Pink Floyd were the psychedelic pioneers whose leader went AWOL on LSD in the late 1960’s, only to reinvent themselves in the ‘70s as one of progressive rock’s most popular bands. And when they released Dark Side of the Moon in 1973, never had depression and existential angst sounded so accessible much less agreeable to the masses. 1975’s Wish You Were Here was another impressive atmospheric masterpiece and an exquisite paean by the group to their former friend and musical colleague Syd Barrett. But Animals is another beast entirely. Roger Waters has gone on to say that he “didn’t like a lot of the writing on Animals, but unfortunately I didn’t have anything to offer.” David Gilmour recalls that he was “the prime musical force. Roger was the motivator and lyric writer.” However both Waters and Gilmour were at this point jostling over creative control. And although the concept for the LP belonged to Waters, it was Gilmour who was asserting himself at least as far as what direction the album should take musically, thus sowing the seeds of contention and animosity that would plague the group from then on until their bitter breakup in the early ‘80s.
Now before we get into the music itself, a special mention should be made of the album cover, where we see a pink pig hovering over the Battersea Power Station on the bank of the River Thames. During the photo shoot, this giant inflatable animation was let loose over London. And while the Civil Aviation Authority was informed, it was never seen again.
At the time Waters was going through a divorce and “Pigs on the Wing 1”, which opens side one, is a simple yet appropriate expression of what he must have been experiencing. It’s quite touching really, and rather moving. Just Roger strumming away on an acoustic guitar, while singing “You know that I care what happens to you/And I know that you care for me too/So I don’t feel alone/Of the weight of the stone”. “Dogs” has a Wish You Were Here feel to it (in fact I think it may have been recorded, or at least originated during that LP’s gestation), although with a far more foreboding and edgy atmosphere. Gilmour’s guitar is fluid and creative, while Rick Wright provides suitably moody ambience on keyboards. And as far as Waters is concerned, well he just sounds pissed off. Anyone with young children should think twice before exposing them to this record. Otherwise you might be setting them up for a future life of social cynicism and extreme melancholy. Speaking of which, “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is a spooky, bitter diatribe that is, ironically about the closest thing to a pop song the listener is ever going to get on this album, albeit in a morose space-rock sort of way. Actually I’d go so far as to say that the LP should have come with a free prescription for tryptizol, neatly tucked away inside the jacket. Some of Gilmour’s most passionate playing can be heard on this track, and I’m not exaggerating. Just listen to his solo towards the end of the song if anyone needs any proof.
“Sheep” starts off with some pretty, pastoral keyboard by Wright, along with foreboding bass by Waters, but it isn’t long before we’re off on another of Roger’s disturbing dystopian journeys. The whole thing is a little unsettling I must say, but compositionally compact enough to keep the listener’s attention from straying. In truth, there’s a fair bit happening, both instrumentally or otherwise to warrant close attention. It’s another epic, that’s for sure, and one more than a few teenagers today might struggle to get through without checking their twitter accounts.
The LP ends as it started, with “Pigs on the Wing 2”, Waters’ meditative reflection on not only his own life, yet perhaps yours and mine as well: “Now that I’ve found somewhere safe /To bury my bone/And any fool knows that a dog needs a home/A shelter from pigs on the wing.”
Ultimately Animals is an extremely bleak record, not only reflecting the minds of its creators but perhaps much of Britain as a whole. Soon Margaret Thatcher would be voted in as the next Prime Minister, and a whole generation of left-wing singer-songwriters would establish their careers in the process. If John Lydon once remarked that he hated Pink Floyd, well perhaps he ought to have been listening to this. Because Animals is just as much Punk as anything the Sex Pistols ever did. And should I mention the Orwellian theme which links most of these songs together? No, since you either already knew or would have managed to work that one out on your own, as I like to think that Pink Floyd fans tend to have pretty high IQs.
Rolling Stone magazine wrote that “their message has become pointless and tedious.” Although if that were true, why are we still listening to it nearly 40 years later?