I first listened to Pink Floyd, a long time ago during my college days. A friend was playing The Division Bell. It was very different from the other music of that time – both lyrically & musically. As I explored their past work, I was hooked to the sounds & words of The Wall and The Dark Side of the Moon. So, this was Pink Floyd, whose music was described by most folks as too depressing or abstract. I was amazed by their musical range, their brutally uncompromising views, and the ability to convey human emotions through songs or sometimes just haunting instrumentals.
When I first heard Animals, of course, it sounded “Pink Floyd” but couldn’t understand the concept much – pigs, dogs, sheep – really? But over time I could relate to the songs. Verses like “you’ll get the chance to put the knife in”, “just another sad old man, all alone and dying of cancer” or “The Lord is my shepherd…….He converteth me to lamb cutlets”….. were shocking and eye-opening.
Pigs on the Wing? What a Charade!
Animals was the English rock band Pink Floyd’s 10th studio album, released in January 1977. Animals is structured as a concept album and a socio-political commentary. Roger Waters wrote all the songs and they are hard, sharp, and no-holds-barred honest.
In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is a satirical take on Stalinist Soviet Union, the animals of “The Manor Farm” which includes Pigs, Dogs, Cows, Horses, Sheep, Hens, etc start with the idealism of “All Animals are equal”, collaborate to overthrow the human oppressors, but over time it deteriorates to a brutal dictatorship where Pigs are the ruling class, Dogs are the enforcers and the rest are forced to a life of slave labor.
Waters expands Orwell’s idea into a critique of capitalism prevailing in 70’s Britain, dividing human society into three classes – the despotic rulers or Pigs, the ruthless Businessmen or Dogs, and the rest are the unquestioning followers, Sheep. Animals contains five songs with a combined length of around 42 mins, with two small songs at the beginning and end sandwiching three long ballads in between.
The proceedings begin on a soft note with “Pigs on the Wing (1)” written and performed by Waters, where he talks about the prevailing alienation and fear in the society. Then we move to the first animal “Dogs” – this is the longest song of the album (17 mins) and all four members collaborate musically. Gilmour starts with the tactics Dogs employ to keep winning at all costs in a competitive “Dog eat dog” world, this is followed by a middle guitar solo and then the finale, where Waters concludes with – ‘in the end we all have to reap what we sow’. Gilmour is in top form with excellent guitar interludes which are rated amongst his best.
The third song is “Pigs (three different ones)” – here Waters sings about Pigs who are authoritarian and oppressive. This song again features all four members playing. Gilmour not only has short solo pieces, but he also uses a Talkbox to mimic the sound of Pigs. The fourth song is about the last animal “Sheep”, Waters with typical wit & sarcasm sings about Sheep who blindly follow their oppressors to their death (Sample few lines- The Lord is my shepherd … With bright knives, he releaseth my soul….. He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places…..). But then in the final verse the Sheep “master the art of karate”, rise and overthrow the Dogs, but there is a catch too since Pigs are still around.
The fifth song “Pigs on the Wing (2)” – written and performed by Waters, features simple acoustic guitar play. For all his anger, criticism in the previous songs, Roger ends on a hopeful note, calling for concern and empathy for the less fortunate ones in society.
Old is Not Always Gold but Check It Out for Yourself!
Waters’ lyrics are dark & biting but there is a thread of human solidarity pervading in all the songs. Even after all this time and particularly this year, with the pandemic lockdown, migrant workers crisis, looming economic recession, recurring police brutality in the US, the ever-increasing gap between the haves & have nots, Animals continues to resonate with its hard-hitting message of an exploitative, privileged political-industrial class which has run amok. This is where Water’s message of “United we stand, divided we fall” is very relevant for the Sheep Class. But better watch out, there could be Dogs about….