February 4, 1977: “Punk Floyd”

Animals

Prod by Pink Floyd, rec at Britannia Row, London, April-Nov 1976, rel Feb 4 1977

Pigs on the Wing 1 (Waters), Dogs (Waters, Gilmour),  Pigs – Three Different Ones (Waters) Sheep (Waters), Pigs on the Wing 2 (Waters)


Animals did not receive a good reception. It was partly, that bad old media game of turning against past success, and partly that the megasales of its two predecessors gave something of a shock to those who thought everyone should die before they got old.

In some ways too, it was a refusal to see that in categorising human beings as animals, Roger Waters was not denying the value of our humanity any more than Orwell’s Animal Farm was consigning us to the farmyard. I have no reason to revise the judgement I made at the time, that, contrary to what the Rolling Stone magazine was still asserting five years later, it was saying something positive rather than negative about our humanity, despite what Roger had called “pressures which are anti-life”.

Here’s what I wrote about it the week before it was released (perhaps, to put the opening paragraphs in context, it should be realised that this was immediately after EMI’s notorious cancellation of the Sex Pistols‘ contract):

Here is a memo to Sir John Read, head of the EMI group. You are about to release an album which features obscenity, profanity and a dastardly attack upon a well-known public figure.

But before you consider cancelling your contract with them, perhaps you should know that it is by one of your best-selling bands, whose last two albums have hogged the album charts for months at a time, and it is my prediction that this one will repeat that pattern. It is, in short, Pink Floyd’s long-awaited follow-up to 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon and 1975’s Wish You Were Here.

I’d also venture to predict that, just as the last two earned a degree of critical dismay inversely proportions to both records’ eventual success, this new release will be greeted, once again, by loud cries for the return of Syd Barrett; despite which the punters will buy it by the million. Me, I like it, but then never having been a hardcore Floyd freak until Meddle indicated their increasing mastery of studio technology and ability to play the mixing board like it was a fifth instrument, I may be in a critical minority of one.

In a sense, the new album forms the third part of a trilogy, in which the theme of alienation (Dark Side) and loneliness (Wish) is wrapped up by an intense and savage humanism, which is paradoxically all the more powerful by being personified in a series of animal caricatures.

While the Bible separates people into sheep and goats, this Floyd work divides them three ways: dogs, pigs, and sheep. The three sections are sandwiched between the first and second verses of an acoustic song, Pigs on the Wing, sung by Waters in a neo-Sixties singer-songwriter style that is so alien to everything one associates with the Floyd that it comes like a douche of cold water to clear the mind for what follows. In itself, it is not really a great song by any standards, but in context it serves a definite purpose, as a sort of moral framework to the often horrific lyrics in between.

The rest of side one is devoted to Dogs, a horrendous depiction of the modern world as “nature red in tooth and claw”, the dogs of the acquisitive society rending each other, retiring into loneliness and dying of cancer or dragged down to death by the weight you used to need to throw around.

There is a moment about two-thirds of the way through the song when Waters’ singing of the phrase “dragged down by the stone” is put on to a tape loop and repeated almost ad nauseam, while the human overtones of the voice are gradually filtered out, till at the end it becomes little more than a high-pitched howl, like a cry heard through deep water.

Meanwhile, the band takes the recurring phrase as the ground rhythm for a long instrumental, and the sound of barking dogs is processed through a sort of effects box called a Vocoder, creating semi-musical chords out of them, while still retaining their doggy character. A chilling moment, which managed to reach me the first time I heard it, during the fuggy chat of the Battersea Park play-through.

Pigs (Three Different Ones) opens side two with very unflattering portraits of modern figures, each of them laughed to scorn, including a house-proud town mouse called Whitehouse, trying to keep our feelings off the street, which sketches in with a few deft moves, a picture of the censorious Mary as frustrated married spinster, all tight lips and cold feet. There is a line of heavy breathing on her verse, which I suspect is a censored version of something even less flattering, since it is followed by a shout of “you!”.

Even in these savage attacks, however, there is an element of pity, for each of the three victims of Floyd’s ire is described as really a cry, rather than the laugh the lyric pretends at first to have at their expense.

Sheep is almost a mini Animal Farm, a picture of the contented mass, grazing peacefully on their way to the slaughterhouse. Again, there is a chilling moment when a grim parody of the 23rd Psalm

with bright knives He releaseth my soul
He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places
He converteth me to lamb chops

is intoned through the Vocoder. This doesn’t make the horror any easier to take, but it does integrate the intrusion musically, though possibly a little less processing or more upfront mixing might have brought this section out more strongly.

