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Roger Waters

For a good decade or so (including the whole of the 70s) ROGER WATERS could do no wrong as surrogate leader and main songwriter with space-rock’s principal outfit PINK FLOYD. A founding member of the then psychedelic band, taking over from the wayward and literally wigged-out SYD BARRETT in 1968, WATERS and Co were duly responsible for at least three seminal works: 1973’s `The Dark Side Of The Moon’, 1975’s `Wish You Were Here’ and 1979’s double-set `The Wall’. From 1968’s `A Saucerful Of Secrets’ to 1983’s dismal `The Final Cut’, singer, bassist and bossman Roger was regarded by his followers as numero uno of his trade.
Born George Roger Waters, 6th September 1943 in Great Bookham, Cambridge, his first taste of solo work(s) was in 1969 when Floyd members Gilmour, Wright, Mason and WATERS were afforded lone studio time and singular credits on one half of Floyd’s part-live double-LP `Umma Gumma’; Roger contributed two of the best diversions via `Grantchester Meadows’ and `Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict’.
The following year, WATERS and Scottish-born synth/keys man Ron Geesin (soon to be collaborator with ‘Floyd on the brassy side of 1970’s ground-breaking `Atom Heart Mother’) were behind the soundtrack to the film THE BODY {*6}. A more humorous, optimistic antecedent of future soundtrack works, this abstract collage is an absurdists’ dream, compressing everything from farting noises, burps, hiccups, teeth-grinding, ragtime piano, genteel chamber orchestration, Spanish guitar pieces, chattering pizzicato and assorted unidentifiable sound effects; it even contained a whistled snatch of `The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond’.
`Lick Your Partners’ and `Seven Dwarfs In Penis-Land’ compete for best title, the former coming on like a spy theme gone wrong; the latter indulging a dada-ist male choir. The funky `Mrs Throat Goes Walking’ conjures nothing less than a sectioned Slim Gaillard. `Breathe’ exhales the kind of poisoned acoustic lullaby WATERS specialised in at the time, an eco protest number reeling off a shopping list of chemicals and an opening line which turned up on `The Dark Side Of The Moon’; `Sea Shell And Stone’ sounds like `Grantchester Meadows’ (part II), `Chain Of Life’ a “Wicker Man”-esque pagan nursery rhyme. `Give Birth To A Smile’ saves the best for last, a Floyd-ian ballad (featuring the rest of the band) which segues into the kind of gospel coda which wouldn’t have been out of place on a late 60s/early 70s ‘Stones album. WATERS used female backing singers for the first time here – a tactic he resuscitated for his mid-70s concept opuses.
With PINK FLOYD absent from the recording front in the mid-80s, fans locked on to Roger for worthwhile material; although DAVID GILMOUR’s `About Face’ was a worthy second choice. WATERS debut album THE PROS AND CONS OF HITCH HIKING (1984) {*7} didn’t exactly set the world alight but the UK Top 20 record (Top 40 in the US) certainly had its fair share of celebrity session alumni: ERIC CLAPTON (guitar, of course), Andy Newmark (drums), Ray Cooper (percussion), David Sanborn (sax) and Madeline Bell (on backing vocals). The concept of the subconscious, dreams/nightmares and the time in the morning (between 4:30 and 5:11 a.m.) he had them, was the theme behind each of the dozen tracks. The grass was certainly greener than on his “Final Cut”(s) with PF, best titles (or sub-titles) on show were the title track, `Every Strangers Eyes’, `Running Shoes’ and `Go Fishing’.
During time spent consulting lawyers and attending court hearings to find who really owned the name of PINK FLOYD (he subsequently lost out), and not straying too far from latter-day PF territory, WATERS carried on in even more lugubrious fashion with two sets WHEN THE WIND BLOWS (1986) {*5}, the first a shared animation film soundtrack album with Various Artists. With a session-anonymous Bleeding Heart Band that turn out latter-period ‘Floyd tropes aplenty – keening female backing vocals, tasteful sax mewling, Gilmour-ian guitar canvases – the titular wind seems to have blown any real hooks right out the studio window. The World Trade Centre-referencing `Towers Of Faith’ starts out relatively promisingly before spinning into snail-paced oblivion. Even the soulful tones of Paul Carrack can’t bring much character to the pleasant but ultimately forgettable `Folded Flags’; with WATERS clumsily adapting `Hey Joe’ for the global stage. While his lyrics righteously pick their way through a minefield of religion and geopolitics, the harrowing dialogue excerpts reminisce on WWII as a subtext for the horrors of the nuclear age. In fact, the incidental pieces – which work perfectly in the film – are actually more engaging: the all-too-brief acoustic picking of `Hilda’s Dream’, the nightmarish conflagration of screaming dissonance, Band Aid-style bells and red brick nostalgia that is `The Attack’.
WATERS’ sophomore set proper RADIO K.A.O.S (1987) {*6} was another in WATERS’ conceptual anti-war mode, this time about a wheelchair-bound lad who tries to diffuse Armageddon by H.A.M. radio. With a new band intact consisting of Andy Fairweather-Low (guitar), Jay Stapley (electric guitar), Mel Collins (sax), Ian Ritchie (keyboards and drum programming) and Graham Broad (drums), the album sounds decidedly 80s as mediocre tracks are engulfed by the title track and the topical `The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)’.
