Certain albums resonate with me. Often, it’s the setting I associate with these records that entrenches the music in my core memory. The music is important in isolation, of course, but the association with life events cements certain records into the root system.
Riding solo through West Virginia on a motorcycle with Bill Frisell’s Nashville playing over my helmet speakers. Or an early morning in my late teens, with the sun rising into a colorful dawn and the LSD wearing off as Pink Floyd’s Meddle plays over the stereo. I still feel these events within me, holographic memories I can summon whenever I hear these records.
Certain albums, though, anchor themselves in my memory without the necessity of adhering to a singular moment. Originally released in 1977, Pink Floyd’s Animals is one such recording. The music is great, for sure, but there’s always been a power to Roger Waters’s lyrics. They drill down into my psyche the way only fine poetry can.
Original remaster from 2016
Last year, Pink Floyd reissued Animals on LP (Pink Floyd Records, PFRLP28), using the 2018 CD master, which was remixed by the band’s longtime engineer and producer, James Guthrie. I own several versions of Animals: a Canadian pressing, a German pressing, and the first version of the Pink Floyd remaster program—from back around 2016, if I recall correctly.
The remixed LP is a sumptuous package, with a revised, modernized cover featuring an under-construction Battersea power station, gloomily presented in stark black and white. Accompanying the record is a 27-page LP-sized book with tons of photos and a full lyric sheet.
The 2018 remixed LP
I picked up the remixed LP a while back and have been enjoying it on repeat ever since. The new mix isn’t revelatory—it’s more of a tune-up than a rebuild—but that’s just fine, since the sound quality on the original album is pretty damn good. In the remixed version, instruments have more definition and separation, and the bass is much more articulate. But if nobody had told me that this version had been monkeyed with, I’d have attributed its excellent sound quality to it being a damn good pressing.
But I did know I was listening to a remixed version, and that knowledge gave me a newfound appreciation for this album and a re-energized enthusiasm for its lyrics. I asked my wife, Marcia, to sit down with me and listen right through, since she also likes this album, and we made an evening of it. Played through my DS Audio DS 003 optical cartridge mounted on my VPI Prime Signature turntable, with an EMM Labs DS-EQ1 optical phono equalizer feeding my Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 preamp—which added just a tiny bit of tube sweetening—and a Hegel Music Systems H30A amp just spanking a pair of Estelon XB Mk II speakers, this was undoubtedly Animals as it was meant to be heard.
Marcia and I both have university-level backgrounds in English literature, and we often discuss song lyrics and poetry, sometimes digging in on the turn of a single phrase repeatedly throughout the day. Marcia is always writing. She writes critical analyses of the books she reads; she writes daily in a journal. “How about you spin up a critical analysis of Animals’ lyrics?” I asked as the album wound down.
Marcia gives some background
Animals portrays a young man’s rage using obvious references to George Orwell’s Animal Farm. At the beginning, Waters separates himself from the barnyard animals. If we didn’t care about each other, we would be barnyard animals.
We would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain,
Occasionally glancing up through the rain.
Wondering which of the buggers to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing.
“Pigs on the wing” was World War I code for an enemy pilot in your blind spot. In Animal Farm, the pigs are the covert enemy on a cooperative farm where the animals have revolted and kicked out Mr. and Mrs. Jones. However, the animals don’t recognize the new enemies. Pigs are the new despots of the farm.
Jason tries to respond
I don’t react to lyrics in the same way Marcia does. For me, poetry and song lyrics are moments encapsulated and frozen in time. I don’t dig deep for their meaning or look for real-world influences. But as I said earlier, Animals resonates within me on a deep, primal level. I know that Waters isn’t talking about actual dogs and that they’re serving as a metaphor, but I just don’t think about what’s behind it. The lyrics are intensely powerful and stand on their own.
And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight,
You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking.
And after a while, you can work on points for style.
Like the club tie, and the firm handshake,
A certain look in the eye and an easy smile.
What’s moving in silently? What? It’s a nightmare image, this covert, unseen menace. Is it behind me now? Couple that with its wily, contrived stealth as it slides into high-class gentlemen’s society, and this thing could be among us, likely is among us. It’s your boss. It’s the man who’s fucking your wife. It’s the fascist politician using dog whistles to appeal to our basest instincts.
These unsettling images are underscored by David Gilmour’s driving acoustic guitar, Richard Wright’s minor-key sound washes, and those slashing guitar solos, and the music is as disturbing as the lyrics.
Marcia, on what’s moving in silently
The dogs are like the nine dogs in Animal Farm, puppies kidnapped from their parents and raised to be loyal only to Napoleon, the pig. Initially they chase off his competitor, the idealist Snowball. Soon, following Napoleon’s orders, they’re ripping out the throats of animals who have been forced to make false confessions. I think Waters sees himself as a dog. He’s a dog zigzagging at the beginning, watching for pigs on the wing. He’s a dog interrupting corruption and avarice around him.
Waters borrows the reverse anthropomorphism of Orwell. Reverse anthropomorphism is dehumanization. In fact, it’s been used throughout history when propagators of genocide use dehumanizing terms to whip paramilitaries into a frenzy. The Hutus berated Tutsis and moderate Hutus as maggots and cockroaches. Hitler described Jews as rats deserving extermination. The BJP in India labeled Muslim minorities as pigs. In verse two of “Dogs,” Waters rehumanizes the dog. After all dogs don’t “put the knife in . . . the people that you lie to.” They don’t tie club ties and give firm handshakes and they never become “another sad old man, / All alone and dying of cancer.”
