Is This The Life We Really Want? – Roger Waters
Released on the 2nd of June this year Is This The Life We Really Want? is the first rock album release we have seen from Roger Waters since he released the album Amused To Death back in 1992. That’s some 25 years and in between that the only other thing he has put out are mainly live albums that tend to have more material from the band he was previously with many moons ago Pink Floyd rather than focus on his own solo material from his 3 previous rock albums.
The only other thing he was involved in was a collaborative piece of work to which produced a double album back in 2005 of a classical opera entitled Ça Ira and that was 12 years ago. This is not a lot of output from a guy who is known as a prolific songwriter and a man of great words who has been a solo artist since he departed from Pink Floyd back in 1985.
There is no doubt regarding the musical side of things that Roger’s heart is still more into the material he wrote when he was with Pink Floyd rather doing anything else. This new album has Floyd influences from years back when he was with them written all over it. His first solo album The Pro’s and Cons of Hitch Hiking musically has the Floyd album The Wall written all over it. I am beginning to think that when he wrote the words for the album The Wall back in 1979 “and the worms ate into his brain” it could easily of meant “and the wall ate into his brain” Roger’s brain that is :))))))))))
It’s a shame really because when I look back on both of his other solo albums Radio K.A.O.S. and Amused To Death you get to see another side of Roger’s writing which is really excellent and more fresh regarding the original material he wrote for them.
No doubt the latter of the two albums more or less embarks on the same subject matter lyrically as both The Wall and The Final Cut. But musically it does not contain any influences from any Floyd album, and the first of the two albums mentioned here is completely fresh material with a more modern approach to it, that is really suited to him and for me was the way to go for him.
I know from reviews I have read in the past that a lot of people did not really rate the album Radio K.A.O.S. But I think it’s excellent and for me personally along with Amused To Death both of them albums are without doubt his best output from his solo career and really show that he does not need Pink Floyd around him to be able to shine and write great music.
So how does the latest album fair, and can it compete with both of those great albums? Find out in my full descriptive detailed review of the album.
The Packaging & Artwork…
The CD of the album comes in a cardboard slip case and as you can see from the photo I took of the inside it houses the booklet and the CD that can be retrieved from the inside of the wallet. The cardboard is of a reasonable thickness to hold it’s contents and as a matt finish, which is perhaps not the best and means more careful attention needs to be considered when removing the disc to prevent scratching the discs surface.
The fact that there is not a lot of leg room between the disc and the booklet on the inside makes it a lot harder to retrieve the disc without getting finger marks on it, even with it’s C shape half circle like cut-outs. Though it perhaps looks more appealing like this, I myself think it would of been better if they both came out of the end of the slip case just like the same way you would retrieve a record from a vinyl album. It would even help if they made a paper sleeve with a polyurethane protective layer inside just as they do with vinyl records.
You may think I am nit picking here, but I like to treat my CD’s like my vinyl albums and keep them immaculate, and these things are nowhere as indestructible as they originally stated and made them out to be when CD’s were first released back in the 80’s.
On the left hand side of the inside of the cover, the printed words “come on honey, it’s real money” are from the song “Smell The Roses” and although it’s not visibly clear here, there is a stamp mark on the right side of the United States Federal Bureau Of Investigation. There are also other words that are hard to make out because they have black marker lines running across them. There is no doubt the album contains some kind of conspiracy around its subject matter.
The booklet that contains the information and the lyrics is also not that visibly clear to read either as they have red marker lines running across them, but you can actually read those with good glasses or a magnifying glass :))))))))))) and this is where vinyl does have the edge.
The artwork for the album is perhaps well apt with its black marker lines hiding the conspiracy that’s within its lyrical content and looks pretty OK and suitable to it all. In some ways it reminds of the album cover for his 2nd album Radio K.A.O.S. only here it’s in black and off white instead of green and black.
The Album Review…
The album Is This The Life We Really Want? comes with 12 tracks over a playing time of 54 minutes 9 seconds. Material wise it has all the basic ingredients one would expect from a Roger Waters album even after all this time, for example the explicit bad language, the usual subject matter with politics, religion, war, and a concept album.
