Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Grooves: Pink Floyd - Animals (1977)

Pink Floyd is one of the gods of rock and roll. Be a hater or a lover or a casual fan, you cannot deny the impact of the bands catalog on rock music. As much as the bands early, psych pop career and their huge stadium appeal are two huge factors of Pink Floyd's success, it really all boils down to their daunting catalog of albums. Pink Floyd used the medium, from album art to musical concept, to perfection. They thrive on vinyl. The two sides of a record make Pink Floyd albums what they are. In this case, Animals stands as a stark testament of what else was going on at the time on record. The punk rock scene was exploding in England and it seemed as if bands like Pink Floyd were immediately doomed. Luckily, however, the band channeled the punk rock spirit on Animals, even if only in it's lyrical darkness and skeptical view of the world at large. Otherwise, this is as anti-punk rock as it gets. A whopping 5 songs, three of which are over 10 minutes, Animals is a beast of a record. It also happens to be one of the best of Pink Floyd's career and in my opinion, the last, truly great Floyd album.

As a youngster, I remember my first steps to the Church of Pink Floyd. I purchased Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall before any other Floyd albums mainly because as a naive kid, they had more songs on them. When I first looked at Animals, I scoffed at it due to only have five songs. i figured five songs to not be worth $12 or whatever cds cost in 1998. My mind didn't understand five songs! I just wasn't having it. As I grew older and discovered vinyl, I realized my stupidity and embraced albums with short track listings. I bought Wish You Were Here which had five songs, but not Animals. I don't recall when I first listened to Animals in its entirety, probably in college, but I do remember getting this vinyl at Repo Records on South Street sometime in 2004, around when Floyd reunited for Live 8. It's clearly an album meant for vinyl. From it's fantastic artwork to the music contained on it, Animals is a necessary vinyl for any collection.

"Pigs on the Wing (Part 1)" is the calming first half of the bookend of the album. A love song of sorts, it's simplistic acoustic guitar with Roger Water's trembling vocals. It's a short intro to the harrowing affair that you are about to get yourself into. Slowly fading away as quickly as it begun, the track leads right into "Dogs." At a staggering 17 plus minutes, "Dogs" is as daunting a task as any to listen to. However, unlike many super long tracks in the history of rock, there is enough dynamic changes in the song that it never feels as long as it is. "Dogs" is pretty standard prog rock sprawl, with copious movements within the song. What makes a lot of this album stand out is that it has some of Roger Waters' best lyrics, not something standard to prog rock. Waters takes dead aim at those on the top of the heap, comparing them to the ravenous dogs that prey on the weak of society. Gilmour steals the show with a fantastic vocal delivery and even better guitar posturing. As the song builds and builds toward the end, Waters takes over the vocals and spits out some of his harshest lyrics on side one that builds with anger and intensity as the song comes to a crashing close. It's an impressive track that is gargantuan in size.

"Pigs (Three Different Ones)" is one of Pink Floyd's best tracks. Much like "Dogs," it's lyrically vicious and sonically a monster. David Gilmour uses a talk box for the first time to emulate the pigs snorting at the very start of the song (and in the solos to come) and Roger Waters steals the show with one of his best bass workouts yet. It's no wonder Les Claypool covered this album with his Flying Frog Brigade. It's a funky bass groove throughout the track with loads of guitar howling and boogie organs in the back ground. Waters is in control until the bridge when David Gilmour gets his stab. The bridge slowly builds with the flanged out guitars and all of sudden launches you into the pig pen. Gilmour's talk box solo is devastating. Not just on that level, but on the underlying guitar howls of Floyd's past underneath it. The midsection is so fat and full and textured, it fits the theme of the song perfectly. When we return, Waters wails back into our ears and we continue with the groove laden front half of the song. As the song comes reeling to a close, it's hard who to pay attention to more. Gilmour slams into a classic solo and Waters competes at full force, keeping the bass groove yet intensifying it. It's easily one of the greatest moments in Pink Floyd's history of classic guitar workouts. Then come the mindless masses. "Sheep" is essentially Rick Wright's time to shine. His organ intro is delightful and continues as the rocking intensifies. Possibly the most seething lyrically, "Sheep" digs into the mindless masses with a pitch fork. "Meek and obedient you follow the leader down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel" may be one of the single best lines of lyric Roger Waters ever wrote. As the mid section bursts with sound and builds with synthesizer beams, leading back to the main riff, we seem to get some glimpse of hope before plunging into a dark and spacey mid-section. Over vocoder, a re-working of Psalm 23 is read as the slow rumble of sheep bleeting before blasting into the final verse and explosive laugh care of Roger Waters. Then with an explosion, David Gilmours final volley of guitars digs in and slowly fades away. We are then in clearer pastures and "Pigs On the Wing (Part Two)" ushers us out with another ray of hope.

This is essentially one of the best album experiences one can get. The needle lifting off of the record at the end of this intense journey is icing on the cake for some reason. Built perfectly, Animals is a record that would be lost on the iTunes and even the CD generations. "Only five songs?!" That was my impression of this album at first. What you don't realize is it's essentially three monstrous songs that the ADD generation of singles and 99 cent MP3's can't wrap their head around. When you go to your record player you know just how much you are getting per side in music. It's more tangible to see the value of a record. Animals has been the most gratifying listen of this undertaking thus far, and it will no doubt be a trend of the most enjoyable experiences being Pink Floyd albums.

Up Next: Poseidon hits 500 Posts, takes a long break and will reveal top 30 tracks of 2010