The sheep revolt, killing the dogs, but the words march cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream suggest that perhaps this is the only part of the album not entirely rooted in reality. And is the whole thing, like the story of the canine heroes in Clifford Simak‘s SF epic, City, merely a fable told by one dog to another? There is a definite suggestion that the characters huddling together for shelter from pigs on the wing in the reprise of the opening acoustic song are dogs as well.

So much for the lyrical content, which is easier to talk about than the extremely thick mix of music, at times multi-layered and at others deceptively simple. Apart from the startling open and close, which is as shocking as a common chord of C in the middle of a piece of atonal music, the tunes are thematically very close to those of the previous two albums, with a number of tunes based on a rising minor second interval.

But while, in the other two, it was possible to ignore the somewhat convoluted implications of the lyrics, treating the rich textures as a rather superior kind of musical wallpaper, here the savagery of the words is, at times, rather too close for this kind of complacent comfort, and the music only serves to underline the significance of the lyrics.

For that reason, perhaps, the album may not be as commercially successful as the others, for at times the shocks come as staggeringly as Johnny Rotten gobbing at his audience, an uncomfortable taste of reality in a medium (“progressive” rock) that has become in recent years increasingly soporific. It is almost as if the Floyd realised that a lot of their buyers had managed to doze their way through the implications of the previous albums, and were determined to ensure that it didn’t happen the third time round. Perhaps they should rename themselves Punk Floyd.

Nine years later, I am not inclined to modify that high estimate. I still think the opening and closing songs are weak, a verdict which was confirmed by the reaction of the crowd to Pigs on the Wing at Waters’ ’84 solo concerts, for some reason the only song from this immensely powerful and moving album which he performed. Perhaps the other songs were too long.

On the other hand, though, it was extremely brave of the band to end the album on such a low-key note rather than on a rousing finish, which is the obvious rabble-rousing crowd-pleasing rock tradition. They’ve done it since, of course, with subsequent albums, and it continues to be a brave break with convention, but this was the first time. As we have seen, the ideas and images that became, first, Animals, and then The Wall, were germinating in Roger Waters’ mind at the time of the 19723 Dark Side tour, and some of the Animals songs were given try-outs in subsequent years’ tours.

After the Frankfurt opening for the promotional tour that immediately followed the release of the album, Nick Mason agreed with me that the new work was the culmination of the previous two. “Of course,” he said, “but we didn’t plan it that way. But it just seemed that with Dark Side we somehow got lucky, and things began to fall into place in a way they hadn’t before.

“This one is really my favourite. I’ve never been able to listen to any of our previous albums once we’ve finished them because we’ve spent so much time with them that there’s no pleasure in it. But, with the possible exception of Saucer, this is the only one I like playing.”

Later, though, in 1982 Roger told me that I wasn’t quite right with my “trilogy” theory: Animals was really the first part of The Wall (and I suppose The Final Cut and elements of Hitch-hiking were the conclusion).

“I think Animals is more to do with The Wall than with Wish You Were Here,” he said. “In fact, when I started jotting ideas down, strange ideas for a film, at one time, I did a lot of drawings using animal masks and things.”

DALLAS: This was after The Wall album but when you were working on the movie?

WATERS: No, No, no, no. I was working on ideas for the movie even before I started writing music for The Wall.

That same year, Roger was dismissing ‘Animals’ as “a bit thrown together”.

From Bricks in the Wall, 1987

A personal note:

When I was in Germany with the Floyd in 1977 on the Animals tour, everyone was a barrel of laughs but Roger. We had dinner together, the visiting guests of EMI, the management, and three of the band, but he didn’t come. I wondered why he was being so distant, especially since I’d just given the new album an enthusiastic review. It turned on that he hadn’t read it. But a few days after my return, I received the following missive, written on Lufthansa airmail paper, clearly on the same plane home as me:

Dear Karl Dallas
This is the first and probably the last time I shall write to a member of your normally ignoble calling. I thought your piece on Animals in the MM was extremely perceptive, lucid and humane. To at last receive such tangible evidence that someone has copped it all, and explained it all so well to the great unwashed, lightened the load no end: Thank you!
Yours sincerely, Roger Waters

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