Amused To Death  is A Singular Sonic Spectacular

Grand scale examinations of the human condition tend to be preachy, didactic and obvious. The more interesting observations tend to be small scale and personal—in other words, how individuals deal with human foibles and circumstances beyond individual control generally are more compelling and interesting.

The observations Roger Waters makes in this sonically spectacular and ambitious production are, at this point, and indeed when the album was originally produced, neither profound nor insightful. Nor are they particularly interesting, though Waters unleashes his obvious and sometimes trite pronouncements with ingenious and often compelling story telling and word play.

Yes, in the end, we value money over human life and yes the media plays an ever increasing role in shaping our values and our perceptions—almost to the exclusion of what we observe with our own eyes.

Inspired by Neil Postman’s 1985 book “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, which was published a year after the year in which George Orwell’s most famous novel took place, the album examines how media, religion, money, militarism and nationalism affect, or rule our everyday 20th and 21st century lives.

In the opener (after the set-up, “The Ballad of Bill Hubbard”), “What God Wants, Part 1”, Waters lambasts the “It’s God’s Will” fatalists by claiming for God the desire for just about everything good and bad from war to peace, to crack to voodoo to shrines and jihad, throwing in so many disparate and occasionally bizarre “desires” in order to render “god’s will” meaningless.

“Perfect Sense, Part 1” takes its “end of innocence” cue from “2001: A Space Oddity” visuals and then meanders into futility, hopelessness and endless cycles of violence exacerbated now by the invention of nuclear weapons.

Waters makes his observations using a combination of obvious clichéd generalities and starkly specific ones, moving in a phrase from the “long shot” of “And the Germans killed the Jews, And the Jews killed the Arabs, And the Arabs killed the hostages, And that is the news, And is it any wonder the monkey’s confused….” to, in “Perfect Sense, Part II” a more specified set-up in which news becomes entertainment and war sport, hosted by famed sports announcer Marv Albert whose “play by play” is the destruction of an oil rig.

In “Bravery of Being Out of Range” Waters, pre-drone strikes, is prescient about the moral dilemma of remote control warfare both in terms of active participation and the glamorized version consumed on television.

Waters takes shots at the empty music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and in the most personal lyric on the record exclaims “I wish when I was young, My old man had not been gone”. Waters’ father was killed in WW II combat on February 18th 1944 when Roger was but five months old.

The album ends with the title tune, in which alien anthropologists visit earth absent human life and conclude that, grouped around television sets and mesmerized by the message, the human race “amused itself to death”.

Now Waters asks us all to gather around our stereo speakers (sitting precisely center-stage to fully appreciate the QSound surround sound effect) and be “aroused to life” by listening to Amused to Death.

There’s a growing industry today that’s trying to figure out what inspires well-to-do, well-educated young people to drop everything and travel to the Middle East to join ISIS. I suggest they all listen to this record. It does an excellent job of explaining the paralysis that infects the “watching society” and helps explain the “doing society” (even if it is positively evil, beheading doing) that’s attracting these young people.

Whether or not Waters’ messaging arouses and inspires you or leaves you flat because of its obviousness, is of course personal. Then there’s the issue of his “singing” or inability to do so. Clearly Waters is not a singer in the classic sense of carrying a melodic line. Mostly he narrates while changing timbre and visceral intensity. It mostly works but you have to dig way in to catch many the lyrics.

This could be the most spectacular production ever put to tape, which means it’s more spectacular sounding than anything put to ProTools—at least in my listening experience.

If for no other reason than to experience the astonishing production and sound, this album should be considered “mandatory listening”. No expense seems to have been spared in the lavish production and the great care with which Waters chose the musicians.

Co-producer and keyboardist Patrick Leonard (of Toy Matinee fame) is joined by Jeff Beck on lead guitar, James (Jimmy) Johnson on bass and a slew of other famous musicians and guest stars including Don Henley, John Patitucci, Randy Jackson,Andy Fairweather Low, John “Rabbit” Brundrick, wailing vocalist P.P. Arnold and others. There are symphonic arrangements by Michael Kamen.

And then there’s the absolutely spectacular—singularly spectacular—sound. I have the original double vinyl issue of this, that until recently went for upwards of $600, and this reissue beats that one in every possible way.