Though it’s really down to the fact that Roger has more of a speaking voice rather than being a singer with a singing voice, that he prefers to write stories, and there is no doubt that his voice works very well with how he can also use it for expression. It also perhaps feels more comfortable for him work in this way too.
The material for this new album of his was written over a period of 7 years. Between 2010 = 2017 and some of it’s tracks even appeared under different titles to which he played at many of his live shows, which is something he tends to do more often rather than bring out new albums. Personally I think that the fact that Donald Trump got in power and became the new president of the America may have spurred him on to get this new album out this year, and even use some of those older tracks he wrote and retitled them to get it done quicker.
Although the album Is This The Life We Really Want? gives the impression its a concept album, its perhaps only one with it’s lyrical content which is aimed at those in power and perhaps a personal stab at Donald Trump. There is no real story here even though each track runs along continuously into one another for most of the album. They are all references to the situations of all the evil that’s in this world. Hence the album’s title and the question it presents us with.
The material for the album is also a bit misleading, especially with the latter part of the tracks on the album, tracks 8 to 12 for example feel a bit different and it’s almost as if he was working on another album and included them to get the album done more quickly. They also embark around the subject matter of love as well.
Production & Musicians…
The album was produced and mixed by Nigel Godrich who also contributes keyboards and guitar and arranged the songs on the album. To be honest just like him and all the musicians Roger has with him on the album. I have never heard of any of them. Which is most unusual especially when I look at some of the greats he has had with him on his previous albums. Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton to name a couple. Nigel is also known for producing the albums for the band Radiohead who I have heard of but do not know a great deal about them and their music.
Roger Waters: Vocals – Guitar – Bass.
Jonathan Wilson: Guitars – Keyboards.
Gus Seyffert: Bass – Guitar – Keyboards.
Joey Waronker: Drums.
Roger Manning: Keyboards.
Lee Pardini: Keyboards.
Backing Vocals: Lucius. Jess Wolfe. Holly Laessig.
Recorded Voices: Rachel Agnew. Jane Barbe. Emma Clarke. Celia Drummond. Kathy Somers. Ingrid Schram.
Analysing The Tracks…
The opening track When We Were Young is nothing more than a load of mumbling over foul mouthed words explicitly and repeatedly about adolescence childhood days, and the antics many people got up to in their younger years. It’s nothing more than an introduction, and in reality there was perhaps no need to make it an album track or even give it a title.
It runs directly into the 2nd track entitled Deja Vu to which lyrically Roger is saying that if he had of been God he could of done a better job, in relation to all the bad there is in this world. To be honest I think almost anybody could of done a better job than God, and just like Roger I am an atheist myself and his words make a lot of sense too. Its one of the songs that was debuted live back in 2014 under the title of “Lay Down Jerusalem (If I Had Been God)”.
It’s a really great song with its acoustic arrangement and the instrumentation of acoustic guitar, piano and orchestral stings played on keyboards is widely used throughout most of the tracks on the album. If you’re looking for some tasty lead lines played on an electric guitar, you are not gonna find many at all on the whole of this album and the biggest majority of the material has been written around the piano. But it does have some fine moments and does not disappoint at all and is still very well structured musically.
Speaking of its musical structure. There is no doubt that this particular song was constructed around some of the melody lines of the Pink Floyd song “Fearless” from their 1971 album Meddle.
The Last Refugee is up next and it’s title is perhaps very familiar territory with Roger’s works. Its one of those songs that would of even worked with his previous album Amused To Death and Pink Floyd’s album the Final Cut. The opening verses contain some great poetry in his lyrics and in some ways is quite melancholic.
The song opens up with an intro on the radio and in many ways this album actually flows and feels very much like his Radio K.A.O.S. album. I do not think there are any melody lines he has borrowed from any of his many other songs he has written, and its another fine song done in his own familiar style.
The 4th track on the album Picture That without any doubt borrows melody lines from “Dogs” that was on Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals. It’s very much a protest song that’s aimed directly at Donald Trump especially with the sentence “picture a leader with no fucking brains” and personally I think Roger is 100% right in making that statement too.
