In 1973, Pink Floyd released their eighth studio album, “The Dark Side of The Moon’’ to critical and commercial acclaim. “Dark Side” was a psychedelic masterpiece, it takes listeners through the journey of human life, beginning and ending the album with a heartbeat. Floyd tackles themes of religion, wealth, mortality and mental illness; it’s one of the greatest albums of all time, a defining moment in music, and it’s not Pink Floyd’s best.
Four years later Floyd would release their tenth studio album, “Animals,” their often forgotten magnum opus. An album highly influenced by George Orwell’s 1945 classic novella “Animal Farm;” it was one of their darkest, most venomous projects ever released, casting humans into three subcategories: pigs, dogs and sheep.
- Pigs — Those who perpetrate injustice and hardship whilst maintaining their grip on power.
- Dogs — Success chasers who would do whatever it takes to make it to the top.
- Sheep — People who get all their news from social media.
Coming off “Wish You Were Here,” bassist Roger Waters was the primary writer for Floyd and racked in success as a consequence. Creative disagreements were now common between members as Waters began to see himself as a key reason for their acclaim. In Mark Blake’s book “Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd,” vocalist Richard Wright voiced his frustrations.
“Animals was a slog. It wasn’t a fun record to make, but this was when Roger really started to believe that he was the sole writer for the band. He believed that it was only because of him that the band was still going.”
Despite tensions, Waters strapped into the driver’s seat and the band mustered up for an album, this time tackling society.
“I think the world is a very, very sad place. I find myself at the moment, backing away from it all,” wrote Waters in a 70’s issue of Classic Album Sundays. “I think these are very mournful days. Things aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse…”
“Animals” might only consist of five songs, but its runtime is more than 40 minutes long. After a brief one-minute introduction on “Pigs on the Wings (Part One)” the album transitions into “Dogs,” a 17-minute masterpiece that explores the cynicism of chasing success.
“You have to be trusted by the people you lie to/ So that when they turn their backs on you/ You’ll get the chance to put the knife in.”
The powerfully poignant lyrics are cut by hard guitar riffs and bombastic instrumentation. Yet, the quieter, more dreamy moments of the track are given so much time to breathe. Nothing here is rushed and the lyrics continue to sting.
“You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder/ You know, it’s going to get harder, and harder, and harder/ As you get older/ Yeah, and in the end you’ll pack up and fly down south/ Hide your head in the sand/ Just another sad old man/ All alone and dying of cancer”
It’s a soulful, funky, rock opus, containing some of the most brutal lyrics ever penned to paper. In my opinion, it’s the greatest song they ever created, and it’s only the first (real) track on the album.
The next song “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is a lot more bouncy and playful, but no less sinister in describing the political and corporate leaders of the world.
Funny enough, Rogers had three people in mind when he wrote: “Pigs” (hence “three different ones”). The first was the metaphorical corporate pig, the second, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and the third, Mary Whitehouse, an educator and conservative activist who led a censorship campaign across Britain.
“Why does she make such a fuss about everything if she isn’t motivated by fear,” asked Waters in reference to Whitehouse. “She’s frightened that we’re all being perverted.”
The album ends with “Sheep.” In Orwell’s novella, sheep are ignorant, they cower in their herds and are grossly uneducated. Waters definitely wanted to expand on Orwell’s message when he initially titled the song “Raving and Drooling.”
“Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away/Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air/You better watch out/There may be dogs about.”
Thankfully the final song “Pigs on the Wing (Part Two)” gives listeners a glimpse of hope. It’s a love song written by Waters and tells the story of a “dog” who changed his vicious ways after finding a soulmate. A happy ending to one of the most tortured, climatic albums ever produced.
Unfortunately, “Animals” spelled foreboding doom for Floyd as the band members continued to battle for creative control. Waters had a breakdown not long after the album’s release and the band was fading in the wake of British punk rock. Yet, even with the music landscape shifting, praise for “Animals” was immediate.
“For Pink Floyd, space has always been the ultimate escape. It still is, but now definitions have shifted,” a Rolling Stone’s reviewer wrote. “The romance of outer space has been replaced by the horror of spacing out… Animals is Floyd’s attempt to deal with the realization that spacing out isn’t the answer either. There’s no exit; you get high, you come down again. That’s what Pink Floyd has done, with a thud.”