Album Review: Roger Waters’ ‘Is This the Life We Really Want?’

Roger Waters
Columbia Records

Roger Waters
“Is This the Life We Really Want?”
(Columbia)

When Roger Waters announced that he was working with Radiohead/Beck producer Nigel Godrich on his first new studio album in a quarter-century, imaginations ran wild at the thought of Waters’ sensibilities being run through some kind of post-modern filter. But, for better or worse, the newly released result is less of the “Kid Animals” hybrid you might have expected than Godrich indulging his Pink Floyd fanboy side.

“Is This the Life We Really Want?” finds the producer adding blatant nods along the way to every Floyd album from “Meddle” through “The Final Cut” — which may alternately delight fans and frustrate them a little, since the material Waters has written doesn’t always seem to be calling for these touches. Most of the songs are closer to meditative, half-spoken album tracks of yore like “Mother” than explosive hits like “Money,” but that doesn’t keep Godrich from throwing in tape loops of BBC radio announcers or ticking-clock sound effects or synth parts that sound like posthumous contributions from Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright. These ‘70s-redolent touches may represent Godrich’s glee at being the kid in the Pink Floyd candy store, or just a realization that it takes a spoonful of that sugar to make Waters’ world-weary bitterness go down.

And make no mistake — Waters was already rock’s angriest man for the last 40 years, and the election of Donald Trump certainly hasn’t mellowed him out. Except for a couple of surprisingly sweet moments in the final stretch, “Is This the Life We Really Want?” is a nonstop fusillade of Waters’ grievances against (a probably non-existent) God, the president, the military-industrial complex, drones, smartphones, reality TV, remote-control bombings, cruel fate, and far, far crueler mankind. (However, there are none of the overt Israeli/Palestinian comments he’s made in recent interviews, in case you’re wondering.) The largely stream-of-consciousness lyrics make this arguably Waters’ first real non-concept album since “Meddle” — although the idea that the world has gone to hell in a handbasket, and that Roger Waters is mad about it, may count as concept enough.

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When Godrich isn’t distracting with overtly nostalgic touches, “Is This the Life We Really Want?” plays out a lot like free-form poetry set to music. That’s not a knock; it’s mostly very good free-form poetry, and the music has a lot of undeniably lovely moments — thanks especially to the string arrangements from David Campbell (a.k.a. Beck’s father) — even if it rarely coalesces into the conventional tunes some may be looking for. It’s a better album than previous efforts like “Radio KAOS” or “Amused to Death” for being less tied to narrative shackles.

Yet the problem with the winking Floyd references is that they keep setting you up for a cathartic David Gilmour guitar solo that never comes. (Jonathan Wilson, who’s part of the crack L.A. studio band Godrich brought in, is certainly capable, but goes uncalled upon for much here.) Maybe it’s a no-win situation — such a solo would be too overt — but all that tension begs for some kind of release.

And yet it’s hard not to be struck by all the beautiful turns of phrase Waters comes upon here, even amid all the FCC-baiting political bile. This is especially true of the quiet three-song suite that ends the album, which seems to revolve around actual love, even though you keep waiting for a missile sound effect. (He did, after all, blow up “The Most Beautiful Girl” a little earlier in the album.) It takes a moment to realize in “Wait for Her” that, when he sings “Don’t let your eyes alight upon the twin doves of her breast, lest they take flight/ Wait for her,” he’s being funny and affectionate and dear, not setting you up for the kill.

And then, in the closing “Part of Me Died,” he goes on to literally catalogue every bad thing he can think of in the world over the course of a couple of unbendingly bitter minutes, because he is Roger Waters, but also because he’s trying to provide some closing context for how the love of a woman supposedly makes him want to forget all that misanthropy. But if you’re a fan, you would never want Waters to forget: All these decades into our relationship, there’s something comforting about his discomfort.

