Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd
The Laughing Madcaps Facebook Group

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pink Floyd Animals: A Retrospective - Neville Harson

Pink Floyd Animals
Pink Floyd Animals


Arguably the last album made by Pink Floyd as a functioning quartet, Animals was released in early 1977, right around the time punk was exploding in England. While not necessarily crafted as a response to punk, the album can be seen as an attempt to keep up with the more aggressive times. It is perhaps The Floyds’ most vitriolic work. One could even see these songs as “protest songs,” though far removed from any folk tradition, and more in line with the style of the rock epics of the 1970’s.

The cover of the album sports the first appearance of the now-iconic flying pig over Battersea Station. The photo, though it seems like a model, is actually a composite shot using one photo of the pig, and another photo of the power plant. There’s a series of bleak, black & white photos on the inside of the original LP credited to different photographers including Peter Christopherson, later of experimental bands Throbbing Gristle and Coil. The lyrics on the inner sleeve, though written by Roger Waters, were printed by the hand of drummer Nick Mason.

Two of the songs on Animals, “Dogs” and “Sheep” had their origins as “You’ve Gotta Be Crazy” and “Raving and Drooling” a few years earlier, and were played regularly during live shows in 1974 and 1975. These early versions were originally intended for the album that became “Wish You Were Here” but finally wound up on Animals, with different arrangements and some lyrical revisions.

Although it has no real narrative thread, Animals is generally considered to be a “concept album”. There are three major songs: “Dogs”, “Pigs” and “Sheep;” each song portraying a segment of humanity in an unflattering light. “Dogs,” concerns itself with the egocentric world of business. “Pigs” seems to be about politicians and rulers. And “Sheep,” is about the religiously inclined masses. These three songs are framed by “Pigs on the Wing”, a short acoustic ballad in two parts that suggests some comfort in human relationships.

Animals marks the ascension of Roger Waters as lead Floyd kingpin. In addition to having written all the songs, he takes over more of the lead vocal duties on this album, singing “Pigs on the Wing”, “Pigs”, “Sheep”, and the tail end of “Dogs”. His yelping vocal style seems to be better suited to the acerbic material than Gilmour’s more dreamy voice. Similarly, Waters’ less melodic, more rhythmically-driven songwriting (2-3 note melodies in “Pigs” and “Sheep”) contrasts with Gilmour’s more melodic, and melodically complex (in comparison) “Dogs”. Parts of “Dogs” retain that “good old Pink Floyd” sound, but generally, there are few traces of that more laid-back Floyd amidst the venom. It should be noted that keyboardist Rick Wright and drummer Nick Mason receive no songwriting credits on this album.

Musically, the album is less synthesizer-driven than it’s predecessor, Wish You Were Here. Whether that is due to Richard Wright not contributing much to the album, or Waters not letting him contribute remains open to debate. There are still occasional synths throughout the album, but they are balanced (if not dominated) by acoustic and electric guitars, and at least one heroic guitar solo by David Gilmour. Also contributing to the sonic stew are the ubiquitous Floydian atmospheres and sound effects.

The album begins (and ends) with “Pigs on the Wing.” On the original 8-track tape release these two parts were connected with a guitar solo by sometime Floyd sideman Snowy White. Not so, here, on the vinyl or CD. The song consists of a simple G-C-F strumming pattern on an acoustic guitar (a chord sequence which would later be recycled for “Mother”), with Roger presumably singing about how good it is to care for someone and be cared for in return. It is tempting to think of “pigs on the wing” as a metaphor for bombs dropped from planes, especially given Waters’ obsession with World War II, but I could be reading into things too deeply.

“Dogs” is a long (17+ minutes) sectional piece that takes up the remainder of Side 1. The lyrics were written by Waters and seem to be about the (ahem) dog-eat-dog world of business and commerce. The music was mostly written by Gilmour. The piece begins with upbeat acoustic guitar strumming and somewhat eerie keyboards before the vocals start. Bass guitar and drums join in starting with the second verse. After a couple of verses, Gilmour plays a fitting guitar solo that sounds more aggressive than his usual style. During the solo there is a maniacal scream/laugh, presumably by Waters, that appears in some form on almost every Pink Floyd album from Ummagumma to The Wall.

