Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dogs: A Lyric For Our Time

In less than two weeks, it will have been 30 years since Pink Floyd released Animals in January, 1977. It could not possibly be any more topical than it is today.

This, of course, is one defining mark of true art: it speaks to each succeeding generation with a uniquely renewed force and immediacy. Click on that graphic (it is not, of course, the original album cover: it's actually a building in Jersey City, an old dead power station) and listen to the excerpt from "Dogs," and think about the past six years. Then read the following, from John Rolfe.

Animals is very likely the most overlooked, underrated and underappreciated album by the classic Floyd foursome of Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason, certainly when judged in the context of their success after Dark Side of the Moon. The album is brilliant on a number of levels – as Orwellian commentary on the sorry state of humanity; as a Floydian tour de force of mood, atmosphere and sound (particularly all those ghostly dogs barking and sheep bleating); and as a cheeky response to the punk rock movement that despised Pink Floyd as a prime example of all that was wrong with rock in the 70’s: bloated, ponderous, pompous, self-important and collapsing under the weight of its theatrics. The Floyd turned the tables by putting out a relatively spare record that contained the most consistently forceful playing of their career – from the sheer, mad rush of Dogs to the roaring power chords at the end of the Pigs (Three Different Ones) to the rampaging stomp of Sheep with its explosive climax. Even the cover itself – a power station with a pig floating over it – was a sly nod to the music that lay within.

Live, the shows on the 1977 In The Flesh tour were very likely the most commanding of that lineup’s career – and I saw them twice on their 1975 tour before taking in two ’77 shows at Madison Square Garden. Accompanied by second guitarist Snowy White and trusty saxophonist Dick Parry, the Floyd tore through all of Animals and Wish You Were Here with breathtaking power and clarity, not to mention some of Wright’s most transporting keyboard soundscapes. It was also fascinating to see and hear how Dogs had evolved from You Gotta Be Crazy and Sheep had been begotten by the even more menacing and careening Raving and Drooling. The Floyd had debuted Crazy and Raving on the ’75 tour before finally committing them to record two years later.

But as I said at the top, Animals got lost in the shadows of what came immediately before – Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here – and after – The Wall. But, like those other masterpieces, it holds up well 30 years later. It’s a bracing listen and, sadly, Roger Waters’ bilious appraisal of mankind’s ghastly behavior in the pursuit of power and fortune is still spot-on. The record still stands as his most bitter commentary on the subject – all bare knuckles where Dark Side of the Moon was shrouded in a succinct and gentle melancholy. Wish You Were Here targeted the ravages of fame and the insidious, coldhearted machinery of the recording industry. The Wall had more to do with psychosis and alienation, and The Final Cut was steeped in personal anguish over the death of Waters’ father in World War II and mankind’s inability to stop waging war. But Animals is just a simple, loud, angry, damning indictment of the human race. Best of all, it rocks like hell.

—John Rolfe

Who was born in a house full of pain
Who was trained not to spit in the fan
Who was told what to do by the man
Who was broken by trained personnel
Who was fitted with collar and chain
Who was given a pat on the back
Who was breaking away from the pack
Who was only a stranger at home
Who was ground down in the end
Who was found dead on the phone
Who was dragged down by the stone.


We'll have more on this extraordinary album and the band that made it as the week progresses.

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