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Roger Waters - Is This The Life We Really Want? album review Print E-mail
Written by Matt   
Wednesday, 31 May 2017
Roger Waters - Is This The Life We Really Want? album cover

It's a troubled world we live in at the moment - ISIS, North Korea testing nuclear weapons, the numerous problems in the Middle East, and sadly, much more. True to himself, a man of principles, Roger Waters tackles some of these subjects in typically uncompromising manner on his long-awaited new album. Who else these days would brand the man who promised to "Make America Great Again" (via baseball caps made in China), one of the most powerful men in the world, a nincompoop? Who else would bring into such sharp relief the inequalities of life and stand up for the ordinary person, trying to scratch a living the best way they can for their family, maybe located in a place where (through no fault of their own) they end up targets for bombing?

Is This The Life We Really Want?, released on June 2nd, takes an unflinching look at these subjects, and is a real "cry from the heart". Roger's passion and determination, wedded with Nigel Godrich's production, and the newly assembled band for this project, has resulted in an album that demands your attention. It is not an album you can have playing in the background, that you just hum along to. To use a peculiarly British phrase, it is sure to be considered a real 'Marmite' album - many fans will love it, but for some, the subject matter (and the musical approach) will prove a turn off. However, those who complain about him bringing politics into his music, should remember that Roger (with his ever present strong social conscience) has always had a focus in this direction, with one of his early recorded examples being Corporal Clegg.

Coming 25 years since his last (rock) album, Amused To Death, Is This The Life We Really Want? (ITTLWRW) is a major collaboration with Godrich, who reportedly took Waters' demo of his prospective new album, cherry picked some key moments, and then took strong grasp of the reins to craft an album that takes Roger into a new direction, without sacrificing integrity and bringing a new immediacy. It's an album which hints in particular at Animals, The Final Cut and Amused To Death, blending the sound and feel of those, with a fresh approach and modern production values.

ITTLWRW is an album with love at its core - personal love, between those close to each other, as well as love for one's fellow human in a much wider sense, irrespective of geographical circumstance. It finds Roger at turns looking back to his past, railing at injustices, and hoping for a better future for the world. The album starts with a montage of Roger's utterances, heavily overlaid, which will no doubt be pored over at length to untangle and study. It's just an amuse bouche before the first song proper, Déjà Vu. This finds Roger pondering life either as god, or as a military drone - setting the scene for the rest of the album. Musically, one of the most beautiful songs on the album, with lush strings accompanying a plaintive piano, and an emotive vocal from Roger, backed by Jessica Wolfe and Holly Laessig.

The Last Refugee, which follows, is a powerful and touching look at love and loss, and is arguably Roger's most overt statement about the yearning and consuming emotion, with lyrics that subvert the initially simplistic direction of the imagery. His powerful vocal is perfectly balanced with an understated musical background.

Things now kick up a gear with a bitter and angry Picture That. With a pumping Welcome to the Machine-esque bass and electric guitar line, Roger almost physically grabs the listener and shakes them - pointing out a stream of things, railing at how tough life is for some, whilst laying criticism at the feet of various governments, and officials, such as recently elected President Trump, who is referenced at least twice in the song.

Broken Bones, with its stately cello, acoustic and drums, enhanced with strings, mourns the "bullshit and lies" peddled by governments, turning their backs on the founding principals to pursue their own agendas (political and financial). "Little babies mean us no harm, they have to be taught to despise us..." points out Roger, with a rallying cry to stand up and make a stand, looking beyond the map and where someone was born.

Roger Waters - Is This The Life We Really Want? new album 2017 (photo: Alex Fishlock)The title track of the album starts with a recording of Trump bemoaning the coverage of his election, before our narrator shares the blame for the state of society equally with everyone (apart from the ants, and Roger duly notes why), returning to the theme of his last rock album, Amused To Death, asking if "we [are] all just numbed out on reality TV?" Musically, a little plodding, and one can understand why it's not been chosen as part of the set of his current tour.

The tempo picks up for Bird In a Gale, with a howling, desperate vocal coupled to the addition of some rather wonderful keyboards reminiscent of the late great Richard Wright’s playing on the Floyd’s 1977 album, Animals, and in particular, Sheep.

