Is This the Life We Really Want? (2017)

*****

I can’t remember what I was expecting when I went into Is This the Life We Really Want?, Roger Waters’ first studio release in my lifetime. While I’ve been a casual Pink Floyd fan since I first got into music, they’ve never really been one of my favorites. Often, I find myself gravitating toward music that I can relate to, and as a sober man who has barely even had a drink much less a drug-induced trip, the heady trippiness of landmark albums like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall never gripped me the way that Guns N’ Roses’ or Bruce Springsteen’s work does. But after hearing Is This the Life We Really Want?, I can honestly say that my life has been changed forever. As the last track “Part of Me Died” suggests, I do feel like a bit of the musical innocence that has stuck with me ever since I first fell in love with the medium is gone. No longer are simple Pop or Rock n’ Roll tunes enough. This is the type of music that only a true master could approach. Very few albums I’ve heard up to this point are even worthy of comparison.

It goes without saying of course that Roger Waters’ work is not for everyone. The epic first track (after the nonsense, Pink Floyd-esque intro) “Deja Vu” is a sobering, goosebump-inducing takedown of religion as Waters rakes God over the coals for not being up to snuff, and he doesn’t slow down over the course of the next seven pieces taking on Trump (“Picture a leader with no fucking brains”), drone warfare (“Bird in a Gale” ), cruelty toward war refugees (“The Last Refugee”) civilian casualties (“The Most Beautiful Girl”) and a bevy of other sickeningly poignant material. I don’t think its a stretch to say it’s the most political album I’ve ever heard. And given our dire political landscape, it’s an album that’s desperately necessary. To Roger Waters, the Trump presidency isn’t a joke; he isn’t an orange-turned clown leading a circus, he’s a literal threat to the end of the world. And that urgency pervades the album in a manner that’s gripping as well as frightening. Even so, the album doesn’t peak until its three-part closer beginning with “Wait for Her” and ending with “Part of Me Died.” The ultimate ode to humanity on an album filled with war-torn sorrow, this trifecta plays like the ultimate love letter persisting even in the face of despair and is a truly awe-inspiring way to the LP on a note of hopefulness in spite of our bleak national outlook.

Though the production does often echo Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd, it’s much more stripped down and simple than we’ve heard in the past. Often, simple piano chords are the drivers of the melody, a welcome change from the Proggy open-endedness that drove me away from much of Waters’ work in Pink Floyd. Some may decry the singular focus of the album’s song-structure, but I found that it gave the album a monogamous presence that is refreshing and unique. For many, Is This the Life We Really Want? is a mildly impressive opus from a returning master determined to decry the detritus that infects this country he immigrated to so many years ago. To me, it was not only the obvious choice for album of 2017, it may be the greatest musical work that I’ve ever heard.

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