Pink Floyd's lesser-known album predicted today's politics with eerie accuracy
In 1979, Pink Floyd put out their magnum opus, one of the most successful rock albums ever, going Platinum in the U.S. and U.K, and giving them their first number one single. A grand rock opera, its scale was matched only by its singular vision. This was The Wall, the one Pink Floyd album everyone knows and loves. Well, The Wall had a darker, messier, and less polished but equally brilliant elder sibling, Animals. The sheer size of The Wall’s shadow ensures that Animals has always remained the unappreciated genius in the Pink Floyd canon. Fans swear by it, and the rest of the world has hardly heard of it. In these strange political times, Animals makes for a remarkably prescient record.
The concept of the album is adapted from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The only difference is that while Orwell uses the animal archetypes to reflect the death of the Tsarist autocracy and the eventual emergence of Stalinism in Russia, Pink Floyd flips the metaphor to reflect on what it believes is a ruthlessly Capitalist 1970s Britain. Hence, in Floyd’s Animals, the sheep are the poor gullible masses, the dogs are ruthless hustlers, and the pigs are an extravagant and disgusting political class.
The entire album is composed of a short prologue and epilogue bookending three massive fifteen-minute songs, unambiguously titled "Dogs," "Pigs (Three Different Ones)," and "Sheep" respectively. The entire album’s lyrical content is very direct. The words, while laden with emotion, don’t leave much room for creative interpretation. All the subtlety and nuance is reserved for the sound itself — dark, gritty, industrial, and brimming with meaning, yet hidden beneath countless interpretations and hours of listening.
Throughout Animals, Roger Waters, the bands bassist, vocalist, and chief songwriter for the purposes of this album, channels his own building nihilism and disillusionment with society to produce a biting critique of capitalism and the Western democratic system as a whole. When one examines the ideas and feelings that Waters alludes to throughout, the record feels eerily relevant in 2017. To hear Waters sing about the Pigs, “You’re nearly a laugh / You’re nearly a laugh / But you’re really a cry,” one can’t help but be reminded of our turbulent times. His political vision and his fearless delivery of it are what make Animals worth revisiting today. Late last year, a group of Chicago architects proposed a plan involving the blocking of the Trump Tower Chicago logo with gold balloon pigs, a direct reference to the pig floating between two of the chimneys of London’s Battersea Power Station on the cover of Animals.
With that said, enough with the foreshadowing! Here are the songs:
As the first of the albums three long tracks, "Dogs" sets an aggressive, hungry, dark, and direct tone for the album. It traces the sad and lonely life of the ruthless entrepreneur. He starts out as a keen-eyed street hustler, before graduating to becoming a polished executive. He has one goal — to get ahead — and he picks out suckers, compromises his morals, and betrays his friends in its pursuit. Over time, as he gets older and starts needing care, and he comes to the horrifying conclusion that he has made no real connections in his entire life. He eventually dies of cancer, sad and alone. In his final moments, he questions the system he did so much to thrive within, and comes to believe the system was exploiting him for its benefit all along. Waters' tone within "Dogs" is withering disgust. He concludes with “Who was ground down in the end / Who was found dead on the phone / Who was dragged down by the stone.”
"Pigs (Three Different Ones)":
Rogers taunts the pigs differently than he does the dogs. With the dogs, he condescends, mirthlessly ridiculing their lives. With the pigs, he engages in satire. “Haha, charade you are” he sings, making fun of pigs for their laziness, clumsiness, and remarkably shallow sense of false dignity. However, even the laughter rings hollow, as it gradually dawns on a listener that the pigs are deeply tortured too. Rogers ultimately concludes the same thing — that for all their pomp and circumstance, the greatest joke on the pigs is that they are the saddest of all the animals. Musically, this song is the only one that borders on anything resembling positivity. The chorus actually sounds a little defiant and taunting, instead of just defeatist and dark.
As the poor downtrodden masses, the sheep are happily lost in their simplicity and innocence. They seem to believe that their overlords, the dogs and the pigs, are their righteous leaders. They blindly follow the ogs to the slaughterhouse, and a horrible, painful death follows, beautifully depicted through one of guitarist Dave Gilmours most innovative solos ever. On the one side, Waters seems to sympathize with the sheep, and on the other, he seems to recoil at their naiveté. There are allusions to a desire to revolt, such as when the sheep speak of learning karate, and to the idea of religion, with the sheep seeming to find solace from their building misery in a higher power. Eleven minutes later, when the revolt finally comes, bringing the album to its epic climax, the sheep rise up against the dogs, but not the pigs.