It’s a very powerful song and unlike most of the tracks on the album, this one does feature more rocked up electric guitars. keyboards and heavy hitting drums. I suppose in some ways it could be Rogers new anthem to belt out at his live shows to which he is doing right now.. It’s a really great song that lifts the pace of the album up and raises the game a little more and very well placed on the album too.
Next up is my personal favourite track on the album Broken Bones which borrows very slight melody lines from two Pink Floyd albums. “Breathe” from Dark Side Of The Moon and “Mother” from The Wall. Its also another song that was debuted live in 2015 under the title of “Safe and Sound” The song starts of acoustically on the acoustic guitar with some fine touches of electric guitar accompanied by some lovely orchestration, and builds its way up very well adding more power to its build.
It’s one of those songs where Roger gets to use his more powerful expressive voice as he does on many of his earlier albums, and first started to use those kind of screams of powerful expression on The Wall. Though due to the fact that he is now getting on a bit he has lost some of the power in his range, which is to be expected. Lyrically the words are pertaining to our liberty been taken away, suggesting that we do not have to pay any attention and listen to those world leaders with their bullshit and lies.
The self titled album track Is This The Life We Really Want? opens up with the words of Donald Trump harking on about CNN News and their stories of what was to become fake news, and him telling his people not to trust the media. Basically the song is about the insecurity and fear that’s spread worldwide of having an idiot (or nincompoop as Roger calls him) in power of a very powerful country never knowing what he could do next. Begging the question in its title.
It’s a very powerful song with a strong build up to it and could of been a contender for the top spot on the album. But the fact that it grinds to an halt rather too quickly and goes straight into the next track leaves it rather short of the margin. Personally I think he could of developed it a lot more, but there is no doubt he gets his point across even over this short distance.
Bird In The Gale is the most powerful track on the album. Musically it’s like a cross between 3 Pink Floyd songs. “Dogs” from Animals. “Not Now John” from The Final Cut and “Another brick In The Wall (Part 2)” from The Wall. It’s like all hell as broken loose from where the previous track ended and as flung us right into the action of a very explosive war. It also ends off with an explosion and with the pilot cheering himself along as his mission is accomplished. It’s also the first track that does not lead into another one, and the first stop point on the album.
The fact that it does this and the rest of the material that follows seems to be a tad bit different, personally has me thinking that if this is a concept album in the way of a story, this would be the last track of it. It’s like I pointed out earlier it’s very misleading. It’s also very hard to work it all out and say what Roger’s intentions really were and only he would have the real answer.
The 8th track on the album The Most Beautiful Girl is a really great song with a melancholy feel about and it’s title suggests that it’s a love song. Though it’s lyrical content is very much more aimed at a tear jerker of a song about a woman who was killed in some war or a terrorist attack. I have no idea if the lyrics are aimed at a true story and to who and what incident they are referring too. But these are very powerful words and very cleverly constructed.
There is no doubt the musical structure of the song is very strongly based around the melody lines of “What God Wants” from his Amused To Death album. He has practically rearranged the music to that song to make this one. Roger also sings with great conviction in his voice and though there are quite a few contenders for the best track on the album, this one for me hits the spot and is very close to my favourite track on the album.
Smell The Roses is another great song and it borrows its melody lines from “Have A Cigar” of the Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here more than anything else. It was also released as a single earlier this year on the 20th of April. Once again the lyrical content is very strong and very hard to really grasp. I am sure Roger is writing his words in riddles because I myself could probably think of a thousand other ways to write around the subject of this song title, and no way would I of arrived with this set of lyrics that’s for sure.
My own interpretation of Roger’s lyrics is that these terrorists are being paid to do what they are doing by an higher power.
The last 3 tracks on the album Wait For Her. Oceans Apart and Part Of Me Died are in reality one song, and just like he gave those mumbled up words on the opening track a title to which was really not necessary. I really do not see the reasoning behind making this into 3 tracks instead of 1 either. Because the music is exactly the same all the way through and so too is the vocal melody. It’s only the words that have changed regarding the final track here.
