I didn’t really want to review this new album from Roger Waters when I first heard it announced. I’m more of a Gilmour fan, and Roger gets a little overbearing at times. After I heard the album, though, I felt compelled to write a piece on it. With loads of personality and character, “Is This the Life We Really Want?” puts Roger’s maturity in songwriting front and center.
If you are unaware of Roger’s credentials with Pink Floyd, I’m not sure why you are on this site. Roger was part of the legendary band until the 80’s, and his infamous spat with Gilmour exists to this day. I mention that because Roger has a personality of gruffness and grudgery, and that comes through on this album incessantly. However, I honestly think that is why I love this album so much.
Roger pulls off what I would call a combination of Pink Floyd (obviously) and Johnny Cash’s later work. There are other elements here, too, such as some quite beautiful orchestration, but the meat of the album is this combination of gruff old man rock, complete with lots of angry dialogue, and the keyboard sensations and bass grooves of 70’s Pink Floyd. Roger himself plays acoustic guitar and bass here, but upwards of nine other musicians were involved, too.
As with any Roger Waters album, the lyrics are basically his opportunity to complain about how crappy the world is, and he’s generally right about all of it. It’s also his chance to drop lots of f-bombs, which somehow actually gives this album more character and likability. It’s like Clint Eastwood’s character from Gran Torino wrote an album to tell the corrupt politicians and bankers of the world to “get off his lawn”. And I love that. I love the simplicity and potency of his perspective, and I love how he doesn’t give shit what anyone else thinks.
Roger’s vocals are obviously a little rough at times since he is 73 years old now, but that just adds to the cantankerous character of the album. He takes an approach of dialogue and story-telling much of the time, but his true singing voice is still incredibly recognizable from the Pink Floyd songs that everyone knows. He really surprises me with some fantastic notes he hits in a couple songs, too.
As I said, Roger’s experience in writing music is front and center. He doesn’t waste time trying to impress us or to convince us that he’s still got it. He just does his thing, and much of the music is quite subtle. The title track is a great example of this: The track is really low key overall, with a few well-placed strings to reach out and grab us. It’s nothing fancy, but it is somehow very effective.
Despite the potent political content, the songs here are all excellent. “When We Were Young” reminds me of the mumbling on “Atom Heart Mother”, but it also contains this riveting orchestration and groove, not to mention some great vocals from Roger. “Bird in a Gale” is this track where Roger really pushes himself on vocals to keep up with the sweet groove and the ultra-cool guitar work in the background. “Smell the Roses” is a very Floydian track with some great guitar breaks. “Part of Me Died” is a great ending to this nostalgic and angry album, even though it’s basically just acoustic ramblings from Roger mixed with some piano. It truly feels like an ending, though, which less experienced musicians don’t seem to grasp at times.
Two tracks deserve special mention, though. “Picture That”, my favorite, is a grumpy track with lots of cursing that transitions into one of the best instrumentals I’ve heard this year. This keyboard melody swoops in with grace and synthetic elegance, and is perfectly accented by an awesome bass groove and some truly enchanting drumming. The actual title track is fantastic, probably my second favorite. It has this certain storyteller’s charm to it as the music is subtle with bright bursts of melody, all while Roger passive aggressively discusses life. Besides, he calls Trump a “nincompoop” on this track: I can’t say I have heard that word in a song before now.
“Is This the Life We Really Want?” is not going to blow your mind or take you on this metaphysical journey like so many other amazing albums this year. Roger doesn’t care about any of that. Instead, he focuses on cranky social commentary, even though the music is beautiful and even stunning at points. I truly did not expect to love this album as much as I do, but the depth of temperament and personality has really grabbed me. Give it a try.
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