Required Listening: Pink Floyd’s Animals

by Andrew Marvin on June 6, 2012

Here’s another Required Listening guest post from Andrew Marvin.

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Pink Floyd was one of the most influential bands in progressive and psychedelic rock. The 1970s witnessed the release of what are arguably the band’s greatest works, and, therefore, some of the greatest albums ever recorded.

The Dark Side of the Moon, released in 1973, was Pink Floyd’s most commercially successful album, while 1975’s Wish You Were Here stands as a timeless tribute to the late Syd Barrett. In 1979, The Wall presented a theatrical and historic double album as the band dealt with the pressures of fame and adulation.

But one album stands out during this period, even among these tremendous musical achievements.

Though a stark deviation from the band’s other work, 1977’s Animals nonetheless stands as a definitive progressive rock album and one of the band’s strongest. Armed with a cohesive concept, powerful imagery, and masterful musicianship, it stands apart as a side of Pink Floyd that cannot be overlooked.

During the 1970s, Pink Floyd was increasingly falling under Roger Waters’ control. In addition to being the band’s bassist, lyricist, and primary songwriter, Waters also became its driving conceptual force. For Animals, he would draw upon George Orwell’s allegorical novella, Animal Farm, as a source for the album’s socio-political themes.

The conceptual nature of Animals is integral to its power and relevance. Through the use of allegory, the album presents a scathing social critique that is as potent today as it was thirty-five years ago.

The album comprises five tracks: three extended length songs bookended by the brief acoustic love song, “Pigs on the Wing”. The central three tracks each represent a particular social class: dogs, the ruthless businessmen; pigs, the despotic upperclass; and sheep, the unquestioning masses.

“Dogs” promotes greed and dishonesty, advising, “You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to”. Clocking in at seventeen minutes, the song features some of David Gilmour’s most exceptional guitar work, while howling dogs contribute to a sense of fear and viciousness in the business realm.

“Pigs (Three Different Ones)” eviscerates the wealthy and elite members of society, who encourage the competition of those beneath them for their own gain. The lyrics condemn — among others — Mary Whitehouse, a social activist intent on “keeping our feelings off the street” with conservatism and censorship. Richard Wright’s haunting organ adds to the tension, while Waters’ snide vocal delivery evokes anger and resentment.

“Sheep” opens with the sounds of birds and bleating lambs before launching into the album’s climax. It describes the blind masses, “only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air”, and the music grows increasingly frantic as the sheep are led to the slaughter. A parody of Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd…”) is invoked, and the sheep manage to rise up and kill the dogs before returning to their life of pastoral apathy.

The world of Animals is hostile; only “Pigs on the Wing” offers a glimmer of hope in the form of love. But this darkness contributes to the album’s power. Whereas other Pink Floyd records tackle issues of conflict, greed, violence, madness, and isolation at length, no other album does so using the allegorical approach of Animals. By equating us with beasts, Pink Floyd alludes to the degeneration of human society. This is not an easily digested piece of pop music, but rather a challenging and uncomfortable look at the nature of humanity.

The darkest album of the Roger Waters era is unquestionably one of the band’s greatest. It’s a progressive milestone, a sonic masterpiece, and a conceptual tour de force. Don’t miss it.

iTunes link: Pink Floyd’s Animals

Amazon Link: Pink Floyd’s Animals

 

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