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Animals by Pink Floyd (1977)

These days, it seems that practically everyone has the usual classic Pink Floyd albums: The Wall, Wish You Were Here, and Dark Side of the Moon. That's hardly surprising, since to this day, several radio-friendly songs from each of those albums remain in heavy rotation on classic rock radio stations. And one very simple and understandable reason why radio stations like to play those songs is their length, which is to say that, for commercial purposes, they are not considered to be too long.

I was introduced to those well-known Pink Floyd albums as a teenager in the 1980s. I won't dwell on my reaction to them, since I suppose it's enough to say that I was just as blown away by them as most people are. As I was first beginning to enjoy them, I was told that there were other great Pink Floyd albums that I ought to check out. So, I got Piper at the Gates of Dawn -- through which I found out about the startling creativity of Syd Barrett -- and borrowed my stepfather's copy of Meddle.

What particularly interested me about Meddle was "Echoes," which comes to around 23 minutes in total. I figured out pretty quick that I would never be hearing that one on the radio, and not just because of the sheer length of it, but also owing to the intense theatrics of the piece.

The middle section, perhaps meant to represent the journey of a ship into a fog-shrouded nightmare after having provoked a terrible curse for killing an albatross, in my view conveys all of the dread and otherworldliness of Coleridge's profound poem "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." In other words, not the kind of stuff for your usual classic rock station, except maybe between 3 AM and 6 AM on a weeknight morning when the DJ figures, what the heck, nobody's paying for any commercials at this hour -- might as well put it on.

I started to listen religiously to "Echoes," and continued to do so for several months until I had practically memorized every single note and strange sound in the epic piece. The more I listened to it, the more I became convinced that it was no mere pop song -- it was a true work of modern musical art, and not pop-art by any means. This is not meant as any disrespect to the pop-art genre, which, generally speaking, I enjoy a great deal. No, I concluded, "Echoes" belongs to another category of music, perhaps epic art rock. It almost seemed like a symphonic composition of sorts.

One day a friend of mine came by the house, and we started to discuss music. It turned out that he didn't have Meddle, so I invited him to listen to "Echoes."

He remarked, "You know, that really reminds me of the Pink Floyd album Animals."

I'd heard of Animals, but never had the chance to listen to it. My friend remarked that the entire Animals album was kind of like the song "Echoes," meaning that almost all of the songs on there were really long -- way too long for commercial radio. That description intrigued me, and I determined to get the album and find out for myself.

For one reason or another, a few years would go by before I would get the chance to give Animals a listen. In the meantime, I graduated from high school, started college, and went through a number of painful, alienating and depressing experiences that I won't go into here. But suffice it to say that I reached a terrible emotional low point in my life, and one day I found myself in a record store looking for some music to lose myself in.

As I browsed through the Pink Floyd section of cassettes, I noticed that they had Animals, so I went ahead and bought it. My car had a cassette player, and having nothing better to do, I popped in the cassette and decided to drive my car around town until I had listened to both sides in their entirety.

Well, it turned out that I had found the perfect album to complement the dismal mood I was in those days. Similar to The Wall, Animals is pretty much a grim, dark ride from beginning to end -- excepting "Pigs on the Wing" (1 and 2) -- but other than that, they are two very different works.

As much as I like The Wall, it is not an album that I can really personally identify with, since I understand that it is a dramatization of Roger Waters' inner life, and as such is filled with very specific references to the trials and travails of rock superstardom. Interesting material, admittedly, but when I listen to The Wall, I am a spectator who witnesses Waters' dramatic meltdown. On the other hand, when I listen to Animals, I see myself as an unwilling participant -- a sheep, of course -- in the vicious and pitiless society described in the song's lyrics.

My friend was right: The songs on Animals are all similar to "Echoes," once again excepting "Pigs on the Wing" (1 and 2). Like "Echoes," they are too long for play on commercial radio, and they have their fair share of extended, impressionistic, non-radio-friendly sound experimentation.

In my view, it took a lot of guts to make an album like that, since there is pretty much nothing there that radio stations can use on a regular basis -- even "Pigs on the Wing" (1 and 2), the album's only short song, is actually too brief and too stark for commercial radio play. But Pink Floyd -- or more specifically, Roger Waters -- was more concerned about fulfilling a grand artistic vision than in generating income, and for that they have my respect and admiration.

In any case, over the course of the last several decades, Animals did eventually go platinum four times over, but initial sales of the album back in the 1970s were rather anemic compared to previous blockbuster works by the group. At the time, many listeners were turned off by the album's almost relentless negativity and social criticism, the great length of its songs, its prevalent use of sonic weirdness, and its complete lack of catchy melodies.

