1992 – Roger Waters – Amused to Death
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01. Ballad Of Bill Hubbard, The
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Amused to Death is a concept album by former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters, released in 1992.
Amused to Death further explores Waters’ disillusionment with modern Western society, focusing specifically on the influence of television and the mass media. The album was inspired by the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, a critique of television and its related culture by Neil Postman.
Like every studio album Roger Waters has done since The Dark Side of the Moon, Amused to Death is a concept album. This one is organized loosely around the idea of a monkey randomly switching channels on a television, but explores numerous political and social themes, including critiques of the First Gulf War in “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” and “Perfect Sense”, in which famed sportscaster Marv Albert narrates a war as if it were a basketball game, and a massive choir sings their “global anthem”:
Can’t you see
It all makes perfect sense
Expressed in dollars and cents
Pounds, shillings, and pence
The song “Watching TV” (a duet with Don Henley) explores the influence of mass media on the Chinese protests for democracy in Tiananmen Square.
The album is mixed in QSound to enhance the spatial feel of the audio, and the many sound effects on the album — rifle range ambience, sleighbells, cars, planes, distant horses, chirping crickets, and dogs — all make use of the 3-D facility. A limited “MasterSound” edition was also made.
Amused to Death reached #8 on the UK Albums Chart, Waters’ first Top 10 in his homeland, and a career high of #21 on the Billboard 200, aided by “What God Wants, Part I”, which hit #4 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart in 1992.
There was no tour in support of this record, although Roger has performed several songs from it on his recent In the Flesh and Dark Side of the Moon Live tours.
* The first song, “The Ballad of Bill Hubbard”, features a sample of World War I veteran Alfred “Alf” Razzell, a member of the Royal Fusiliers (much like Waters’ father Eric Fletcher Waters had been in the following war) who describes his account of finding fellow soldier William “Bill” Hubbard—to whom the album is dedicated—severely wounded on the battlefield. After failed attempts to take him to safety, Razzell is forced to abandon him in no-man’s land. This sample is continued at the end of the title track, at the very end of the album, providing a more upbeat coda to the tragic story.
* The second song, “What God Wants, Part I”, follows and greatly contrasts the moving words of Razzell by opening with the TV being tuned instead into an excerpt that sounds like it’s taken from a vox pop of a child who says, “I don’t mind about the war. That’s one of the things I like to watch, if it’s a war going on. Cos then I know if, um, our side’s winning, if our side’s losing…” she is then ironically interrupted by the channel change and a burst of ape-chatter.BBC Radio 1 refused to play the song due to its lyrical content, outraging Waters. Two other singles along with “What God Wants” were released in Europe as “Three Wishes” and “The Bravery of Being Out of Range”. These two singles (as well as a video for “Three Wishes”) were slated for release in the US but were eventually cancelled.
* The third song, “Perfect Sense, Part I”, begins with a loud, unintelligible rant, and after that one can hear backwards-uttered words scattered about for the first two minutes of the song. Played on reverse, this message tells that Roger has decided to record a backwards message. “Julia, however, in the light and visions of the issues of Stanley, we changed our minds. We have decided to include a backward message. Stanley, for you, and for all the other book burners.” The message climaxes with Waters yelling “YOU’RE A DUNDERWIT STANLEY, YOU’RE A SACK O’ SHITE STANLEY!” in the aggressive Scottish voice he used to depict the character of the teacher in The Wall. Waters stated in an interview with Rockline on 8 February 1993 that he wanted to use samples of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey on the album. Stanley Kubrick, the director, turned him down on the basis that it would open the door to many other people using the sound sample. He has since then used audio of HAL describing his mind being taken away when performing the song live (as an intro, specifically during his In the Flesh concert tour, after Kubrick’s death).
* Also in “Perfect Sense, Part II”, Marv Albert gives a mock commentary on the destruction of an oil rig with torpedoes fired by a submarine.
* Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea recorded a part for the album (specifically for a different, more uptempo version of “It’s a Miracle”), but this was not used.
* Waters wrote portions of the lyrics by verbally improvising over the music.