The QSound™ “surround sound” is more intensely drawn, dynamics are staggering, deep bass is monumental and the depth and width of the cinematic soundstage is beyond that of every other record I can think of in my collection. That is not hyperbole. It’s 100% true as you’ll hear or perhaps have already heard.

The 200g QRP pressing I got (sealed) was perfectly quiet and flat and after sitting through all four sides I felt as if I’d experienced a 3D IMAX movie, only with greater sonic intensity and dimensionality.

On one level, this can be a ponderous exercise in the heavy-handed but on another subjecting yourself to it to completion can be a dazzling, even liberating experience in great part because of the audacious production and mind-boggling sonics. Nothing I’ve ever heard comes close. If you do dose off here or there you will be sorry! There are some time bomb explosive moments that will scare the crap out of you if experienced in a stupor. You have been warned.

Was this reissue worth the long wait? In a word “yes” both sonically and in terms of the superior packaging: gatefold, Stoughton Press laminated “tip-on” jacket, and revised and greatly improved (though somewhat less forbidding) jacket art. The explosive, transparent sonics on this reissue make the original sound meek and mild.

(On a very personal note):

I have many conservative friends who love rock music and pop culture generally. I often wonder how they deal with the fact that most of the musicians and actors they dig are politically very liberal and/or progressive. I admire that they can compartmentalize that and just enjoy the art.

So with this album and with Roger Waters’ music generally, I am confronted by the same issue. Waters is quite outspoken when it comes to his opposition to the state of Israel, of which I am a firm supporter and for which I make no apologies.

Waters has often been accused of being anti-Semitic and of being a “Jew-hater”, and he bristles at the accusations. His response to the latter accusation in an open letter to a Rabbi Cooper was, unfortunately, to write “Some of my best friends are…”.

Really? Not good. Leaving aside the inordinate number of Jew references on this record, there’s Waters’ position on Israel, which I find offensive. It is one thing to object to current Israeli policy with regard to the West Bank and the settlement policy, which I do. I believe in a two state solution.

Regardless of what Waters claims, he is not. He is in favor of the dissolution of Israel. Yes, “the Germans killed the Jews and the Jews killed the Arabs”…but the “Arabs killed the Jews” too, as well as the hostages. Yes, Arabs were displaced in the founding of Israel in the wake of The Holocaust, but if Waters has a problem with making room for a Jewish State in the world, then his living in America should be problematic for him too: Native Americans were displaced to create the United States of America. I suggest Waters give his home up to a deserving Native American family and move to a country where no one was displaced (good luck finding one: “the Mongols killed the Tatars” etc.).

Despite all of the beheadings, the relic destruction the rounding up and murder of ethnic Muslim minorities and all of the rest of the misery in that part of the world, none of which was in any way caused by Israel, Waters is fixated on the Palestinian injustice. It seems to arouse him more than any of these other issues, or at least that’s how it appears.

I’m okay with that. Everyone has to pick his or her pet causes, but while Waters claims to not be anti-Semitic and to not be a Jew-hater” he fervently supports the “BDS Movement” (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel, calling Israel an “Apartheid state”. Never mind that Arabs are elected to the legislature in Israel and have the right to vote and never mind that Jews (not necessarily Israelis) are forbidden from even visiting certain Islamic states and never mind that “death to the Jews” is chanted in that part of the world as much as is “death to Israel".

The BDS platform calls for “the end of Israeli occupation and colonization of ‘Palestinian land’ (not clearly defined), full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel (not defined), and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees”.

That last demand “the right of return” is code for the eradication of Israel. In all of these demands, there’s not a word about Palestinian responsibility for some very ugly behavior over the decades. Nothing about how after Israel withdrew from Gaza, dismantling settlements and leaving behind infrastructure including hydroponic farms that the Palestinians destroyed. No mention of how when supplied with cement the Palestinians used much of it not to build homes but to create tunnels from which to attack Israel. I’m done.).

Despite my diatribe I greatly respect Mr. Waters' prodigious creativity, his musical career, Pink Floyd, The Wall and particularly this album, which for now is the "last great recorded production known to man".