Providing a rather loose, alternative interpretation of George Orwell's novel Animal Farm, the album sets three categories of animals within the context of capitalist rather than socialist society. I think that Waters deserves a lot of credit for coming up with this insightful perspective and for fleshing it out so well in this concept album, but in the 1970s, a grand musical vision of such broad scope undoubtedly came across as too ponderous and preachy for a lot of music listeners.

Lest we forget, the late 1970s was a time when punk rock was going head-to-head with disco, and new-wave pop was starting to make itself known. The big-message songs of the 1960s, as well as the idea of virtuoso rock musicianship, were increasingly seen as passé. Undeterred by these emerging musical trends, Pink Floyd stuck to its guns, so to speak, and delivered a "dinosaur" rock album which not only proved that classic rock was not extinct, but also demonstrated that the genre was continuing to evolve.

Musically, what strikes me most about the album is its overall sense of breadth and immensity. Its songs feature relatively few chord changes, and there are moments of slow pacing with minimal instrumentation followed by startling transitions. The overall effect is a very heavy sound.

Also, even though from a purely technical point of view, Pink Floyd demonstrates enviable musical ability on the album, Animals is not a showcase for amazing rock performances in the same way that several progressive rock albums by Yes and ELP are. There are no moments during the album when I say to myself, my God, how did he manage to play that? Rather, I find myself asking other questions, such as, my God, how did they manage to come up with that part and then transition it into the next part? Structurally speaking, the album is a masterpiece.

I don't usually focus all that much upon album covers, but I must admit that I rank the cover of Animals among my five favorites. The huge power station, belching its cruddy filth into the mournful sky, seems to personify the greedy corporate indifference that dominates our capitalist societies, and the huge inflated pig floating between the smokestacks appears to reign supreme over the whole complex of dreary buildings. The blunt, ideologically-charged image must have come across like a brutal slap in the face to anyone who had been expecting a trippy, psychedelic album cover from the band.

Here are some observations on the individual songs from the album:

"Pigs on the Wing" (Parts 1 and 2)

I've heard an alternative version of this song that features an extended guitar solo by Pink Floyd contributor Snowy White. It's not a bad solo, but in my view, the song is better with just the acoustic guitar and Waters' plaintive voice. Providing the only emotionally bright spot on the album, "Pigs on the Wing" was probably addressed to Roger Waters' girlfriend at the time, but when taken in context with the entire album, the lyrics to this brief song may be interpreted more broadly to refer to any one individual's concern for any other within the context of capitalist society: "You know that I care what happens to you." This stands in stark contrast to the predatory mindset of the dogs, the pompous and self-serving attitude of the pigs, and the fear and paralysis of the sheep.


This is probably my favorite song on the album for two reasons. First, because the lyrics, filled with everyday clichés used to devastating effect, are so memorable and so effective at pointing out the endemic cruelty in our society -- a cruelty that is so deep-rooted that it comes through in shopworn expressions such as "you've got to sleep on your toes, and when you're in the street, you've got to be able to pick up the easy meat with your eyes closed." Secondly, because David Gilmour's slow-hand, ultra-heavy guitar on this piece ranks among his very best performances. Additionally, I really like the strange barking dogs and freaked-out synthesizer part in the middle, which sounds kind of like an electrified mosquito.


The fat, meaty sound of this song is a perfect fit for the lyrics, which skewer three pigs, each representing a particular member of capitalist society: a smug, complacent and hypocritical businessman, a violent old hag, and an insufferable prude. In the middle of the song, you get to listen to a bunch of pigs snorting and squealing as they stick their snouts into a trough for a sloppy meal. Truly, they are "nearly a laugh" but "really a cry." It is indeed a kind of funny song, but pretty depressing at the same time, and also kind of anger-provoking, since every time I hear it I think about all the abuse I've had to deal with working for large organizations run by big-shot egos.


What I particularly like about this song is the way that Waters' voice turns into the electrified mosquito synthesizer several times. In large part, this piece showcases Richard Wright's imaginative and expressive keyboard playing, although David Gilmour does a stunning, triumphant rhythm guitar sequence towards the song's final. There are moments in the song that seem to express the fear of a sheep being led to a slaughterhouse. The strange, distorted voice in the middle of the song recites the words: "he maketh me to hang on hooks in high places and converteth me to lamb cutlets." This is an adaptation from Psalm 23 of the Bible, which begins with: "The Lord is my shepherd."

If you don't have Animals as part of your Pink Floyd album collection, waste no time and add it now. If you are a rock musician, this is most definitely a must-have album. If you study it, you will learn that you don't need to have a massive amount of technical ability in order to play amazing music. While lightning-fast lead guitarists are practically a dime-a-dozen, conceptual rock geniuses are not. And Animals ranks way up there among the best conceptual rock albums of all time.

Reviewed by Somebody Else 6/1/11

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