Come the turn of the decade, with the Berlin Wall being dismantled, Roger thought it necessary to revive Floyd’s/his meisterwork as THE WALL: LIVE IN BERLIN (1990) {*6}.
Recorded on 21st July with an array of famous guests, WATERS and Co played in front a live audience of 200,000 at Potsdamer Platz (a one-time no-man’s land dividing the city), with TV millions all contributing to The Disaster Relief Fund. By the time this show came around the man hadn’t performed with his old ‘Floyd mates in well over a decade, but instead of reconciling with them he opened up his contacts book and called in a few friends. The story goes he wanted A-list stars including Rod The Mod but had to settle for BRYAN ADAMS, SINEAD O’CONNOR, JONI MITCHELL, CYNDI LAUPER, MARIANNE FAITHFULL, VAN MORRISON, Paul Carrack – and the ridiculous – James Galway, Jerry Hall, Ute Lemper and The SCORPIONS – in an uneven, technically fraught, epic. The new versions of the songs stay relatively true to the spirit of the originals. A few are tweaked, augmented with extra solos and choruses (`Comfortably Numb’, `Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)’ and `Mother’), while others (`The Show Must Go On’) are omitted completely. Despite the dramatic staging, there’s little here to enhance the experience of hearing the intense and sprawling original double-album, except for a few novel vocal performances, but this recording was always more significant politically and logistically than it ever was musically.
Brooding for five long years, studio set number three AMUSED TO DEATH (1992) {*6}, gave Roger further carte-blanche to extol his ideals and viewpoints, this time on capitalism, religion, the coldness of the human race and that old recurring nugget: the futility and corruption of war. Featuring another cocktail of hand-picked guest alumni (JEFF BECK, DON HENLEY, Rita Coolidge, etc.), the concept is best served by the III-part `What God Wants’ (part I, a Top 40 hit), `The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range’ and the 9-minute title-track finale.
WATERS spent much of the 90s working on an operatic project which would see light much later [see below], only the concert double-set IN THE FLESH – LIVE (2000) {*6} – a document of his turn of the decade American comeback tour – was forthcoming. For the first time since his break with PINK FLOYD – save his Berlin effort – WATERS revisited his favourite tracks from his old band’s glory heyday, including “best of” material from `Wish You Were Here’, `The Dark Side Of The Moon’, `Animals’, `A Saucerful Of Secrets’, `The Wall’ and the odd solo outing.
Finally released in October 2005, CA IRA {*5} – sub-titled “There Is Hope” is about the liberating times of the late 18th century French Revolution – was as previously mentioned, a strictly classical set that saw composer WATERS invite a full orchestra and opera singer Bryn Terfel into the fold. Er… not for PINK FLOYD fans.
Conspicuous by his absence of late, Roger did have his Floyd-ian moment (20 minutes or so) when he reunited with his old muckers Gilmour, Mason and Wright at a one-off PINK FLOYD performance at the Live8 benefit concert in July 2005 at London’s Hyde Park. One will never see their likes again; prophetic words indeed as Rick Wright died three years later.
While Messrs GILMOUR and MASON were building breezeblocks to cement over the cracks left by the absence of PINK FLOYD, a lonesome ROGER WATERS was once again dismantling prog-rock brick by another brick with yet another attempt to build on THE WALL (2015) {*7}. This time released as a double-album soundtrack filmed by Sean Evans from his world tour that started out in 2010 and ended 2013, younger fans may not have been aware of his Berlin “break-down” of “The Wall” 25 years back (featuring a star-studded cast!), but a song-for-song rendition of his original PINK FLOYD classic – albeit with a few update insertions (including `The Ballad Of Charles de Menezes’), could hardly disguise WATERS had no grand designs on his own future in the world of rock – commendable as this enlightened version was. Maybe his chart-topping former buddy GILMOUR could yet hold the key to un-“Rattle That Lock” that had left Roger ploughing up the past. The artist really needed to make a worthy solo studio set – and soon!
Just what the doctor ordered, WATERS stormed back into transatlantic Top 10 contention a la IS THIS THE LIFE WE REALLY WANT? (2017) {*8}, a post-Trump song-cycle to re-build his own “Walls” in the fear of a bomb-shelter Brexit and its impending fall-out. Produced by Nigel Godrich (best-known for his work with RADIOHEAD), croaky campaigner Roger aimed his barbs at a world gone mad and the crippling chaos left behind by bankers and corporate capitalism. Shades of “The Final Cut” or “Wish You Were(n’t) Here” among several cues, archival TV samples slipped seamlessly between his “wailing wall” of worldly warnings; for example `The Last Refugee’, `Picture That’, `Broken Bones’, the title track and the chaotic `Bird In A Gale’ meld together for an end-of-the-world mid-sequence. WATERS can now rest easy – the rest of us? Maybe not.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Dec2011-Sep2017

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