Music Direct Buy It Now

torturegarden's picture

I bought this as soon as it came out and an simply amazed buy the sound even on my humble system. It sounds absolutely spectacular through headphones. I never had the original LP, just the CD (it was the 90s and I was ignorant…) which I never thought sounded that good. This was like hearing the album for the first time. Definitely one of my best sounding LPS.

Auric G's picture

Could Floyd fans be fortunate enough that Analogue Productions would give these classics the same treatment?

Rich's picture

I find it baffling that the likes of 'Animals' and 'Echoes' have not even been reissued as yet

Rich's picture

I find it baffling that the likes of 'Animals' and 'Echoes' have not even been reissued as yet

Jay's picture

very nice indeed. Chad, if you're reading this...

Rich's picture

Between Beck 'Sea Change' MFSL and this...which is better sounding?

HiFiMark's picture

I am amazed that so many liberals and progressives do not support a sovereign homeland for the most persecuted, abused and murdered people in the history of mankind. Whatever mistakes and wrongdoings of Israel's leadership, the people need compassion and a home, and the ME is a big place.

Enjoy the music and pray for peace friends.

Michael Fremer's picture
I think, most liberals and progressives do support Israel. They just don't approve of Bibi's policies. (no more politics here!)
Jay's picture

It's been my sad experience that the phrase "Anti-Zionist" is often a fig leaf for a much older and uglier one, "Anti-Semite". But hey, if you want to pick a fight bringing up the subjects of religion and politics will usually do the trick... ;-)

AnalogJ's picture

Sometimes support looks like saying "no" rather than "Yes." I am Jewish, support Israel, and support a 2-state solution. I believe that it is extremists among the Palestinians as well as Israel that keep the area fractured and damaged. Recently, a group of Israeli and Arab students, ages 7-19, toured the United States performing on the ukulele and singing, trying to show that it's possible to rise above differences and forge partnerships that are mutually beneficial. I hope this effort can expand.

barrysconspiracyworld's picture

I noticed that the United Nations says that Israel, not North Korea or Syria is the biggest violator of human rights.

I've had the CD and LP since 1993 or so. Spectacular sound, but not much durability on the music. Good for a hifi show.

john ryan horse's picture

OK, now this bloated concept album gets a 9 while Sticky Fingers retains its 8? Death to Analog Planet!

bkinthebk's picture

I saw the headline and thought about posting about my own BDS movement against Waters (even though I love Floyd), but didn't want to be that guy who talks politics on an audiophile comments forum. Then I read your piece you hit the nail on the head -- while one can be critical of Israel and not be anti-Semitic or even anti-Israel, Waters is both "anti-s" in my book. Unfortunately my conscience won't let me give money to this guy. More importantly, I don't think the music is that good. If a friend was playing it on a sweet rig, I'd stay to check out the sonics, however ... with nose pinched and lots of oy veying.

firedog's picture

Anti Semite through and through. I don't buy Wagner discs either.

JohnEcc's picture

The sonics are truly amazing. I also got the digital download from acoustic sounds. Comparing the two,the digital download comes awfully close. I think the difference for me is my DAC is not up there with my analog front end. It truly is the test of the ability of your system and speakers to resolve this sonic spectacular. As I write this I am listening to another sonic delight, an original Island pressing of King Crimson's In The Wake of Poseidon. What a record.

john ryan horse's picture

Aside from Fripp's own CDs has anyone tried to do audiophile editions of the KC catalog aside from the debut, imo not their best. Poseidon, Lizard (their best, what a garden of delights!), Islands, or Red? Not to mention the cover to Lizard - my copy is as shiny and sturdy as it was in 1971 except for some peeling plastic around the edges.

firedog's picture

There are some high res remasters on DVD and the same remasters on CD. No downloads.Avaliable at Amazon, Burning Shed, and other outlets.

pmatt's picture

Not at all suggesting that Andrew Lloyd Webber is not worth targeting, but after dsothm, there's plenty of empty pink floyd music if you ask me, and frankly if we're reduced to praising the sonics of any recording above the artistry of it well then, nuff said.

lap's picture

Nothing pleases me more than well produced vinyl that showcases my system but I would never buy an album that this arrogant anti- Semitic hypocritical schmuck has anything to do with.