It’s another fine song though and the mumbled up words we had on the intro, also close the album after too.
Summary Of The Album…
To sum up my own personal view and opinion of how the album Is This The Life We Really Want? speaks to me.. I can honestly say that the album has everything one would expect to hear from a Roger Waters album. The material upon it is a very strong body of work even if musically it may appear that he has in some way been a bit lazy by constructing it out of older existing melody lines.
For some people, the fact that he has used existing melody lines to work around, may have an effect of them knocking off a few stars or points when coming to rate the album. Especially on first hearing the album. It’s perhaps something I would of done myself if I was to review the album after just 1 or 2 spins without giving it more time and attention.
I think one should also remember, that those melody lines he has chosen to work around, are his own and it’s not as if he has ripped off somebody else’s material. Some people may even like album better for him doing such a thing in the first place.
For me personally the fact that Roger has only touched slightly on some of those older melodies and he’s created other songs with them that are not exactly saying the same thing with the music. Works a damn site better than the way the music was constructed for his first album The Pro’s and Cons of Hitch Hiking Which for me was well over the top in that it was way to close to The Wall. I still like that album though, but I think this new album is better than it.
When it comes to the lyrical content upon the album Is This The Life We Really Want? there is no doubt that Roger is on the ball and it’s always been one of his stronger points. He is without doubt a genius and his lyrics were always the voice behind Pink Floyd. He is a man with many words and knows exactly how to put across and let out his anger and frustrations on the subject matter he is writing about. He speaks a lot of truth as well though many will argue about that and either love or hate him for it.
Is This The Life We Really Want? is a really great album that as been a long time in its making and regarding his more rock based albums it as took a quarter of a century to hit the record shelves. I do wish that Roger would of made more albums like the 4 he has done in this genre of music instead of putting more time into his live shows that mainly features Pink Floyd songs from his past history.
This could very well be his final album and I know people like to hear the old songs once in awhile from the previous bands they was in. But I think as a solo artist he should of took a leaf out of Peter Gabriel’s book and devote more of his time to his solo career. Simply because the 4 solo albums he has made are really good pieces of work and there is no doubt that the music upon them is made to last, and will stand out over many years to come. It’s not music that will be left on the shelves gathering dust after so many spins and I think it’s a shame that he has not done more of it.
This latest album of his is very stripped back regarding its instrumentation, but still manages to work very well and will have you coming back for more and more. It’s also one of those albums that will perhaps shed more light in years to come regarding it’s lyrical content, because it is without a doubt very hard to decipher some of his words and hard to get into his way of thinking. But its very clever I will say, and I am pretty sure there are some conspiracy’s within the written material too.
Regarding it’s production and the overall sound quality of the album. It’s not the best quality, and can be very muddy in parts with the over use of bass in the recording. But that does not get in the way or hamper so much with the great material that’s on it.
It’s also not one of those albums that contains great solos from the guitars or the keyboards and even judging by the musicians and the packaging of the album, it appears to be have been made in the cheapest possible way. I would of liked to have seen a deluxe edition too with a 5.1 mix of the album.
But despite all of that it’s a very worthy album of buying and says everything that Roger Waters is as a solo artist, and it does not disappoint. My copy arrived through the door on the same day of its release, and because I had it pre-ordered on Amazon for £9.99 I also got the digital download of the album free to which was activated and released at 1 minute past midnight to which I put on my phone and listened to it immediately in bed.
It’s certainly a must for his fans and personally I think Roger’s albums are a lot better than David Gilmour’ solo albums and so is this one.
01. When We Were Young 1:39.
02. Deja Vu 4:27.
03. The Last Refugee 4:12.
04. Picture That 6:47.
05. Broken Bones 4:57.
06. Is This The Life We Really Want? 5:55.
07. Bird In The Gale 5:31.
08. The Most Beautiful Girl 6:09.
09. Smell The Roses 5:15.
10. Wait For Her 4:56.
11. Oceans Apart 1:07.
12. Part Of Me Died 3:14.