Shine on you angry diamond
Frank Zappa called it conceptual continuity, the process of using old tunes in new songs or borrowing from your own catalogue. There are so many familiar motifs in Roger Water’s first studio album since Amused to Death (1992) that it feels like a Pink Floyd medley at times, which is no bad thing of course. Waters was the driving lyrical force in Floyd and that remains his strength today. Is This The Life… is not really about the music anyway, that’s merely a backdrop to his laments, rants and rages about the inequities of modern life, but it keeps you listening. Waters has never been particularly happy with the way of the world and this has fuelled his work since the early days, but in the past he was a bit less blunt, he didn’t feel the need to swear to make his point. But age has not softened Waters, or at least that’s the impression you get from at least half of the songs on this 11 track release. There are gentle moments, ‘The Last Refugee’ being a good example, there’s a lot of empathy as well as anger with the world.
The sounds may have a lot of Floyd about them but the sound is more contemporary as a result of Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich’s involvement. Godrich is credited with sound collages and arrangements among other things and these distinguish the album from previous Waters outings, the use of radio and TV clips from the past, overlapping speech samples and sounds popping out beyond the speakers are classic Godrich hallmarks. It’s a good sounding album though, especially the closed miked voice and deluxe acoustic guitar. This could easily be David Gilmour but the credits go to Waters and Jonathan Wilson, the latter being particularly skilled as his work with Roy Harper and Father John Misty among others would suggest.
While Donald Trump’s name is not actually mentioned there is a clip of him talking and a couple of lines that indicate Waters’ opinion, the most acidic being “Picture a leader with no fucking brains”. America’s foreign policy is also a hobby horse, the song ‘Déjà Vu’ starts out with the refrain “If I were God” but this slides into “If I were a drone” before the soundscape is shattered by a very convincing realistic bomb. ‘Picture That’ paints a pretty harrowing world view in particularly graphic style, it’s difficult not to do what he asks especially when it’s “Picture prosthetics in Afghanistan”. Another great line that brings in some conceptual continuity is ‘Wish you were here in Guantanamo Bay’.
Like many great artists Waters uses his music as autotherapy, he has to express these thoughts so that they don’t turn him into a madman, a problem shared and all that. But he does it well, Waters holds up a mirror to us all and challenges our apathy but keeps us hooked in with his integrity. It’s clearly not a feel good album but his work has never really been about that, it’s about the world we live in without any attempt at escape. The fact that it sounds so good is the sugar coating that makes it all bearable.