the setlist of Waters’ 2017 Us + Them tour.

The album’s most solemn number, “Wait For Her,” was inspired by an English translation by an unknown author of "Lesson from the Kama Sutra (Wait for Her)" by Mahmoud Darwish. For all the madness that comprises much of the material, this serves as a reprieve. Songs like this make you wish Waters would make more music. Before it all comes to a crashing finale, “Part Of Me Died” piles on hard-bitten lyrics, supported by an able-bodied band, and it all works out in the end. Is This The Life We Really Want? is truly everything you really want in a Roger Waters album — profound themes, brimming with cultural references, stark imagery, special effects and aural trickery. If nothing else, it goes to show that Roger Waters has, at 73, yet to mellow, rest on his laurels or squander his golden years. He’d rather make noise, crank his views, and prop up his mortal remains.

~ Shawn Perry

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