The band then slows down for a B section with a slow guitar line that is somewhere between mournful and victorious. There are at least three guitars in this section, the lead and harmony guitars mixed in the front, and a more distant guitar in the back. Guitars are all over this album, actually; most likely a result of Pink Floyd spending time in their own Britannia Row studio rather than spending money for studio time. The slow tempo continues, getting quieter, and featuring acoustic guitar and barking dogs. This is not the first time the Floyd had used dog sounds (“Mademoiselle Knobs”) and it wouldn’t be the last (“The Dogs of War”).

A slow C section follows, and the lyrics seem to suggest that there will come a day when all the businessmen who have acted unethically shall eventually lose control and have to pay for making a career of fucking people over (the dogs are actually overthrown and killed by the sheep at the end of side 2, but I‘m getting ahead of the record). The “bad blood slows and turns to stone,” Gilmour sings, concluding with “So have a good drown, as you go down all alone/Dragged down by the stone”, and here the word “stone” echoes repeatedly and transforms itself from a word into a sound that is something between a bark and a howl.

This initiates a slow, and icy cold synth section featuring Wright, as well as the sounds of someone whistling for their dog, and the continued sounds of dogs barking through a vocoder (an electronic gadget that enables any sound or word spoken or sung to be transformed into the chords one is playing on an electronic keyboard).

Then it’s back to the A section, this time with Waters on lead vocals, continuing the paranoid theme. While the lyrics are fairly grim, Waters implies that it is actually quite tragic that people live in fear of each other, and without any trust. Another Gilmour solo (his solos are all fairly concise on this album) leads to the slow mournful/victorious guitar section again, and then into a coda. Each of the eleven lines of the coda begins with “Who was…”, reminiscent of Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl” as well as the Floyd’s own “Eclipse.”

If you have the vinyl, you can take a welcome break as you turn the record over. If not…
A pig grunting sound (through echo) introduces “Pigs.” Wright plays a Bach-like figure on the organ, and Waters plays a short bass solo before the other instruments enter. The plodding beat seems to be more straightforward version of the previous album’s “Have a Cigar” (with added cowbell) and even the lyrics borrow a similar melody. Waters occasionally sings through some kind of filter that gives his voice even more of a sneering quality. “Pigs” is subtitled “Three Different Ones,” and each of the three verses is essentially a prolonged insult directed at each of three different political figures. The first verse is rumored to be about then Prime Minster James Callaghan; the second about Margaret Thatcher, and the third about Mary Whitehouse (who is the only politician mentioned by name).

There is an interlude with a lot of pig noises, which turns into a guitar solo featuring a “talk box” effect”—similar to the vocoder, this is a microphone connected to a guitar, so a guitarist can shape the notes by moving one’s mouth into different positions. Here, Gilmour appropriately opts for squealing and grunting pig-like notes. The intro section is repeated before the third verse. One line in this verse was apparently so vicious they deleted it and replaced it with heavy breathing. After this last verse, Gilmour jumps in with a rather intense guitar solo to ride out the song. I love the way he keeps shredding the first note for a few measures before moving on to the rest of the solo. As “Pigs” fades, we end up in a meadow, with sheep bleating in the distance, which segues naturally into…

“Sheep.” Representing the proletariat, specifically those who are easily swayed, even more specifically those who are easily swayed by religion(s). Wright starts this song with a jazzy Fender Rhodes solo. Enter Waters with ominous bassline-through-echo borrowed from “One of These Days.” The drums, when they enter, are put through a reverse gate effect, creating a kind of “whooshing“ sound. Most interestingly, effect-wise, is how the end of each vocal line morphs into some kind of synthesized sound. I’ve never heard this effect used on any other record before or since (wait, maybe on an Alan Parsons record…?) Waters sings this one too, with a basic three-note melody on the verses.

As in “Pigs” there’s an interlude in “Sheep” as well. This break features Waters’ “Careful With That Axe” bass playing (that octave pattern). Gilmour’s repeated “stone…stone…” from “Dogs” is also brought back for a moment. A slower instrumental section features Wright’s ascending synth notes and then Gilmour’s funky guitar playing. Then it returns to the slower, creepier section, with tritone chords in abundance (this was the musical interval that was known as “the devil in music” and was avoided by the church). It seems appropriate, then, that the Floyd include a butchered version of Psalm 23 (the one that starts with “The Lord is my shepherd”). It starts out fairly normal, with talk of “pastures green” and “silent waters,” but then the words deviate a bit (“With bright knives, He releaseth my soul…He converteth me to lamb cutlets…”) which would be pretty hysterical if it wasn’t so damn creepy. You can hear a trace of the original “priest’s” intonation, but mostly what you hear is the vocoder effected vocals.

