Monday, January 23, 2012

You Gotta Be Crazy: Pink Floyd's Animals at 35

 Pink Floyd - Animals
Pink Floyd
Rating: **** 1/2

The late 1970’s were an interesting time in rock music. Punk rock was now the coolest thing around and anything that wasn’t punk was frowned upon. When it came to a band like Pink Floyd, they were hated by the punk rock bands. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols went as far as to wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt and writing the words “I hate” on it. Believe it or not, Pink Floyd released their next album around this time. The album, Animals, was released on January 23, 1977 in the UK (and February 12 in the US). It was the band’s tenth release and the band’s follow up to 1975’s Wish You Were Here. Upon its release, the album received mixed to positive reviews from music critics. For Pink Floyd fans, it was another classic. While the album was another hit for the band, Animals seems to fly under the radar with the better sales and acclaim for Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and 1979’s The Wall. Still, Animals is a masterpiece in its own way.
            Since 1973, Pink Floyd were enjoying their sudden boost in fame. Their eighth album, Dark Side of the Moon, wasn’t only a hit in their homeland of the UK but Floyd had finally managed to attract American audiences. The follow-up, Wish You Were Here, was another hit album for the band when release in 1975. By this time, Pink Floyd were up there as one of most popular rock bands. Since 1968, Pink Floyd consisted of bassist Roger Waters, guitarist David Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason, and keyboardist Rick Wright. The band had suffered from having to let go of founding member, Syd Barrett, who was the creative force behind the band’s debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Ever since becoming a four-piece band, Pink Floyd worked it out together on how they would continue to make music. While Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here saw the band working together, it was Waters who could have been seen as the leader of the band.  When it came time to make another album, Waters was at the helm of the project. Like Dark Side and Wish You Were Here before it, Animals was going to be yet another conceptual album. Dark Side of the Moon was about the everyday life of a human being while Wish You Were Here was about the music industry and Syd Barrett. Animals was loosely based on the George Orwell novel, Animal Farm. While Animal Farm was about Stalinism, Animals dealt with capitalism. The album was recorded from April 1976 till December 1976 at Britannia Row Studios. The studio had been made by Pink Floyd after they purchased the three storey church halls at 35 Britannia Row.
            “Pigs on the Wing Part 1” is the introduction to the album, clocking in a little over a minute. The song serves a great opener for the album. As to what the song is about, drummer Nick Mason personally thinks Roger Waters wrote it to his new girlfriend (soon to be wife). Waters confirmed this later on. The lyrics concern about Waters, as he wonders who will care for him in this dystopian future in which animals rule the world. The last song off side one is “Dogs”, which is the only song on the album that isn’t entirely written by Roger Waters. The song began life in 1974 as “You Gotta Be Crazy” and was written by David Gilmour. Waters and Gilmour tweaked a few things and made it into a 17-minute track. For the album, dogs represent the combative forces and business people in the world. The first few verses seem to be about a business person, while the last couple of verses seem to compare and contrast the previous lyrics to dogs. Lyrics such as “fitted with collar and chain” and “given a pat on the back” sound a lot like how a dog is treated. The lyrics to this song and pretty much the entire album will have you thinking, even 35 years later. Another thing to note is the guitar solos in the middle at 3:42 and 14:09 are just mind blowing.
            Side two begins with “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”. “Pigs on the Wing” didn’t necessarily talk about pigs but this song certainly does. According to Waters, the song is about the social ladder and a way of seeing society as pigs. AllMusic critic Mike DeGagne has an interesting way of looking at this song: each of the three verses are about a different pig, which would explain where the “Three Different Ones” bit came from. The first pig is thought to be a businessman, perhaps like the ones in “Dogs”. The second pig could be describing Margaret Thatcher, someone who Roger Waters didn’t care for at all (for more examples, listen to The Final Cut). If the second pig is Thatcher, then it sounds about right: she is described as a “bus stop rat bag” and a “fucked up old hag”. The third and final pig is social activist Mary Whitehouse. It has to be because her name is in the lyrics (“Mary you’re nearly a treat”). Towards the end, Gilmour uses a talk box for his guitar. “Sheep” is another great song and it could be my personal favorite off the album. The sheep are depicted as the mindless and stupid people in society who don’t know what is happening (“Now things are really what they seem/No, this is no bad dream”). The song was originally titled “Raving and Drooling”, which could clue in as to what the sheep represent on the album. Around 6:25 into the song, you can hear the voice of someone (Waters) reciting Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”) but the later part is a parody of it. The sounds of the guitars towards 8:07 are just beautiful, with the way they harmonize. “Pig on the Wing Part 2” wraps up the entire album. Much like the first part, it is a little over a minute but the lyrics have been changed up: it seems to be a message of hope that the singer in the song will find a shelter “from pigs on the wing”.
            Like the Pink Floyd albums before it, Animals had a unique album cover and packaging concept. Art group Hipgnosis sketched out an idea for the album artwork but it wasn’t what the band had in mind at all: the cover was of a boy walking into his parents’ bedroom, watching them have sex "like animals". It was Waters’ idea to have the cover picture taken over at the Battersea Power Station. Ballon Fabrik made a pig balloon as Waters’ idea was to have the pig fly over the Battersea Power Station. An attempt was made on December 2 but the pig balloon did not work due to the weather. The pig landed in Kent and was recovered by a farmer, who claimed it had scared his cows. Three days in, work continued but it turned out the best work was from day one. An image of a pig was superimposed for the final product.
             Animals did fairly well in the charts. It peaked at #2 in the UK and #3 in the US. Reviews for the album were generally positive but some were mixed. Rolling Stone reviewer Frank Rose didn’t like the album and thought of its message as “pointless and tedious”. The band toured in support for the album, playing the entire album.
            Personally, I absolutely love Animals. I have it charted at #28 in my list of favorite albums. This also makes it my third favorite album by Pink Floyd, the other two beating are Wish You Were Here (#25) and Dark Side of the Moon (#5). Animals is such a clever album with a wonderful concept. The follow up to this album, The Wall, has almost made this album overlooked by major critics. While The Wall may have sold  more copies, Animals is the superior album. From the concept to the sound and presentation, Animals is a classic album. 

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