 

 

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    1. Sarah Cohen says:

      As I say sat second row center seat in Phoenix and enjoyed every heart pounding thud that hit me from the beats of the Bass, drums, speakers and when I turned around and from the crowd, I am so glad I was ignorant to his political views on Israel. I would have left. I would have never purchased the tickets. If you boycott Israel, the tourism dries up, that goes away, the Palestinian people suffer as well. How stupid. I don’t understand. I go to Israel often. I stay in Tell Aviv and Jerusalem. She is a beautiful country filled with beauty, love, riches, poverty, and such hate. Kindness, compassion, invention, beauty. All the people want to do is live thier lives. It is the governments, as always, that much it up. Roger go play to the people!!!!!!

    2. Simon says:

      I liked this album from the very beginning. Hard hitting commentary as expected. I didn’t find myself waiting for a guitar solo, I was glad that there was not someone doing a poor imitation of Gilmour on here. The nods to Floyd seem to me to be encompassing everything Roger has done through his musical career, I think it works very well. I loved Amused to Death too but there were some really cheesy “Bet Midler” moments on that album, this is a much darker and serious effort.

    3. Austin says:

      To me, he’s been an imbecile politically ever since [the real] Floyd disbanded. But “The Life” is pretty fresh. Reminds me of new Phish at times and Floyd at others. I might be able to withstand all the whining about Trump at the show — we’ll see. It’s incessant in pop culture now, anyway. It’s turned to white noise. But as Cornell just reminded me, Waters won’t live forever so I gotta see him do the late Floyd classics while I can.

      And Roger, I could live without the pointless news clips sprinkled throughout the album. Adds nothing; detracts something.

    4. JR says:

      This album is awful!

      Waters is talking through tape mix sounding beats. The songs, if you want to call them that, are lacking direction or, purpose. It’s not very musical and it’s not very creative. It’s definitely not to be mistaken even remotely in the category of the worst Pink Floyd songs.

      • John says:

        The album takes a couple of listens but it is good. However, I don’t agree with the comment that it is better than Amused to Death. I though that Amused to Death was great. I think that album is better than anything Floyd did except The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon (and I like Wish You Were Here and Animals a lot).

    5. AsmoG13 says:

      Amused To Death is extremely hard to beat, but this album is doing a great job so far.

    6. KWinSC says:

      I’m sorry. I tried to like Amused to Death but it just didn’t do it for me and I was hopeful but not optimistic Roger would go a different direction here. It just lacks for a better word musicality, I can’t get over it. It has nothing for me to do about the politics. Some of which I agree and some not so much. I personally believe Roger’s ego has out shined his talent. Or perhaps he just prefers to hear himself talk rather than bring some real music to his words. That would be even a bigger shame. I listened to this three times last week. It might get one more spin but it definitely won’t be for me a frequent listen for me.

    7. theSpringZone says:

      Great, great album. Very Pink Floydish. Love it.

    8. Is This The Life We Really Want? It is the central question of Roger Waters’ new album. A question he answers in his anger about the current political games, the world wars and the many refugees victims. The album is full of musical references to classics from the time of Pink Floyd, but due to the influence of producer Nigel Godrich there are some necessary little musical innovations. The depth of the whole is strengthened especially in the use of electronic gadgets and orchestral sounds. Although the emotional tone covers most of the album, there is still a spark of hope on the horizon by the end. The musical package effortlessly connects to the engaging vocal lines and the many images being projected on the retina. Even though Roger Waters knows that this isn’t the life he embraces, in love he finds a safe place to await his approaching end. 8.6/10

    9. lapelcelery says:

      Very, very good review. Personally I think it’s a beautiful album. No one’s waiting for guitar solos on Leonard Cohen albums. The orchestration provides what may as well be a lead instrument, and the spotlight belongs on the lyrics for poets like he and Roger.

    10. Knowhereman says:

      The album should have been called Déjà vu because I have heard all this before.

    11. James says:

      It’s a very Good album. Now for the political there are Socialist Countries doing very well. One example to the North of the U.S. Socialism doesn’t equal to Communism there are different kinds. But you can’t tell that to a Trumpster. Lol

    12. Al main says:

      Great review. Only mistake is to down play the other albums.

