Roger Waters: Amused to Death (take 2)

Amused to Death, emerged as a dark, desultory look at the domination of the media as a brainless but powerful influence in the shaping of mankind’s political, religious and social ideals.

Roger Waters

Amused to Death

Label: Sony/Legacy
Release Date: 2015-07-24

The term “lighthearted” and the name Roger Waters have never appeared in the same context, and if Waters’ increasingly edgy façade is any indication, they likely never will. Where Syd Barrett was the madcap core of Pink Floyd’s psychedelic flirtations, and Gilmour, Wright and Mason were the enthusiastic fellow travellers, Waters was the band’s existential visionary, the musician who’s fatalistic concepts and futuristic mindset helped lay the course for the band’s biggest breakthroughs, specifically Dark Side of the Moon and its even more foreboding follow-up, The Wall. And yet, for all the internal friction that eventually tore the band asunder, Waters has steadfastly clung to those conceptual ideals in his solo career, not only recreating The Wall repeatedly in performance, but also doggedly clinging to those brooding themes in his individual works as well.

The third album of his solo trajectory, Amused to Death, emerged as a sequel of sorts to The Wall, a dark, desultory look at the domination of the media as a brainless but powerful influence in the shaping of mankind’s political, religious and social ideals. Inspired by the book Amusing Ourselves to Death by author Neil Postman, it expounded on many of the same spacial topics Postman chose to elaborate on in his book, but the album’s apocalyptic premise went way beyond any of those themes the author envisioned. In fact, Waters takes broad potshots at any number of universal subjects, from the the artifice of war as a noble crusade and the lowbrow art peddled by Andrew Lloyd Weber to man’s insistence on retooling God in his own vacuous image. Various samples and soundbites play a prominent role throughout, be it the spoken word commentary of an aged World War I veteran in the song “The Ballad of Bill Hubbard” or a play by play commentary by sportscaster Marv Albert in the song "Perfect Sense, Part II", which finds the broadcaster delivering a battlefield broadside as if it was some kind of competitive sport.

Needless to say, this doesn’t make for the most accessible setlist, and even in those moments of sheer transcendence -- the aching vocal that illuminates “Perfect Sense, Part I”, the steadily assertive “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” and the cooing harmonies that provide a soothing send-off through the title track -- the foreboding sense of doom and despair dampens any hope for any kind of catchy, catch-all refrain.

While the new audio mix that accompanies this reissue (no bonus tracks included) might entice the audiophiles and give observers further reason to delve into its inner meanings, the sheer profundity of Waters’ weighty subject matter still leaves little room for immediate attachment. A noble experiment from an edgy, outspoken prophet and pontificator, Amused to Death isn’t exactly the stuff of easily consumable entertainment. Waters would likely not want it any other way.


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