The main part of the song returns with the line “Bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream”—cue Waters again on the maniacal scream/laugh for the second time on one album. The sheep have overcome the dogs, and the dogs are now dead. A victorious-sounding Gilmour guitar riff rides the song out, along with Water’s octave bass. This is, for me, one of the album’s finest moments. The sheep bleat peacefully in the meadow and we’re back to where we started, with “Pigs on the Wing, Part Two,” closing the album on a brief, but hopeful note.

I loved Animals when it came out, but I was in 6th grade, and my musical tastes may not have been what they are now. Listening to it after thirty years, I’m surprised that the album is less aggressive than I remember it (though still pretty mean-sounding for Pink Floyd). After digging deeper into the music, I’m also surprised to see how the Floyd used some of the same sonic ingredients (certain sound effects, chords and even melodies) across multiple albums. The good thing about this is that it gives their work a unity and continuity over time; the downside is that it seems that for being one of the most imaginative bands in rock history, they really didn’t seem have too many ideas. Still, how they put those ideas to use over twelve or so years was simply incredible.

Pink Floyd
· David Gilmour – guitars, bass guitar, vocals, talk box, synthesizer, lead vocals on "Dogs"
· Nick Mason – drums, percussion, sleeve graphics
· Roger Waters – lead vocals, bass guitar, acoustic and rhythm guitar, sleeve design
· Richard Wright – Hammond organ, Wurlitzer electric piano, Fender Rhodes piano, Yamaha piano, ARP synthesizer, backing vocals

Additional Personnel:
James Guthrie – remastering producer
Doug Sax – remastering
Brian Humphries – engineering
Storm Thorgerson – sleeve design
Aubrey Powell – sleeve design, photography
Peter Christopherson – photography
Howard Bartrop - photography
Nic Tucker - photography
Bob Ellis - photography
Bob Brimson - photography
Colin Jones - photography
Snowy White – lead guitar on "Pigs on the Wing" (8-track cartridge version only)

By Neville Harson



Blogger RokySyd said...

Animals, for me, is an OK album. I spin it once in awhile. For my taste, it's
the beginning of Rick Wright being kicked to the sidelines and Dave Gil-Whore
wailing out in a heavy metalish way while Igor bitches about life.

For me, the whole Pink Floyd *sound* (post Barrett) was the light / airy lyrics
with the interplay between Gil-Whore and Wright going on. Then Nick keeping the
time with his felt mallets. Igor is keeping his mouth shut and playing his
swooping bass lines; Ummagumma, AHM, Meddle, DSOTM, WYWH... those were the days.

Then Igor got to thinking that he was this *great* philosopher / social
commentator guy. He's a fucking tool, a little man with little ideas. It was all
downhill from there.

Animals was the thin end of the wedge. It's a good album but it's still a slide
downward from WYWH and it's the beginning of a trend.

Then Igor left 'Floyd and was "free" to let his freak flag fly and he put out
such utter shit that it's shameful. The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking, what a
fucking joke of an album. Radio KAOS, even worse. Then the fans had his number
after that.

Gil-Whore led 'Floyd sucked ass too. Gil-Whore is a great guitar technician. He
can play like Syd really well. He even added some. He's a good vocalist. But
Gil-Whore writes shit too. The Gil-Whore 'Floyd was like a steer whereas the
Pink Floyd with Waters was like a raging bull.

So the other three needed that fucking asshole. Only he was impossible to work
with. Then they kept us waiting with bated breath for this "reunion". It was
worse than when Cuomo was hinting that he would run for President. Cuomo finally
got too old to play that game but not the Pink Floyd. They could have come out
in wheel chairs. It took one of them to fly off this mortal coil to end the

I'll tell you what, I'd go see: Gil-Whore, Igor and Mason in a second. Put Rick
Wakeman on keys and call it rock and roll.

June 25, 2009 at 9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


July 31, 2009 at 12:59 AM  
Anonymous WALK said...

Hey RokySyd ... Your words are very honest,which is to appreciate but meanwhile are quite cruel.It is plain clear that you are a fan of Syd Barrett and everything they did after that (without Barrett) is "downhill from there" :)
But that's not true.In my vision "Animals" is the most elaborate Pink Floyd album ever made! It's their APOTHEOSIS !! But yet I still have to agree with this: "The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking, what a
fucking joke of an album" <- absolutely right , that's a shit./Cheers/WALK

August 12, 2011 at 3:45 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home