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Roger's third and latest (I'm not counting on a new one any time soon) solo album was a major return to form, easily the best thing he had done since "The Final Cut". It's no surprise that he's still most inspired by his major obsessions - war and the messed up ways of the world. The first Gulf War had just happened, which was the most media-followed conflict in history, as every move was replayed on the world's TV screens. "Amused to Death" is very loosely linked by the idea of a monkey watching a TV and learning about the habits of his primate relatives, eventually concluding that their souls were destroyed by so-called entertainment.
His top-notch lyrics are tightly-focused diatribes against the media cashing in on war as entertainment. Even the depictions of war itself are distinctly modern, as it's all fought with planes and missiles, miles away from the filthy trenches. Along the way he can't resist a few barbs thrown at his former bandmates (is that your new Ferrari car), former producer Bob Ezrin, and a juvenile but amusing insult at Andrew Lloyd-Webber. We're also in a familiar musical world, scrunchy blues rock and floaty ambiences. Jeff Beck lends some beautifully lyrical guitar work throughout, filling Dave Gilmour's shoes admirably. P.P. Arnold adds some soulful vocals to "Perfect Sense". The insistent hook of "What God Wants" gives the album some melodic unity, and "The Bravery of Being Out of Range" adds a bit of rock testosterone. Like all the great Floyd albums, the production is audiophile quality, with some scary use of spatial effects - bombs, sleighbells, Ferraris and a barking dog. And a bloody annoying phone ringing - it always makes me jump when bands put phones in songs, even when they don't sound remotely like mine.
It hits its peak in the last few tracks. "Watching TV" is a bizarrely physical portrait (almond eyes, yellow thighs) of a Tiananmen victim with whom the narrator apparently had a casual affair - significantly she "died on TV". On "Three Wishes" Roger endearingly admits "I wish somebody'd help me write this song", but he needn't have worried, it's a smooth tune. Then "It's a Miracle" details the human race's civilisation through commercialisation, to a slow, drawn out but penetrating pulse, with a spacious choral ending. The finale starts off with some of the usual resigned cynicism, before exploding suddenly into a rocking climax. In contrast to the futility of "The Wall" and "The Final Cut", it's given a warming beginning and conclusion by an interview with World War I veteran Alf Razzell, over a floaty musical background. Tormented by having left his comrade Bill Hubbard to die on the battlefield, he finally finds closure after seeing the soldier's name on a memorial to the missing.
July 9, 2004