    13. Calm down everyone. It’s Roger. And in a nutshell, it is my belief that he did it again. First take for me, I did wait and my patience was not rewarded with a screaming guitar…a moment where one can visualize the live version of this work. What IS there for me are great layers of poetry and expression. I’m hoping to hear this album at the concerts I will attend this summer. This is one fan that will be deeply disappointed if it’s the same old. I’ll carry that sign that says “Fuck Your Playlist! Play This is the Life”.

    14. I’m getting tired of this socialist complaining about U.S. affairs when he chooses to live here instead of one of his socialist hellhole countries. Let’s not forget how he and his bandmates moved here for the Wall years as a tax shelter. As Maggie once said, the problem with Socialism is that you eventually run out of people’s money.

      • Mohsin Wadee says:

        @WinningAgain, if you were not so wilfully ignorant you’d know that although not a full blown US citizen, Waters is actually paying US taxes from his performances, including the Wall Tour.

        As for US affairs, if from your avatar you were not so far up Trump’s @rse, you’d also know US foreign policy has been disastrous, as has been proved in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the conception of ISIS.

        Stay stupid, it suits you.

    15. Mitchr68 says:

      He’s a lip syncing fake. I went to the wall tour. It sucked. He’s a one word socialist who lives in a gated community in the Hampton s.

      He’s a FAKE. LIKE THE REST…

      Eddy vedder – Bruce Springsteen etc on and on ad infinitum

    16. Jordan says:

      Fantastic album, he delivers as usual, a stunning album all the way through. Great lyrics. Great touches of delicate beauty, and hard driving bass tunes too! 10/10 way to go roger

    17. Norman Pucci says:

      This album is a load of crap. The muse has left the building. Roger, get over it. Get yourself an island and fade into obscurity, please!

    18. Great review. I agree about the frustrating lack of a ‘cathartic guitar solo’, but loving Roger’s lyrics and usual angst. I also agree with phpscribble – Amused to Death is a great album – waiting for this one to grow on me.

      • John says:

        I also thought Amused to Death was a great album. Listening to this a couple of times I don’t think it will come anywhere near that album. The review says this is better? How?

        • On reflection, after listening through a few times, I agree, I think Amused to Death is better. I don’t understand how he can say this new one beats it, I love how he ties his albums to ‘narrative shackles.’ But it won’t stop me listening and certainly won’t stop me trying to get tickets next year to see him again.

    19. phpscribble says:

      poor produce, Amused to Death is outstanding…this is no

    20. Jeffrey S Thomas says:

      Cannot wait to hear entire album..been a long time coming..another good review

    21. rocky-o says:

      good review…looking forward to the album…love waters’ solo songwriting…

      just one note…you talk about the song ‘wait for her’ quoting…

      “Don’t let your eyes alight upon the twin doves of her breast, lest they take flight/ Wait for her,”…

      maybe it’s my ‘roger waters discernment’ seeping thru, but doesn’t that remind you of 9/11…
      (…twin doves…less they take flight…)

      knowing roger…i wouldn’t doubt it…

      • Person Commenting says:

        I doubt it. Waters has always been pretty literal. Being that metaphorical would be uncharacteristic.

        • Shpeen says:

          FYI when Roger talks about a woman anywhere on this album, he’s referring to “Mistress Liberty”. It’s key to understanding the narrative.

        • Clo9ud says:

          More than likely it’s a battle taunt reminding any man who opposes Roger Waters that he will have his significant other recruited into his phony peace agenda (symbolized by doves) that he intends to lead in imitation of the ’60s counter-culture movement (hence the appropriation of CSNY’s song and album title “Deja Vu”). He had attempted to recruit Israeli citizen Rula Jabreal while she was still married in the hope of using her for his anti-Israel activism but she had her sights set on his treasure and cared nothing for his decomposing mummy’s kiss.

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