Waters On The Brain
By Jim Farber
Welcome back my friends to the neuroses that never end. Once again Pink Floyd's latest album finds lead "conceptualist" Roger Waters scrunched-up in fetal position, using vinyl as his psychiatrist's couch. The problem that patient Waters intends to address this time concerns, according to the official Columbia Records press release, the following: "the disillusionment of a generation that saw the hopes and dreams coming out of the second war go unfulfilled...the frustration and anger brought to mind by all conditions of economic upheaval, impending war, poverty or another holocaust..." blah, blah, blah.
If these sound more like world problems than personal neuroses, then perhaps Roger Waters' most distinctive talent is his ability to make such universal issues seem like nothing more than individual hang-ups. Instead of personalizing legitimate world problems (obviously his intention with this war-is-hell project, especially since his own father died in WW2), Waters winds up trivializing them so they seem merely lonely, paranoid delusions. His songs about war wind up having as much relevance as the band's older songs about absolutely nothing - in the Ummagumma-Meddle period. Believe me, such a total inversion of intention is not easily achieved, and the way Waters comes by this complete artistic failure is, in fact, the only interesting aspect of Pink Floyd's music.
Actually, due to the basic structure, style and persona of their music, the band's view of the world is necessarily isolationist. At root, Floyd do not make music of the outside world. Instead they make self- conscious "headphone music" - sounds which are meant to be whispered directly from the studio to the space between your ears, to be listened to when you're as detached from all human contact as possible. And don't forget, Floyd are also the last psychedelic holdovers of the music-that's-good-to-get-stoned-to school. (And with their relentlessly "serious" drawn-out musical themes, one assumes that downs - not the most social of drugs - is the narcotic of choice.) To give a new twist to this "head music" aspect of the LP, the band features a new wiz-bang effect known as "Holophonics" - consisting of 3-D "blow your mind" rumblings that also double as a prudent safeguard against home-taping off the radio. (The Columbia press release warns that an FM second source cannot adequately reproduce the desired "far out" effects.) Implied in this "musical trip" approach is an attempted intimacy between Waters and the listener that's more direct than even the most confessional folk-singer music. And appropriately enough, Waters' lyrics in recent years have been more enthusiastically "naked" than any wimp this side of Dan Fogelberg.
Of course, Pink Floyd has designed all this supposedly to represent the confusion of the outside world and our alienation from it, in terms of one solitary inner voice. But Waters is incapable of getting out of his own head to reach us. The first reason is the abject dullness of the music, which has the exact same melodramatic structure as the last four or five LP's - many slow, broody ballads which occupy a self- evolved mood somewhere between "calm-after-the-storm" and "waiting-for -something-awful-to-happen". Naturally all that ever happens are a few bursts of louder, heavier music which come at predictably anti- climactic moments. For stuff that's supposed to sink into your "inner mind" it's amazing how uninvolving this all is.
Equally circumscribed are Waters' vocals, which too often sound like the assorted crazed mutterings of your favorite street lunatic, with just about the same amount of insight and social awareness. When he sings about real world people like Reagan, Thatcher, and Begin, in such ditties as "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert", he seems in a sicko dream state, as boringly indulgent as the lead creep in The Wall movie. Interestingly, on one level I'll bet Waters would partially agree with my "narrator-as-neurotic" interpretation (especially given the wacked- out way he portrayed himself on LPs like Dark Side and The Wall). To him, the nervous, crazed edge to his "perceptions" established his credentials as a concerned citizen and humanist victim of life's harsher side (a kind of '60s "only-the-nut-cases-are-truly-sane" approach). That may be a quaint romantic notion. Down here in reality, however, The Final Cut only succeeds in making Roger Waters seem as thick as a brick in the wall.