Pink Floyd’s tenth studio album, Animals, released 23 January 1977, is
framed by two warm and gentle acoustic pieces, but that ‘packaging’ does not
fool anyone: this record exudes rage and anger from start to finish. Ironic
then that it was released in the midst of the explosion of punk rock, which was
in some ways a reaction to everything Pink Floyd stood for. Nevertheless, after
the enormous success of Dark
Side of the Moon and Wish
You Were Here, this ominous
and visceral record came as something of a shock to fans, before they realised
that the Floyd had, indeed, produced another classic.
"It is a very violent album…", bassist and lyricist Roger Waters acknowledged in a Capital Radio interview in the year of its release, “they’re violent songs”.
And they were songs inspired in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, with dogs as ruthless capitalists; pigs as the ruling class; and docile sheep unthinkingly being shepherded to their deaths. This structure marked it out as another in the series of the band’s outstanding concept albums.
But to be considered an authentic classic, the songs need to stand the test of time and, over 40 years later, it can be confirmed that they clearly do. Waters drove the point home on his recent world tour when he beamed images of Trump onto the structure of Battersea Power Station, with its pollution-spewing chimneys, and sang from Pigs (Three Different Ones): “Big man, Pig man, ha, ha, charade you are […] And when your hand is on your heart, you’re nearly a good laugh, almost a joker [...] but you’re really a cry.” The buffoonish Emperor may lead the way but many other world leaders follow closely in his wake, wallowing in a cesspit of corruption and lies, Waters seemed to be saying.
“And when you lose control,” Dave Gilmour sings on Dogs, “You’ll reap the harvest you have sown”; in what seems like another portent of what is to come. The image of the greedy businessman (ignoring climate change and the needs of ordinary people, for example) in the search for more and more profit, sticks in the mind, along with the bitterest of lyrics: “So have a good drown, as you go down all alone, Dragged down by the stone … stone … stone …”
Interestingly, for an album that is seen as one in which Waters really began to dominate the band, Gilmour’s outstanding guitar playing, probably on his favourite Fender Strat, and his singing, predominate at the start. “Ninety percent of the song Dogs was mine…" he pointed out in one interview, "that song was almost […] half of Animals." Nevertheless, Animals is seen by many as the moment in which both Gilmour and keyboardist Rick Wright began to be sidelined; in some ways representing the start of the end for the band.
Wright may not have played a major role, but his mournful electric piano wonderfully sets the mood for Sheep, which is the final long song on the album. The sheep are warned as they calmly graze in the field “What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real?” but they don’t listen, and a twisted version of Psalm 23, the Lord’s prayer, is chillingly heard as they quietly enter the steely cold environs of the slaughterhouse.
Despite the fact that Animals has been described as ‘anti-commercial’, ‘un-radio friendly’ and ‘inaccessible to the casual listener’, it reached number 2 in the UK and number 3 in the US billboard charts, and is a firm fan favourite among Pink Floyd’s incredible back catalogue. It is about as welcoming as a rabid dog, but it does not feel too much to say that the history of music is now unimaginable without it.