The Most Beautiful Girl is to a degree an oblique look at bombing in Syria, and as with elsewhere on the album, the piano figures strongly - those who revel in guitar work, particularly solos, will find slim pickings on ITTLWRW. Subtle use of strings balances well with the vocal, and the song includes some plaintive delivery from Roger. Indeed, his final line (“So hold on, I’m coming home”) has a Waters vocal that we’ve never had before - a blend of sadness and yearning that’s quite affecting.

Smell the Roses was the first track to be released from the album, and thus will be familiar with most of you. Arguably the most traditionally Waters/Floydian sounding track on the album, it has the lion’s share of guitar work, along with dogs barking, and curiously enough, a nod to The Doors in the final line. A clear Have a Cigar - and Animals - vibe lurks and helps propel the song toward the coda. This final section of the album, a set of three songs which look at love, and how the power of the emotion positively affects people, is beautifully weighted and the perfect way to conclude things.

The musical theme continues through the three songs, a heartfelt plea of love and respect, which is a metaphor for the fragility of peace and co-operation in a wider sense (much more overt in the final segment, Part Of Me Died). Musically, some wonderful touches, including some quite Hammondesque keyboards, and an uplifting conclusion to things.

Looking at the album as a whole, musically, guitars are used on the whole for colour and effect, with a distinct lack of the traditional solo, and piano taking more of a front and centre position. Some of the music, too, might feel a little more back to basics for a Waters album - The Most Beautiful Girl, and the title track, both feel quite stripped back (ITTLWRW in particular, sounding in places like a demo that’s had some enhancement/additional instrumentation), maybe so as not to take focus from the lyrics. Tracks like these will the ones most likely to divide the Waters fans, particularly those who are less interested in the subject matter of his material.

The power and strength of the material, though, and the beauty of many aspects of the album, should shine through. To prepare this review, I’ve listened to the album a few dozen times and counting, and it is an album that has evolved for me. The more I’ve listened, the more I’ve heard; Roger’s songwriting has further improved and there’s many an efficient and evocative turn of phrase. Musically, this album has found Roger on much more subtle form, channeling hints at his past life in Pink Floyd, and bringing in elements from his earlier solo material, although I suspect some of that at least is due to Godrich’s guiding hand on things. It is an atmospheric album, with a subtle amount of blended material from other sources - this type of music concrete is a staple of course of Pink Floyd’s back catalogue, but this album finds Roger exploring an interesting new path, not far from previous material but with a leanness and directness that is refreshing. Let’s hope this is a fruitful new partnership with more on its way in due course.

Is This The Life We Really Want? finds Roger Waters in excellent form, full of fire and a determination to try and open people’s eyes to what is going on in the world today. His exploration of themes of love is also a positive move. The album fully deserves your attention and whilst the politics might not be to some people’s taste, musically it sees Roger confidently embracing a new approach.

ALBUM DETAILS:
The musicians on the album are: Roger Waters (vocals, acoustic, bass), Nigel Godrich (arrangement, sound collages, keyboards, guitar), Gus Seyffert (bass, guitar, keyboards), Jonathan Wilson (guitar, keyboards), Joey Waronker (drums), Roger Manning (keyboards), Lee Pardini (keyboards), and Lucius (vocals) with Jessica Wolfe and Holly Proctor. The physical album release includes a double 180-gram vinyl LP in a gatefold jacket and a 4-panel soft pack CD.

With many of you out there committed vinyl enthusiasts, we're sure that edition will be a very popular release. Thus, below we list dedicated ordering links for the vinyl AND the CD editions - using these will give a small but vital contribution to the running costs of Brain Damage, without costing you a penny/cent extra, and we really appreciate it!

IS THIS THE LIFE WE REALLY WANT? CD:  Amazon.com  Amazon UK  Canada  Germany  France  Italy  Spain 
IS THIS THE LIFE WE REALLY WANT? 180g 2LP VINYL:  Amazon.com  Amazon UK  Canada  Germany  France  Italy  Spain 
 
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