It starts so slight. A breezy acoustic tremor before Roger Waters ushers in some dark introspective offerings. “Pigs On The Wing”? What is he on about? And so begins the hidden monster in the Pink Floyd back catalogue. The album that signaled a change not just in the music but in the band hierarchy too. A brief album, often forgotten by the fair-weather fan, but for those of the more hardcore persuasion those barking noises on ‘Dogs’ are the murmurings of something much darker and more insidious. Pink Floyd have always been a political band, here they become overtly political, albeit in a very English way. Taking their cue from George Orwell’s Animal Farm they deliver a monstrosity, a beast, a disturbing album that ultimately offers no redemption. Music for hippies? This is music for a 70’s torn apart by political powers all jostling for attention.
Perhaps the most disturbing feature of Animals is the sheer anger, not just in the way Waters spits out the vocals but in the way the band play. Released in the year that punk broke, the archetypal hippy prog band that the genre tried to kill out does (and eventually outlasts) any provincial anger felt by the punks. Whilst that scene was debating whether they were art students or council estate denizens, these men of Cambridge University were searingly delivering devastating moments of sheer anguish and ire. A heady mix, the aforementioned lyrics of Waters being played off by the red hot stabs of Dave Gilmour’s guitar. Nick Mason and Rick Wright don’t shy away either with Mason matching Waters ambivalent bass with his syncopated rhythms opening the songs up into endless jams whilst Wright, ever the heart of the band, finds parts of the keyboard no-one should go near.
By extending the songs out to longer lengths, repeated motifs re-occur bringing an unnerving sense of having been here already. The human pig noises are genuinely disturbing as the band search for a way out of their jam. That blues simplicity that had always been so evident in the Floyd is charged out into almost jazz territory although this is more Miles Davis on bad acid than the sweet sound of Coltrane. Everything about Animals disturbs and it wouldn’t be until the misunderstood The Final Cut album that they key themes of political alienation and feelings of uselessness, desperation and ultimately, worthlessness and pointlessness would play out. What Animals does is explain why The Wall happens, it explains the loss of The Final Cut. It’s portentous, which is all the more remarkable as it is unlikely Waters had planned such a trilogy already.
That portentous aspect has somehow reared its ugly head once again 40 years on from release as the world suddenly turns itself inside out with the election of an isolationist pig of a President, a preying lapdog of a Prime Minister and a world which watches in fear (and envy?). Much as been said of Orwell’s prescience but it is in Animals that we find a more worrying outlook. Maybe its the music, shorn of anything resembling rock and roll or pop, this is music born of dislocated anger. It is frustration, fear, the knowledge that to protest is pointless. The new kings have risen and the world is once again on edge. Has there ever been a more relevant time for Pink Floyd’s forgotten opus?
Whether Waters was just a little crazy or is in fact a visionary depends on your point of view. That the album marked a turn in the hierarchy of the band is indisputable but maybe now as he tours the US once again playing ‘Pigs’, we have a chance to re-evaluate not just the album but Waters and the band. Animals may be loosely based on Orwells novel Animal Farm but it’s politics lie a little deeper and within its music you can sense that rift growing between guitarist and bassist. Its the sound of the cracks coming apart at the seams, a context which when we magnify on a world scene becomes a terrifying prospect.
Not to liken the relationship of Gilmour and Waters to any world event, but by taking that human aspect and throwing it in a mix with politics and religion, it becomes a time-bomb waiting to happen. It may have defused itself first time round, in 2017 we cannot be too sure and you get the feeling that each day is a living reward. When you live with leaders intent on looking after their own interests, you have to wonder just who is looking after your own and what lies you are being told. For us, the Boxers of the world, all we can do is heed the message within the music and hope that things work out.