Sound — 8
I have to admit it. I never really followed Roger Waters' solo works. I've never spun "The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking", "Radio K.A.O.S.", or "Amused to Death". When it came to post-Pink Floyd solo albums, David Gilmour was always my go-to, especially with "On an Island" and his most recent, "Rattle That Lock". And I even found myself getting lost on Pink Floyd near the end of Waters' reign on the band. I always found "The Wall" oddly grating to sit through (despite some really powerful tunes) and I generally ignore "The Final Cut", but picked the band back up again on "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" and "The Division Bell".
But there's always been something missing from the Floyd catalog, along with the solo releases of its other members, that Roger Waters may have been directly responsible for: a sort of spitting, vitriolic delivery rife with political awareness and dissatisfaction with the state of the world. Without Waters, the remaining Floyd members lost that anger that made some of their mid-to-late 1970s material so iconic.
Presenting his first studio album of all-new rock material since 1992 (though he did release an opera called "Ça Ira" in 2005), Waters taps into that angry, despondent attitude of his and gives us a rather interesting performance. Performance-wise, the tracks on this album are definitely a musical continuation of sorts of Pink Floyd's 1983 record "The Final Cut", with a heavy emphasis on simple acoustic guitar chordal arrangements, news segments playing at the beginning of nearly every track, and a few sort of stereotypically late-'70s/early-'80s era Pink Floydisms, such as string-heavy orchestral arrangements and '70s-esque synthesizers. If you enjoyed Pink Floyd from "Animals" and "The Wall", then "Picture This" gets pretty close to fitting that paradigm, with its swelling synths and pulsing shuffle-rhythm bass and drums. Tracks like "Bird in a Gale" also represent a Floydian sort of atmosphere, but with a modern, almost Radiohead-esque tinge to them. "Smell the Roses", the album's first single, recalls the funky style of tracks like "Have a Cigar", with an almost uncannily similar descending guitar line. However, neither of the album's three guitarists: Nigel Godrich, Gus Seyffert, nor Jonathan Wilson, have the feel or power of David Gilmour. But their performances throughout the album are not exactly bad by any means. "Déjà Vu" is an acoustic guitar-led piece that instantly brings to mind tracks like "Mother" and "Two Suns in the Sunset". A fair number of the album's tracks are softer, acoustic pieces with a heavy amount of piano, but there are still some progressive swirlings such as in the end of "Wait for Her".
It's really easy to compare this songwriting to Waters' work with Pink Floyd, but there's certainly a small amount of influence from modern bands such as Radiohead in some of the grooves and textures. Roger sounds older and more worn out on this album than he has on any other studio record I've associated with him, but considering that his last rock album was released when I was all but 6 years old, I'd say his voice has aged rather well. Despite a very keyboard-heavy arrangement, with no fewer than five people handling key duties (all three guitarists plus Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. and Lee Pardini), the production never seems to be anything other than airy and dynamic, with loads and loads of headroom. Nigel Godrich opens many of the album's tracks with sound collages taken from various sources, including the news (particularly about Donald Trump, a constant lyrical bone to pick on this album) and weather forecasts.
Lyrics — 7
If there's one thing Roger Waters has become known for in the past several years, it's his political rants. Whether it be over the Israel-Palestine issue, the election of Donald Trump, the state of the music industry, or being compared to Stalin by one of his former bandmates, Roger Waters has become something of an incredibly controversial figure in rock music as of late.
Roger spends a lot of time being critical of the Trump administration on this record, on tracks like "Picture This" ("Picture a courthouse with no fucking laws/Picture a cathouse with no fucking whores/Picture a shithouse with no fucking drains/Picture a leader with no fucking brains"), "Broken Bones" ("We cannot turn back the clock/Cannot go back in time/But we can say "fuck you"/We will not listen to/Your bullshit and lies"), and the title track ("Every time a Russian bride is advertised for sale/And every time a journalist is left to rot in jail/Every time a young girl’s life is casually spent/And every time a nincompoop becomes the president"), and you can really feel the vitriol in his delivery. While his voice is definitely older and more strained than it's ever been, there's certainly still a fair deal of anger in his singing on this record. His vocals definitely still retain their signature sound on the album's softer songs, but his higher wail is not as present on this album as it has been on past records.
Overall Impression — 7
Strangely, Roger Waters has managed to put together a collection of searingly controversial and politically-charged songs that are as angry as anything you'll hear from any number of politically-minded bands these days, but with a much more melodic and pastoral sound that one would expect of the former Pink Floyd vocalist/bassist. There's a surprising amount of groove and progginess on the album, and at times, a somewhat more modern take on the classic Roger Waters/Pink Floyd sound. And in many ways, this album sounds more like Pink Floyd than any other past member of Pink Floyd's more recent output (including "The Endless River"), with its less-than-subtle references to "Have a Cigar" on the album's first single "Smell the Roses" and the subtle nod to the band's "Animals" era on "Picture This".
It's not a very original-sounding record, of course, and it's quite derivative of Waters' past output, but this is of no matter to me, as it's a formula that works very well. Sadly, the political content of the album will not be to all listeners' tastes, but I have to commend Waters for his bluntness about it. He is not one to waver on the fence about any issues, and he chooses to be as upfront about his opinions as possible on this album, and dare I say, this album is not the shining beacon of "political correctness" some critics of his political views may make it out to be.
Overall, this is a pretty good record, all politics aside. There are some really nice performances on this record that hark back to a better time when Pink Floyd was on top of the world, and even though some of the vocal performances are a little more run-down than they would have been in Floyd's heyday, it's kind of refreshing to see that Roger Waters can still mockingly spit his way through a performance with the best of them.