Vinylghost's picture

Michael I'm glad you brought up his anti-Semitic views. It's seems
a common thread in much of his material. I have his solo work and
most of the Pink Floyd albums. Being very bitter about your father
being killed in a war is understandable. But that bitterness has
turned to hate. I watched a recent interview with him concerning
this re-release on Vevo. And he seemed overjoyed to mention his
joke about Christ on the cross telling Peter to come closer.

Roger is clearly as anti-Christian as he is anti-Semitic. Basically
filled with hate. For this reason I've decided to pass on this release.
And I'd so looked forward to it.

I'm one of those Christian Conservatives that is very Pro-Israel who
just enjoyed the music and would skip over the tracks that offended
me the most. But not on this release.

StonedBeatles1's picture

I'm amazed at the political comments I'm seeing. I'm usually the one who starts it and have lost many friends because of it. Very surprised that I didn't begin this one..

But in reality, there are some great musicians who's politics I DO NOT Follow (Wagner, early Nugent, Waters, etc.).

Waters is most definatly anti Semitic, not just one who's against Bibi's policies. But he certainly has contributed some great life changing and sound changing music (face it, there will never be another budget for a DSOTM again), with the video footage of Echoes from pompeii being his greatest acheivment as far as I'm concerned. Stopped listing to Floyd after Animals (basically cause I felt that it was all for shite thereafter) but really enjoyed their final offering last year (minus Waters).

But, if Rabbi MIkey gives this album a 9, I'll defiantly give it another listen since he's a mensch. Hopefully he's not sleeping with Chad Kassem :)

optoman's picture

He can't sing. His solo work is rubbish. He is a messed up individual with distorted world view.
So why buy his music?
Because he was great 40 years ago? because it sounds good?
His solo work should sink into a dark, far away, corner of music history.

doak's picture

It's a Sound Effects records ..... "For Demonstration Only" should be printed on the cover.

john ryan horse's picture

No problem with MF or anyone else calling out anyone's racism or other character defects, but I always try to keep the character of the artist somewhat separate from assessing the quality of the work. Really, cancelling Bill Cosby? Should I avoid Woody Allen or Polanski too? But in this case, the work does not hold up.

wao62's picture

I don't think we'd be talking about Roger Waters today if there had been no Syd Barrett. PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN is the album that needs the AAA treatment!

mt.scallyrecords's picture

I'd like to hear all of the Floyd's pre DSOTM material get the AAA treatment.

DigitalIsDead's picture

I love this site. Have always. I must say I've never been more offended than your complete understanding of history and politics. As one good jew to another good Jew, leave the fate of Israel in the hands of folks who actually know something. The right of return is a nice way of saying you kicked us off our land, you've stolen from us, and am at some point you you need to pay for your misdeeds. There was a reason why the UN voted overwhelmingly years ago that Zionism is Racism...evidently you didn't get that memo

Michael Fremer's picture
Does some great work but is also an utterly hypocritical and schizoid organization. I got that memo. I consider it bullshit...
firedog's picture

I guess you didn't get the memo that the UN rescinded that decision?
The UN does some great stuff, but General Assembly votes are rife with AntiSemitism and double standards regarding Israel. Countries with human rights records many times worse than Israel are never discussed, but Israel is repeatedly condemned. That in itself is a form of AntiSemitism.

Kirby's picture

Love the album,picked up both the LP and the SACD. They both sound spectacular as Mikey described. As for the politics, opinions are like @$#%%$^$ we all have one. On the lighter side and back to music I googled P.P.Arnold to learn a little more of her and found this back story and interview with her. Very interesting about her connections with Ike & Tina, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton,Small Faces and yes Roger Waters. Again this is about PP Arnold not Roger Waters so it's ok for us all to read.Good review Micheal, Wow hornets nest.

john ryan horse's picture

There are a couple of collections of her Immediate recordings that are very good (i.e. 'First Cut Is The Deepest' for all you Tillerman lovers)
She was very close to the Small Faces.

Daniel Emerson's picture

P.P.Arnold is a wonderful singer, and also an ex-Ikette, so you know she could do the business live as well as in the studio.