The dogs momentarily raise their hands and wonder if they’re being exploited.
I gotta admit that I’m a little bit confused.
Sometimes it seems to me as if I’m just being used.
In “Pigs on the Wing (Part Two),” Waters is a dog who’s grateful he has a companion.
You know that I care what happens to you,
And I know that you care for me.
So I don’t feel alone, . . .
Now that I’ve found somewhere safe
To bury my bone.
And any fool knows a dog needs a home,
A shelter from pigs on the wing.
Sadly, this biographical detail, this lovely song of love and a safe home, is something Waters wrote for his soon-to-be ex-wife. He’s singing a song of former love while in the throes of a marital breakdown.
And on July 6, 1977, in Montreal at Olympic Stadium, when he was trying to sing this important message, the fans, who were screaming and lighting fireworks, wouldn’t quiet down. An essay by Mark Blake recounts Rogers’s interaction with one fan who struggled over the barricades.
“When he got close enough,” said Waters, “I leaned over and I spat right in his face.” The stunned fan, his cheeks running with rock star spittle, was tossed back into the crowd.
“I thought, ‘Oh My God! What have I been reduced to?’” Waters said later.
I’d answer: a dog, an angry dog.
It’s certainly not a good life, being a dog.
And it’s too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around.
So have a good drown, as you go down, all alone,
Dragged down by the stone
This especially nasty image is reprised here:
Who was ground down in the end
Who was found dead on the phone
Who was dragged down by the stone
It shows that these dogs are really only tools, used by more powerful shadows, and will most certainly be disposed of when they’ve outlived their usefulness.
Marcia explains who’s pulling the strings
In the first verse of “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” the animals rage against the greed of the fat capitalist willing to consign people to lives of misery, forcing them to work under unsafe conditions in mines while greedily slopping up the profits.
With your head down in the pig bin,
Saying, “Keep on digging.”
Verse two rages at the fucked-up old bag’s austerity measures and privatization schemes that will create financial hardship for the people of Great Britain. This is a young man’s rage. An older man wouldn’t call her an old bag. There’s a point in life where one employs those kinds of careless phrases. Youth is expected to be careless and impatient.
You radiate cold shafts of broken glass. . . .
You like the feel of steel.
He’s speaking of Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher and accusing her of not possessing femininity. Femininity should be about kindness, love, and nurturing—or so says an angry young man.
He directs rage at the prude Mary Whitehouse who, in verse three, dares to try to censor albums, books, and films to shield British children by stemming “the evil tide.”
You house-proud town mouse, . . .
You’re trying to keep our feelings off the street. . . .
All tight lips and cold feet
These are the three classes of pigs that Waters in his rage rails against.
Marcia questions salvation
Jason and I discussed the weakness of “Sheep” as a song. Before the sheep could rise up, they would need to be rehumanized, and this doesn’t happen. The first part of the song is very powerful, creating an image of the sheep being led down the metal corridors but still trusting their leader, until finally, the horror of their situation dawns on them.
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well-trodden corridors into the valley of steel.
What a surprise!
A look of terminal shock in your eyes.
Now things are really what they seem.
No, this is no bad dream.
The momentum builds with the bastardization of Psalm 23 into the process of butchering lambs into cutlets.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. . . .
With bright knives He releaseth my soul.
He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places.
He converteth me to lamb cutlets.
I like the self-sacrificial fervor—the opiate of the masses encompassed within the machination: “For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger.”
However, these lines fall dead for me:
Through quiet reflection, and great dedication
Master the art of karate,
Lo, we shall rise up . . .
Unfortunately, unlike the other two songs, where there’s such great movement from animal back to human, suddenly the sheep go from being cutlets to choosing to do karate. Something has gone terribly wrong with the imagery.
The ending is as redemptive as it can be, but it’s individualistic. This particular dog found someone to love. It’s not that societies make good choices. Waters has no faith in elected leaders, or in democracy.
When your hand is on your heart,
You’re nearly a good laugh . . .
Ha ha charade you are
And it’s not that there’s another path where things will be okay; it’s simply that love works. Animals is still relevant today because it’s an allegory. It’s easy to apply your own anger and frustration about macro events around you to the allegory of the pigs, the dogs, and the sheep. Look at Ukraine right now. Look at Putin, who’s the corpulent mine owner, the wealthy oligarch who wants more. He’s also Whitehouse controlling thoughts. He’s Thatcher, the warmonger. Sending out his dogs, his Russian soldiers, without food or proper uniforms or proper weapons, and with little communication, to attack the sheep. The sheep initially seemed to be Ukrainian citizens and the whole world was expected to watch in horror as they rolled over and were slaughtered.
I remember listening to an author of a children’s book on Canada’s CBC Radio—days before the invasion began—talking about average Ukrainian citizens simply waiting, continuing with their business. Wealthy oligarchs were fleeing the country with whatever assets they could convert into quick cash. But the Ukrainians Putin thought of as sheep quietly mastered the art of karate. Now they’re using drones and precision missiles and they’re fighting the dogs. Pick whatever outrage you want to rail about, and Animals frames it. Orwell did it first. Orwell believed the act of reading revitalizes our inner selves, gives us a way to stay human. In 1904, he wrote, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”
I’ve always been grateful for that image. Sometimes I’ll be reading upstairs and Jason will yell from somewhere else in the house, “Can you give me a hand with this now?” It’s tempting to respond, “Yes, but just let me finish with this axe. Still hacking away at the frozen sea.”
In Animal Farm, George Orwell gave us the script. With Animals, Pink Floyd provides us with the anthem. So hack away.
. . . Jason Thorpe