Pink Floyd is rock's foremost recluses. Not the Howard Hughes type of ostentatious recluse who drops millions advertising his privacy. When Pink Floyd vanishes, they do it right--they make sure nobody gives a damn that they're missing. Pretty good for a group that spear-headed British psychedelic float music a decade ago, lost a charter member who remains legendary to this very day, and finally made their millions on a ninth album which hung in the charts almost as long as George Blanda hung on with the Oakland Raiders. I bet more kids in America can name you the line-up of the Runaways or the Ramones (well, that's partly an easy one I guess) than the four Floyd's.
Nevertheless, the release of a Pink Floyd album is an event, even if it does creep up without the usual heavy metal fanfare and "People" magazine cover. It's an event because everyone knows that we'll have to be satisfied with this disc until they deliver their next one to a new generation sometime approaching 1979.
The latest Columbia offering is "Animals", a thinly-disguised slice of weighty social commentary such as only the concerned English can dish out (Ray Davies comes to mind). There are only three major tracks on "Animals"-- Dogs, Pigs and Sheep -- but each fable has plenty of telling remarks about inhumanity among the beasts of the earth, along with the fabulously rich instrumentals Pink Floyd is known for. This isn't "Dr. Doolittle" kidding around; it isn't even "Wind In The Willows". It's much more like George Orwell's "Animal Farm" class warfare, and nobody comes off too cuddly.
Floyd's current stand-offishness seems to be a reaction to the long years when they did give interviews. Interpretations more or less concur that the group figures they said all they had to say when they slogged through the media mill years ago, and if you weren't paying attention then when they needed you...well, hah-hah, tough trapezoids. Probably the most extensive recent study of the band was a six-part broadcast by Nicky Horne called "The Pink Floyd Story", beamed over London's Capitol Radio in January. Among the most interesting comments were some by drummer Nick Mason about the period right after "Dark Side of the Moon" finally established them in America in 1973; evidently the phenomenon nearly upset the whole group.
"There was a point after Dark Side", Mason said, "where we might easily have broken up. We'd reached all the goals rock bands tend to aim for. Perhaps we were nervous about carrying on, the problems of making a follow-up...I really did find the time in the studio making Wish You Were Here extremely horrible."
Roger Waters, meanwhile, was most discombobulated by the face-to- face confrontation of touring, admitting he thought the last tour "very unpleasant, unnerving and upsetting." He even expressed an idea he had of constructing a black polystyrene wall between the musicians and the audience to represent the alienation he felt from his fans.
The gloomy outlook of Floyd captain Waters is well documented in the group's recent work of course (he writes all the lyrics), so his current plunge into the felch of the barnyard is no shocker. The guy's about as cheerful as a Samuel Beckett character crawling through the mud. As Waters acknowledged during the Capitol Radio interview: "The quality of life is full of stress and pain in most of the people I meet--and in myself."
Waters was being cynical about the business world on Dark Side's Money four years ago, and then on Wish You Were Here's Have A Cigar last time out. That peeve translates to Dogs on the new record. Four years ago he was also criticizing the self-deception and idleness of the less "mature" on Time. That theme was then refined into 1975's Welcome To The Machine (about conning people with nice illusions), and the latest incarnation of his impatience with dim dreamers is Sheep. What makes his distressing observations more powerful this time out is the coherent allegorical quality of the lyrics, which figure more prominently than on past albums.
"Animals" is bracketed by a pair of acoustic tracks called Pigs On The Wing. The idea of the introductory message (Part One) is that if we all didn't care about one another, life would be lonely, miserable and frightening. The last band on the album (Part Two), concludes that do care about each other after all, and it's only in this common humanity that we find shelter. Except for those parameters, though, the record threatens nightmarish possibilities in the three epic tracks.
Dogs is Waters' most effective indictment yet of the predatory ruthlessness of modern commercial society which destroys souls. The music isn't particularly harsh, but there's a malevolence in the familiar astral gallop, chilly synthesizer, and night-time dog howls. It's the lyrics that really deliver the goods, though, describing the horror of being sucked into the web.
Pigs, which opens side two with grunting noises, introduces three varieties of gluttons. Once again, the music is a strongly visual mixture--a gliding melody over a lumbering beat; rough edged guitar chops over a metronome rhythm; a solo of David Gilmour's soaring evocative squeals. It's a muscular track, but the words are even more slashing.
The first of the accused is a "well-heeled big wheel", obviously a token patriot, who is despised for his greed. The second seems to be a sadistic older woman: "You're hot stuff with a hat pin, and good fun with a good hand gun". Only the third is clearly identifiable: Britain's official censor, Mary Whitehouse. Floyd call her a "house proud town mouse...trying to keep our feelings off the street, you're nearly a real treat, all tight lips and cold feet". Friends of the band believe Waters also meant the slam at "Whitehouse" to serve another meaning for his American audience.
The Sheep section is somewhat more confusing, but basically these cowards are no better off than the dogs or pigs. The cut fades in peacefully with some watery electric piano blending into the contented baas of the quadrupeds. Lurking in the background, though, are barking dogs who will herd them to slaughter, and before long this theater piece takes on plenty of aggression as battle is joined.
Sheep, of course, are meek and obedient people who don't want to get involved, who "pretend the danger's not real...only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air". Ultimately, though, they have to wake up to reality, encapsulated here by a terrific parody of the 23rd Psalm that reads like the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre".
The climax comes when Waters envisions the sheep revolting after learning karate (no kidding, that's what it says).
Animals is the first album Pink Floyd has recorded in their new Britannia Row Studios in North Islington, and it took about ten months. One feature of the release is that the 8-track tape sports a guitar solo linking the two Pigs On The Wing parts that's not available on the record.
In the interests of greater social awareness, Floyd has consented to come out of hiding to promote their latest effort. The first catastrophe occurred when the 50-foot inflatable pig being photographed over the Battersea Power Station for the jacket cover escaped and ran amok in the air channels over London's airport. After pilots and radar were thoroughly confused by the giant porker soaring at 12 o'clock high, it floated out over the English Channel toward France. Finally, one of the hooves blew out as the balloon drifted over England once more, and it came to earth on a farm in Kent. Stunned as the farmer was, he was also smart enough to tie it down.
The band itself went airborne in February when they launched a major
tour with dates in Germany. They'll come to America this spring after
stops in England. The US tour begins April 22 in the south and
concludes July 4th weekend with a mammoth gig in Montreal's Olympic
Stadium. They'll be the first rock group to play that arena.
According to reliable leaks, the first half of their show will
present "Animals" in its entirety, followed by the complete "Wish
You Were Here". But don't scamper off too quickly; the encore will be
selected sections of "Dark Side of the Moon". And there's another
surprise...(hint: the biggest ham there won't be Roger Waters).