Monday, January 29, 2007


30 years ago: Jan. 1977
In the suburban wastelands I hail from, the affront of punk was slow to light a spark, but late in 1977 came the export (and exploitation) of The Sex Pistols. At this point in the story, though, the dinosaurs of Rock were unshakeable in their stature.

I graduated from high school in 1977 and at that time there were three veteran bands that dominated what the kids were listening to: Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, and, of course, Led Zeppelin. The other mainstay was The Beatles but they were no longer a going concern, so to speak. Pink Floyd was generally regarded as the band from that "Golden Age" era that remained true to its dominant ethos -- which had something to do with grass, psychedelics, inner visions, and a vaguely anti-establishment program that translated into not becoming your parents. But Pink Floyd's reach, after the grand cash cow that was Dark Side of the Moon (1973), expanded beyond almost everyone's grasp: they simply were Rock, and if you cared about that, however dimly, you found the Floyd acceptable.

One way of saying it is that the "aesthetic regime" of Rock was the one fostered by the greats of the Golden Age, that what we had come to expect from the Floyd -- lyrical guitar solos, ambient keyboards, trenchant lyrics and vocals strident or eerily sedate -- could be supplied indefinitely. But what started with Dark Side was Roger Waters' emergence as a man with an ax (careful, eugene) to grind, and that had something to do with the true ahrtist being appalled by the commercialization of music and the egregious "gravy-train riding" of its sycophants and PR men (a tune going back to The Kinks' "Mr Reporter" and The Stones' "Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man").

On Animals, Waters returned with a vengeance, letting everyone have it. The album is notable for the glee of Waters' delivery, the harder edge to the music, and the acerbic clich├ęs of its mini-portraits, recalling George Harrison's "Piggies" and some of Lennon's more pointed barbs, of all the Dogs, Pigs, and Sheep out there, "house-proud," censorious, smug, climbing the ladder no matter what, or piously not getting ahead so as to show their moral superiority, "fucked up" in one way or another, a rogue's gallery of the self-satisfied Seventies culture of "making it." The cover shot -- a beautiful photo of a "dark satanic mill" hovered over by a flying pig, the mascot of every enterprise -- told the story: Big Business is our culture's salvation and curse. Serving the machines that serve us is the best humanity can hope for in the 20th century. Sandwiching the vitriol of the three long songs on the album (still maintaining allegiance to the standards of prog-rock's epic sweep) were matching little acoustic ditties on which Waters, heart on his sleeve, claims that he cares and that genuine friends are the only hope against those sinister Pigs on the Wing.

A baleful album in a lot of ways, but a nice kick in the ass after the more elegiac tone of Wish You Were Here. Only occasionally did Rock ever register with the intelligentsia; more often than not, it's the happy stomping-ground of working-class heroes, and Animals tips its hat in that direction. The legions of jobless or stuck in dead-end jobs can't say enough, negatively, about The System that robs their dignity. What are the chances the Sheep will rise up "and make the bastards eyes water," Waters wonders, leaving it to the up-and-coming Clash to agitate for "revolution rock." Such a drag, too many snags...

Bleating and babbling, we fell on his neck with a scream
Wave upon wave of demented avengers
March cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream

--Roger Waters, "Sheep" (1977)


Andrew Shields said...

I was surprised, a few years ago, to discover how brutally "Animals" was received when it was released. I don't remember where it was, but I came across a summary of contemporary reviews, which were all generally appalled by it. I was surprised because I have always taken a perverse pleasure in liking "Animals" more than any other Floyd album. So of course I was also pleased.

Donald Brown said...

I paid no attention to reviews at the time -- except sometimes of unknown bands that an enthusiastic reviewer might convince me to give a listen to (much as anyone might persuade me to give something a try), so I don't know how "Animals" was "received" by those supposedly in the know. I only know how it was received by the Floyd's legion of fans.

Andrew Shields said...

Well received in your milieu, at least! I did not hear it until the early eighties, and I was immediately blown away.

You've got to be crazy,
You've got to have a real need.