* In “The Bravery of Being Out of Range”, Waters sings, “I looked over Jordan and what did I see. Saw a U.S. Marine in a pile of debris”—which echoes his similar line in “Sheep” (from Pink Floyd’s Animals (1977): “I’ve looked over Jordan, and I have seen things are not what they seem.”
* On The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the first song written by Roger, “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”, opens with the lyric, “Doctor, Doctor”; although probably a coincidence, the concluding, title track “Amused to Death” begins with the same line.
* Charles Fleischer (better known as the voice of Roger Rabbit) performs the greedy evangelist’s sermon at the beginning of “What God Wants, Part II”.
* The album title, Amused to Death, was attached to material that Waters began working on during the Radio KAOS tour. A prototype album cover was reportedly distributed to his record company, which included caricatures of three figures resembling David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright, floating in a martini glass. However, it was several years before the album was finally released (Roger refused to release it as long as his former bandmates were still on Columbia Records’ roster), and it is unknown how much the material was changed in the interim. At the very least, the songs criticising the first Gulf War and President George Bush snr (“Old timer, who you gonna kill next?” “Does the recoil remind you of sex?” etc. in “The Bravery of Being Out of Range”), and Tiananmen Square were new or heavily rewritten, as those events occurred after the original writing.
* In Neil Postman’s book The End of Education he remarks on the album: “There are, as we know, different levels of sensibility. In the case of music, for example, most American students are well tuned to respond with feeling, critical intelligence, and considerable attention to forms of popular music, but are not prepared to feel or even experience the music of Haydn, Bach, or Mozart; that is to say, their hearts are closed, or partially closed, to the canon of Western music. I am not about to launch into a screed against rock, metal, rap, and other forms of teenage music. In fact, readers should know that Roger Waters, once the lead singer of Pink Floyd, was sufficiently inspired by a book of mine to produce a CD called Amused to Death. This fact so elevated my prestige among undergraduates that I am hardly in a position to repudiate him or his kind of music. Nor do I have the inclination for any other reason. Nonetheless, the level of education required to appreciate the music of Roger Waters is both different and lower than what is required to appreciate, let us say, a Chopin étude (…) There is in short something missing in the aesthetic experience of our young.”
* In interviews promoting Amused to Death, Waters asserted that Andrew Lloyd Webber had plagiarized themes from “Echoes” for sections of the musical The Phantom of the Opera; nevertheless, he decided not to file a lawsuit regarding the matter. Waters did, however, respond by adding a reference to Webber in the song “It’s a Miracle” on the Amused to Death album:
We cower in our shelters, with our hands over our ears
Lloyd Webber’s awful stuff runs for years and years and years
An earthquake hits the theatre, but the operetta lingers
Then the piano lid comes down and breaks his fucking fingers
It’s a miracle
Quotes – Roger Waters LA Times, 1992
“The album title came from a short book by Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, which is about the history of the media, particularly as it relates to political communication—i.e., how things have changed since such works as Lincoln’s speeches were made available for the general public to read.”
“And I had at one point this rather depressing image of some alien creature seeing the death of this planet and coming down in their spaceships and sniffing around and finding all our skeletons sitting around our TV sets and trying to work out why it was that our end came before its time, and they come to the conclusion that we amused ourselves to death.”
“Things coalesced slowly as I became more and more interested or obsessed, pick your word, with the inordinately powerful and all-encompassing effect that television seems to have on the human race. My general view is that television when it becomes commercialized and profit-based tends to trivialize and dehumanize our lives.”
“So I became interested in this idea of television as a two-edged sword, that it can be a great medium for spreading information and understanding between peoples, but when it’s a tool of our slavish adherence to the incumbent philosophy that the free market is the god that we should all bow down to, it’s a very dangerous medium. Because it’s so powerful.”
“I think the motivation is at the root of its current evil, i.e. it’s because they have to compete in an open marketplace that their standards get reduced so the programming tends to end up as the cheapest possible saleable item. I don’t believe that wanting to beat the opposition makes for good programming, but it’s an ideology that is still rigidly adhered to.”
— Roger Waters, speaking about the album to the LA Times, September, 1992