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Roger Waters - Is This The Life We Really Want ? CD (album) cover

IS THIS THE LIFE WE REALLY WANT ?

Roger Waters

 

Crossover Prog

3.72 | 182 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars It's been a quarter century since former Pink Floyd bass player/frontman Roger Waters delivered his greatest solo artistic statement with 1992's `Amused to Death', and despite the occasional new piece or cover song popping here and there, and no shortage of multiple lengthy live tours, a full-length follow-up studio work had not emerged. Cue 2017, and the current political climate has proven to be a huge inspiration in spurring the artist to kick up momentum, resulting in the Nigel `Radiohead' Godrich produced `Is This The Life We Really Want?'. It's a new work that's instantly recognizable as a Waters solo disc, holding plenty of the lyrical ammunition, raspy vocals, moody atmospherics and adventurous rock pieces the artist is known for, with an equal number of exciting revelations and (whisper it) oddly disappointing elements.

Completely noticeable from the first play is how producer Godrich has spared no expensive in delivering a gorgeous sonic canvass, and all the ambient sound-effects from Pink Floyd and Roger solo albums past - switching channels, news soundbites, shattering glass, explosions, ticking clocks, you name it - form a rich and evocative soundtrack in-between and around all of Roger's words and the instrumental backing they sit in. It's a reliable framing device, present on pretty much the two final Floyd works with Roger (`The Wall' and `The Final Cut') and his three solo discs that started with 1984's `The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking', and musically and vocally `...Life' is very much in the same style of those ones. So if you're not a fan of the more Waters-dominated Floyd works, his unique personality of those solo discs and the frequently political-themed lyrics that he eventually moved into, you're very likely going to struggle with this one as well. But it does offer plenty of unexpectedly safer Floyd-friendly moments worked in, Roger's voice sounds inspired and in surprisingly good form, and he still even delivers a few of those trademark histrionic multi-tracked vocal spots!

One thing that should be instantly be pointed out - in no way, shape or form is `...Life' a prog-rock album - and let's face it, Roger and Pink Floyd long eclipsed being merely a `prog' band decades ago - and nor should it have even expected to have been. There are absolutely `proggy' sections, with some passages of thick spacey keyboards popping up here and there (although the album is definitely short on guitar solos - we were spoiled by Jeff Beck's fiery wailing on `Amused to Death' all those years ago!), moments of slightly more ambitious arrangements and a couple of really dynamic diversions. But instead, at least half of the album is made up of ol' Rog strumming along on acoustic guitar, or crooning mournfully over sparse piano backed by sweeping orchestration. `Déjà Vu', `The Most Beautiful Girl in the World' and the closing trio of `Wait for Her', `Oceans Apart' and `Part of Me Died' all offer variations or reprises of these, and rather disappointingly, most of them are carried by acoustic guitar chords that all drift uncomfortably close to a mix of `Pigs on the Wing' from Floyd's heavy classic `Animals' and `Mother' off `The Wall'. It works fine and sounds lovely on the surface, even instantly comfortable, but it's also a little lazy.

Sadly the Floyd fall-back carries on, even if there's not a truly bad tune to be found amongst them. The gutsy `Smell the Roses' plunders `Have a Cigar's heavy bluesy guitars and the `Leave those kids alone' moments off `Another Brick in the Wall', and despite being one of the most overtly proggy moments of the disc, `Picture That' nearly sounds like a re-write of `Sheep's thick electronics and treated echoing voices, joined by the soulful female backing harmonies of `Dark Side of the Moon/Wish You Were Here', but it does deliver one of the only (brief) moments of soaring David Gilmour-like guitar slow-burn of the disc.

But of the proper highlights, sound collages like the intro opener `When we were Young' instantly intrigue, `The Last Refugee' holds gorgeous piano and light spacey washes to a gentle jazzy patter, and `Broken Bones' is a defiant and oddly elegant ballad, swearing and all. But best of all is the back to back ten-minute stretch right in the middle of the title-track and `Bird in a Gale'. `Is This The Life We Really Want?' drips with supreme f*cking danger, Roger's scathing malevolent purr delivering a thoroughly confronting and depressing lyric weaving between murky cutting orchestral stabs and brooding drumming, all building in hair-tearing intensity. It bleeds right into `Bird in a Gale's storm of skittering beats, strangled guitar and pulsing electronics (and is that Mellotron buried in there somewhere or heavily treated orchestration?), and the piece could have easily appeared on any of the `Kid A' onwards Radiohead albums (although the final moments ape `Dogs' droning spacey shimmers a little too closely).

`Is This The Life We Really Want?' has so much going for it. It all sounds great on the surface, Roger's voice is in charismatic and commanding form, and the fifty-five minute set is oddly quite accessible, with more causal Floyd fans likely to find great comfort in how much it sounds like the truly classic Floyd and Waters moments of the past. Those that appreciate Roger's biting social commentary and blunt political-themed lyrics will probably find `...Life' most rewarding of all (other reviewers will hopefully explore those lyrics in much greater detail than here), and there's no denying that clearly the lyrical aspect is the priority here. Others, however, may find it to be nothing more than a reliable effort that ticks all the pre-requisite boxes but doesn't quite live up to its potential to truly deliver something new and vital instead of plundering past sounds and tunes for inspiration. But it's still a relief to find such a decent and worthwhile Roger Waters solo album in 2017 that is a more than worthy addition to his body of work.

Three and a half stars, rounded up to four.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |

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