Roger Waters Asks: Is This The Life We Really Want?

Former Pink Floyd mastermind Roger Waters returns to the scene with an album of new material after a 25 year absence, and while his subject matter is highly relevant and his lyrics are just as good or better than they’ve ever been, Rogers demonstrates that musically, he is pretty much a one trick pony. Rogers gets an A for his lyrics and politics, but a C for the music. Every song sounds like an outtake from The Wall, without the benefit of David Gilmour’s soaring guitar work. I can’t help thinking every time I listen to Is This The Life We Really Want, “My God, this would be one of the greatest Pink Floyd albums of all time if Gilmour were involved.” I know that might sound blasphemous to die hard Roger Waters fans, but it’s true.

Now, before you get angry and stop reading, please note that I really do like Is This The Life We Really Want. Not only does Waters still have a striking vocal delivery at 73, but he also has the same lyrical smarts and ability to cut to the chase of his meaning with a phrase. He’s actually gotten even better with his lyrics. He turns a phrase more poetically than before. “Lie with me now/Under lemon tree skies/Show me the shy, slow smile/You keep hidden/By warm brown eyes” sings Waters in “The Last Refugee,” a heartache of a song about one of the greatest human travesties of our time. It’s haunting imagery and music conjure the horrible images, and more importantly, their aftermath with atmospheric sounds. It’s one of the songs here that would have easily fit the atmosphere of The Wall, but manages to stand on its own. Too many other songs don’t meet this much needed requirement. “Picture That,” with its more blunt lyrics, “Picture a shithouse with no fucking drains/Picture a leader with no fucking brains,” is perhaps the greatest example of a potentially great Pink Floyd song being reduced to a mediocre Roger Waters song. I can imagine some haunting Gilmour guitar flourishes flushing the song out. It’s so sad these two won’t record together, and that Gilmour continued on as Pink Floyd without Rogers.

Other songs like “Broken Bones,” which starts out sounding almost exactly like “Mother,” but takes interesting new directions with its strings, slide guitar, and regret filled history lesson lyrics simply shimmers with its powerfully ascendent spirit and vocals. It’s easily one of the album’s nigh insurmountable high points. “Broken Bones” is Waters at his irrepressible best, David Gilmour be damned. Title track “Is This The Life We Really Want?” benefits from Nigel Godrich’s (Radiohead, Beck) production. The song is slightly reminiscent of Radiohead with its pacing, chiming guitars, and stark piano. It’s all Waters though once the song progresses. It contains more of those socio-political lyrics that will make a progressive’s heart melt, coupled with the angry satire that Waters is known for. The guitars are atmospheric and the whole song feels heavily dystopic, or in other words, it’s great.

“Bird in a Gale” turns up the guitars a bit, and rehashes just about every Pink Floyd signature sound that makes them instantly recognizable. It’s another song that would be perfectly at home on Dark Side of The Moon or The Wall, but the pacing and signatures in the song just scream for Gilmour to step in and fill in the blanks. Again, though, this is a Roger Waters album and not a Pink Floyd one; it just feels like it should be and may distract from the songs’ experience.

Many of the songs on Is This the Life We Really Want are pretty great as Roger Waters remains a singular talent, but having the right politics, expressing them effectively, and putting them out there for all to hear doesn’t solely make for a great album. The music has to be as singular, and unfortunately here it just isn’t in too many instances.

Roger Waters is currently on tour.

***He will be in Greensboro at the GSO Coliseum on July 18th – get your tickets now!


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