It was the mighty Boppin who recomended this album to me, when it got mentioned elsewhere in the community of blog posts and comments. So when I saw this remastered edition in the 2-for deal at our dying HMV, I picked it up solely on that recommend.
I’m actually kind of nervous about writing this up – who am I to be writing about Pink Floyd, hearing this for the first time in 2017? Hahaha hooboy.
I’m fairly new to the Pink Floyd stuff. I have the hits set (Echoes) and have played it enough times, but the individual albums are mostly new to me. I have some of them here, and haven’t even played most of them yet! I know! I need 48 hours a day, with 24 of them devoted just to listening to all the tunes I have here… Which is all to say I am not a Floyd expert. If I muck this up, forgive me. I’m basically going in having only heard one track off this (Sheep is on Echoes). I’ll always bow to the superior knowledge of actual long-time fans of the band.
Anyway, Animals. This is my first time ever through it. I’m going to write this from the gut, as I listen, in real time. One thought up front: Wouldn’t it be great if this was somehow about Orwell? Looking at the album cover, all the track titles are animals, thinking of Animal Farm… That sounds like something Floyd would do, “four legs good, two legs bad!” Haha. Let’s see what’s up.
Pigs On The Wing 1 is a short and sweet acoustic intro. Nice one! Perhaps there could be a bit more hope in the words, though…
But then the 17-minute Dogs fires up next, and it’s a mid-tempo Floyd rocker with acoustic in the fore. It soars and pleases in all the right ways. I didn’t even mind the synths. The guitar solo, though. Oh man. So simple (seemingly), but those notes hanging there are perfection. I know it’s part of the song, but I could have done without the dogs barking, as it reminds too much of an annoying neighbour dog we have right now. Right around the mid-point of this epic, there’s a bit of synth note-holding while a voice echoes. That wore on me a bit too. Thankfully, it doesn’t last forever. Oh wait, now the barking dogs are back. Fuck. How is this pleasurable? Makes me want to call the city by-law officer. If I repeat-listen to this, I will be scanning through all this barking shit. When it’s just the synths on their own, it’s trippy. Then the acoustic comes back, and I have hope the barking is over. It builds back into the previous mode, groovy, spacey and fine. Then the drums start pounding and another guitar solo rips away. Sweet. The song rides out on a galloping repeated riff. Nice.
Pigs (Three Different Ones) starts off with a grunt and some synths and bass guitar. The guitar stabs over the top, and then it evolves into a slow blues jam, Floyd-style. There’s even cowbell! Love the squawkbox-like solo bits. This 11-minute song has a great feel, and huge groove. The guitar solo at the end wails. So far this track is the album highlight for me.
Then we’re in a barnyard with lots of sheep and tweeting birds, and Sheep (which I know from my Echoes hits set) starts off with some bluesy organ noodling. The bass builds, as does the song, and when the drums come in you think we’re set, then double-take we’re off and running at a decent clip as the song crashes and throbs. This one’s got an punkier edge, but you never forget who it is as spacey synths wash through too. After a cool solo section, we get some robotic chanting. The space monks are here! But they’re quickly lost under another rockin’ blast. The last couple of minutes of the tune rock the best, that jangly guitar overtop the melee. It fades down to the sheep bleating again.
Bookending the album is another short acoustic track, Pigs On The Wing 2. The euphemisms for man as dog here are hilarious. In fact, it’s worth including the lyrics for both Part 1 and 2 here, so you can see how far we’ve come over the course of the album:
If you didn’t care what happened to me,
And I didn’t care for you,
We would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain.
Wondering which of the buggars to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing.
You know that I care what happens to you,
And I know that you care for me.
So I don’t feel alone,
Or the weight of the stone,
Now that I’ve found somewhere safe
To bury my bone.
And any fool knows a dog needs a home,
A shelter from pigs on the wing.
I liked the music quite a bit, though the lyrics are mostly pretty angry and despairing. It comes off as a “we’re all fucked” societal rant, though not always overtly. As I mentioned off the top, and without looking it up, there’s probably (definitely) some sort of concept to the album, and that’s cool. When I get done here, I’m gonna go see what it was (see below). Primarily for me, though, I can’t help but think that the overall project would have been stronger without all of the animal noises. Especially the barking dogs. Can’t stand that. So while having them there was probably part of the whole point, I think we’re smart enough to understand that we’re being herded like sheep without actually having to include the noises of sheep to drive the message home.
So Then I Looked Up The Album:
I was right! (Wiki):
Loosely based on George Orwell’s political fable Animal Farm, the album’s lyrics describe various classes in society as different kinds of animals: the combative dogs, despotic ruthless pigs, and the “mindless and unquestioning herd” of sheep. Whereas the novella focuses on Stalinism, the album is a critique of capitalism and differs again in that the sheep eventually rise up to overpower the dogs. The album was developed from a collection of unrelated songs into a concept which, in the words of author Glenn Povey, “described the apparent social and moral decay of society, likening the human condition to that of mere animals”.
Apart from its critique of society, the album is also a part-response to the punk rock movement, which grew in popularity as a nihilistic statement against the prevailing social and political conditions, and also a reaction to the general complacency and nostalgia that appeared to surround rock music. Pink Floyd were an obvious target for punk musicians, notably Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols, who wore a Pink Floyd T-shirt on which the words “I hate” had been written in ink; Lydon, however, has constantly said it was done for a laugh (he was a fan of several progressive rock bands of the era, including Magma and Van Der Graaf Generator). Drummer Nick Mason later stated that he welcomed the “Punk Rock insurrection” and viewed it as a welcome return to the underground scene from which Pink Floyd originated. In 1977 he produced The Damned’s second album, Music for Pleasure, at Britannia Row.
In his 2008 book Comfortably Numb, author Mark Blake argues that “Dogs” contains some of David Gilmour’s finest work; although the guitarist sings only one lead vocal, his performance is “explosive”. The song also contains notable contributions from keyboardist Richard Wright, which echo the funereal synthesizer sounds used on the band’s previous album, Wish You Were Here.
“Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is audibly similar to “Have a Cigar”, with bluesy guitar fills and elaborate bass lines. Of the song’s three pigs, the only one directly identified is morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who amongst other things is described as a “house-proud town mouse”.
“Sheep” contains a modified version of Psalm 23, which continues the traditional “The Lord is my shepherd” with words like “he maketh me to hang on hooks in high places and converteth me to lamb cutlets” (referring to the sheep of the title). Towards the end of the song, the eponymous sheep rise up and kill the dogs, but later retire back to their homes.
The album is book-ended by each half of “Pigs on the Wing”, a simple love song in which a glimmer of hope is offered despite the anger expressed in the album’s three other songs. Described by author Andy Mabbett as “[sitting] in stark contrast to the heavyweight material between them”, the two halves of the song were heavily influenced by Waters’ relationship with his then-wife.