It's 1977. You're young and pissed off. If you wanted noise and petulance, you had the Sex Pistols. But if you really wanted to rattle some cages, you had Animals.
Pink Floyd was my first musical love, and the album Animals was my first experience in encountering and cherishing something that others did not care for. As me, my brother, and various acquaintances of his were pillaging the band's back catalog to find out what made this wondrous band tick, I was repeatedly told to steer clear of 1977's Animals. As I grew older, people's negative opinions of this album became better articulated for me: The band was beginning to be all about Roger Waters at this point, as David Gilmour's influence in Pink Floyd was sinking to its eventual low-point, they were losing their audience to the punk kids: yadda yadda, four legs bad. But I've always felt, before and after the recent EMI remaster campaign complete with the celebratory flying of a replica pig over Battersea Power Station, that with a slight shift in perspective, Animals can be every bit of as surprising and steadfast a milestone as Dark Side of the Moon. The music that Pink Floyd accomplished during the '70s has never felt like an artifact of the '70s, nor does it sound like a compartmentalization of the '60s. You can't really say that it was ahead of its time because, in some cases, it feels like time has yet to catch up with them. The most magically aligned moments of Animals feel like they belong to a decade that never really existed. The rest of it stands the test of time as good old-fashioned anti-conformist rock and roll.
Since this is a reissue, we will get the repressing details out of the way first. Does the 2011 reissue of Animals sound better than the 1994 reissue? The short answer is yes. This new edition is louder, but it's not a tremendous difference. Unlike the reissue jobs on old albums by Yes and The Who, the regular Pink Floyd albums don't have any bonus tracks or liner notes (Extras are supposedly saved for the Immersion boxsets). Everything is much like it was before: lyrics, credits, some really attractive photographs, and the music. Animals' iconic image, the large inflatable pig that once escaped a photo shoot, teases the eye with a now-you-see-me-but-not-fully manner that only added to Pink Floyd's overall stubborn mystique.
Everyone knows the thread going through Animals; three long works are bookended by the acoustic love ditty "Pigs on the Wing." "Dogs" are the aggressors; "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" are the greedy ones who manipulate the dogs; and the "Sheep" are the spineless conformists that do whatever the dogs and pigs tell them to do. Conveniently ignoring the existence of sheepdogs, Waters strangely enough makes the sheep the victors here, announcing "Have you heard the news? / The dogs are dead" but then reminds them that they "Better stay home / And do what you’re told." The dogs aren't immune to this easy corralling either. In the outro of "Dogs" (every lengthy song on this album boasts a certifiably distinct and wonderful outro), Waters rattles off the things that slowly killed the dogs' spirits. This includes, appropriately enough, "who was trained not to spit in the fan" since later that year, Roger Waters did find himself spitting on a Pink Floyd concert goer in Montreal. Their crime? Setting off firecrackers while Waters was trying to sing "Pigs on the Wing."
The disgust-with-a-smirk of Animals can, but won't ever, threaten to steal attention away from the music itself. Richard Wright's keyboard motif that introduces us to "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" holds a power of dread that dwarfs any of Rick Wakeman's tomato-splattered synthetic ivory tickling from roughly the same time. From a guitar point of view, several of this song’s six-stringed passages mimic Wish You Were Here's "Have a Cigar" while the decidedly more chorus-ey moments foreshadow Gilmour's eponymous debut solo album that would appear just a year later. And we can't forget the sustained vocal notes from "Sheep" that turn seamlessly into bits of falling action from a synthesizer explosion. To this day, I have yet to hear anything quite like that.
Roger Waters' anti-establishment spirit was alive and well in Animals, even if Pink Floyd were in danger of being lumped into the arena-sized dinosaur circuit by the likes of John Lydon. Targets like morality watchdog Mary Whitehouse in "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" and the irreverent skewing of Psalm 23 on "Sheep" help the listener understand the gravity of the cynicism here and what it was like to truly piss people off back in 1977. If you wanted noise, you had the Pistols. But if you wanted to rattle cages, you had Animals. As far as longevity is concerned, even though it has been over 20 years since I first wandered into this farm, hearing the songs on Animals still makes me snap to attention this very day.