Amused to Death (Columbia)
Roger Waters

By Bob Bahr

Ex-Pink Floyd vocalist Roger Waters' third solo album seems to reflect his recent struggle to keep his old band from using the name he helped make world famous. Dave Gilmour and company won the right to keep the Floyd name, but this recording is Waters' affidavit arguing the claim that he is Pink Floyd.

A dog barking in the distance, the sound of a man pounding on a wall, a chorus shouting a bitter slogan — traces of classic Pink Floyd are everywhere and Amused to Death sounds very much like a new Floyd disc. One element is missing, however: guitarist Gilmour's easy knack for poppy melodies. Waters moved to fill the gap by hiring some of the best guitar guns walking the earth, including Jeff Beck. In return, he got good guitar work, but no satisfactory substitute.

At some point during this 72-minute work, you're likely to want to scream, "Lighten up!" Waters has always been an angry man, but here he seems most like an old and bitter one. Gilmour's relative levity is absent and what's left are biting sermons on this conservative world's helplessly idiotic bumblings.

Waters' recurring attack on the military ranges from artful to bludgeoning. The wicked irony of "Perfect Sense, Part lI," in which guest commentator Marv Albert participates in a skit comparing the Gulf War to a sports contest, must rub elbows on this disc with lyrics like "You don't have to be a Jew/To disapprove of murder" from "Too Much Rope." Beck's wailing guitar lines, which usually express pain better than Waters' husky vocals, have to share time with the subtlety-free juxtaposition of a boy 's voice eagerly discussing his lust for war with apes screaming chaotically. Occasions of Oliver Stone-like symbolism like this break up the flow of Waters' poetic vision. If only more of Amused to Death could be like the Floyd-spirited "The Bravery of Being Out of Range."

It's not, but sorting through the rest of this effort is largely rewarding, provided your mental state is suited to this heavy of a dose of negativity. The three parts of "What God Wants" are intriguing mutations of one train of thought, an allegorical action sequence populated by animals, punctuated by cynical chants of "What God wants, God gets/God help us all.", "Perfect Sense, Part I" and "Part Il" fall beside each other less tidily, bound mostly by their shared target: the decisions that resulted in the Gulf War and the reception the televised warfare got from the public. Within seconds, Waters goes from "Is it any wonder /That the monkey's confused/He said Mama Mama/fhe President's a fool" to "Time is linear/Memory is a stranger/History's for fools/Man is a tool in the hands of the great God Almighty." An extremely thin melody is responsible for tying these elements together.

Perhaps the most level-headed attack on the war comes in "Late Home Tonight, Part I" and continued in "Part II." Simply presenting the scenarios packs more punch, as in "Part I," when he sings "The kid from Cleveland/In the comfort of routine/Scans his dials and smiles/Secure in the beauty of military life/There is no right or wrong/Only tin cans and cordite and white cliffs/And blue skies and flight flight flight." "Late Home Tonight" chronicles a victory in the war in such a way that it is rendered a loss — a loss of morals, ethics and clear mental vision.

Sonically, Amused to Death is near perfect. Led by Beck's wonderful guitar solos, the music provides plenty to chew on. Waters has not forgotten how to make big rock. But perhaps he has forgotten (or never learned) what his old bandmate Dave Gilmour showed him about writing pop songs. And psst, Roger: we may be numbed by television, but we can still grasp analogies without a literal translation.