The first track, “When We Were Young”, begins with a muffled loop of Roger Waters speaking. As the loop progresses, his voice rises in the mix as other spoken loops become audible. A sound, like a clock, ticks in the background, as if to remind us that time never stands still but is always moving forward (and backward since “Time” from 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon also begins with the sound of a clock). The track concludes with Rogers stating, “I’m still afraid / Our parents made us what we are / Or was it God?” Fear, the influence of overbearing parents, the power and presence of religion — all of the familiar themes are here along with patches and remnants of psychedelia. Why not use them? They’ve worked for plenty of Pink Floyd and Waters albums. As the track concludes, “it’s never really over”.
“Déjà Vu” hits the ground running discussing God, religion, technology, and ecological disaster to a backdrop of subtle acoustic guitar, piano, and strings. Heavy stuff, but as this is his first album in 12 years and he is now in his 70s, a sense that time is of the essence circles around the album. However, while building out from past sounds and themes, this is an album very much of the present moment and immediate concerns, namely political. The title track, for example, begins with an excerpt of Trump. Does this guy ever lighten up? Not really. But we know this going into any work by Waters. It’s not quite a lost Pink Floyd album, but it gives a sense of what they might sound like now. For sure it’s better than The Endless River and it’s one of the best solo albums by a Pink Floyd member.
Waters even pushes for and finds the classic, high, angry voice of earlier years here and there on various tracks. Not quite as high, not quite as powerful, it still makes a statement. “The Last Refugee” with its piano, drums, fuzzy synth, and strong vocals makes us long a bit for guitar. “Bird in a Gale” give us some vocal echo effects, background mumbling zooming from side to side, and some of the classic Floyd feel.
The rest of the album follows the blueprint established by the first few tracks. The only exception is the album’s best track and one of Water’s finest solo tracks, “Smell the Roses” in which all of the vocal, musical, and lyrical elements come together. It’s a grooving, rocking plea to all of us to get it together before somebody else finishes making all the decisions for us. The record’s sound is cohesive, but not varied. The songs glide and fly, but not all of them soar.
One song epitomizes the album. “Picture That”, track four, picks up the pace, swinging and finally rocking. As it approaches the end, a slow, delayed guitar drops in some notes. It’s a good approximation in terms of style and sound of what Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour might have played on the song. But it’s still an approximation. Like so many tracks, the lead guitar or lack thereof hangs in the air like an unanswered, phantom invitation to Gilmour reminding us that while Waters wrote many of the songs, played bass, and sang in Pink Floyd, Gilmour provided the central guitar and also sang plenty of lead vocals. While in the past Waters has portrayed Pink Floyd as more or less his band, one must remember that the other band members made important contributions. For example, Gilmour created the demo for “Comfortably Numb”, one of Floyd’s most enduring songs and originally reserved for his first solo album. Waters helped develop the final version. Whichever one is Pink, the other is definitely Floyd.
While the solo work of Gilmour and Waters improves with each release and suggests that each is getting more comfortable working on his own and figuring out how to work without the other, their solo albums are also a painful and tantalizing reminder of just how good the music they made together once was.