Sitting in the swish hotel suite in Chelsea Harbour, Roger Waters looks alarmingly relaxed. As he smilinly offers liquid refreshments, one is given to wondering whether this can be the same man whose troubles psyche has launched a dozen major musical traumas on the world; whose split from Pink Floyd was famously acrimonious; whose relationship with the press has frequently been less than cordial? The answer appears to be yes.
The reason for Waters' bonhomie lies in the release of a new album, his first since Radio KAOS in 1987. The title of the new work is Amused to Death, a gleaming artefact co-produced by Pat Leonard (of Madonna fame) and featuring contributions from the likes of Jeff Beck, Don Henley, P.P. Arnold and Rita Coolidge.
Unsurprisingly, Amused to Death is a concept album. That concept is war, specifically the war in which, as Waters sees it, war is glamourised as entertainment in the media. Musically, the record harks back to the halcyon days of Pink Floyd with its grand soundscapes and unceasing search for that epic effect. From the opening track, 'What God Wants Part 1', we know we are in the presence of a statement. So, does Roger Waters feel that the Pink Floyd comparison if fair comment? "I don't mind the comparison at all. I think I may have blundered slightly on Radio KAOS, by allowing myself to be persuaded to use more modern production methods -- rather against my better judgement. There was a lot of Fairlight programming. I went into this project absolutely determined to make this record in the way I knew how."
The choice of Pat Leonard, he of the slick pop song, as co-producer is an
interesting one. How did that come about?
"I talked to a few producers about the album and when I got to Pat, not withstanding the fact that he'd never made a record that I'd liked at all, I did like him very much. We had a good conversation over the phone which had jokes in it. When we met, he told me he had watched a live performance of 'Dark Side of the Moon' as a 14-year-old and had been a fan ever since."
Moving on to weightier topics, it seems from the lyrics on the new album that you have a horrible fascination with war. Would you agree? "Well, this is a concept album. It's about the relationship between us and the television set. The theatre of the album is characterised as a monkey watching a television set. War -- and Desert Storm seems a perfect example of this -- has become a manifestation of the need that we have in the civilised West to assume ourselves in the exercise of entertaining and dramatic forign policy. It's jolly good TV."
"I'm concerned that this type of gunboat diplomacy has got tied up with economic factors that we don't notice because it's done so subtly. I identify very much with the guy at ground zero, the one that might get blown to bits or see his children slaughtered. And I think, 'What the fuck for?'. This has been one of my preoccupations for the last 20 years."
What do you hope the effect of the record will be on its audience? "There is stuff there for people to take for their own if they're prepared to, in the same way I took stuff from London's early work, or indeed Dylan's . I hope people can understand it and that some of them may realise that they're not alone. Maybe we can gather together in small groups and make the world a better place."
"It's like certain organisations that I approve of -- Amnesty International and Greenpeace, for example -- have gained serious footholds in the early nineties to the extent that most of us take them seriously. All these environmental issues are finally starting to colour the way policies are formed."
So if it's a quick hop, skip and jump you're after, Amused to Death is not
the record for you. If, on the other hand, you're up for grappling with
big, weighty and difficult, then Roger is your man.