As for Roger and 'Amused to Death', it is an interesting, rather than enjoyable album. The QSound effects can really sound eerie too. And the first time I played it, 'that' explosion (you'll know it when you hear it) scared the crap out of the neighbours, let alone me!

As for the politics, any time you bring up the Israel/Palestine problem, you are going to enrage someone. Roger Waters has always worn his heart on his sleeve about everything to a pretty painful degree. He also sings about Tiananmen Square on this album and the lyrics are a bit cringey. So yes, it can be a bit embarrassing, but it does remind us that selling millions of records does not automatically give you great insight into world affairs. Achtung Bono!

BTW, as a lapsed tuba player, I love Wagner's music, but he was a pretty loathsome person towards everyone - the Jews in particular. In fact, his anti-semitism was remarked upon in an era where anti-semitism was extremely common and seen as 'normal'. That doesn't diminish his ability to write music of almost transcendent power and beauty at times. But I would punch him vigorously in the nuts if I had a time machine.

Anton D's picture

Frank Sinatra beat up girls, but I still like when I hear him sing.

Picasso also beat his women, yet I can appreciate his art.

However, Oliver Stone, Gustav Mahler, and Mel Gibson's anti-Semitism bother me enough that I can't appreciate their work because of it.

Woody Allen seduced his step-daughter - he gives me the creeps. Can't enjoy his films.

Same with Roman Polanski.

It's entirely weird how some people I forgive, and some not.

amarok89's picture

Probably just has to do with which art is the most important to you. Take the arists out of the sentences you wrote above and look at the victims of the crimes and what might you see. Everyone is a hypocrite when they look at everything as to how it affects them personally.

isaacrivera's picture

You must mean Wagner, a contemporary of Mahler who was an anti-semite and who refused to shake Mahler's hand the only time they met, because he was a Jew.

readargos's picture

is also half Jewish.

Doronca2856's picture

Thank you Michael for your political commentary , it's very welcome . Waters is the worst anti Semite musician on earth period . I for one will not buy this lp for that reason alone . Thanks to chad and many others there are plenty of great records to buy .

Devil Doc's picture

You're a better man than me.

Analog Aecad's picture

"...I greatly respect Mr. Waters' prodigious creativity, his musical career, Pink Floyd, The Wall and particularly this album, which for now is the "last great recorded production known to man"."

Thank you Michael for the great review.

amarok89's picture

I never knew Waters called for the dissolution of Israel. I'm going to do some searches and look into it. Some of what is being posted here is really shocking and I'm sure the intent to arouse was there. I assume there is something concrete behind it. Not in the middle of a three day weekend though. I'm spinning vinyl.

Anton D's picture

My apologies. My fingers done me wrong!

I can't believe I did that, and thank you for catching it!

amarok89's picture

no problem. Glad I could help.

amarok89's picture

isaacrivera then my appologies, I just saw his post.

Jay_S's picture

The background channel switching idea had already been beaten to death before this album was released. Yes, the sound is incredible, even on lesser productions of this record. But there are so many great records to listen to...

bkinthebk's picture

and insight here in your first paragraph:

Grand scale examinations of the human condition tend to be preachy, didactic and obvious. The more interesting observations tend to be small scale and personal—in other words, how individuals deal with human foibles and circumstances beyond individual control generally are more compelling and interesting.

So true.

Jazzfan62's picture

I like an artist who uses as album to express his view, whether I agree with it or not. At least there is purpose and expression which is art. What I don't go for is this "effecty" kind of music. It reminds me of Manheim Steamroller albums that I used to play all the time when I first started this back in the 70's. I can't even look at the cover of those albums anymore. I bought this and enjoyed the first listen, but will most likely not listen to again for a long long time.

David B's picture

Thank you Michael for having the intellectual courage to speak the truth and stand up to the bigotry of a popular recording artist. Roger Waters seeks to destroy Israel through boycott and slander. He has been spouting antisemitic conspiracy theories and has even used antisemitic imagery of pigs with stars of David at his concerts. Roger Waters adheres to the Nazi propaganda mantra that "if you repeat a falsehood enough times people will begin to believe it." Israel remains the only functioning democracy in the middle east, with freedom of speech and a vigorous free press, gay rights, and minority rights. While Israel is far from perfect, virtually everything Roger Water says about Israel is false. Contrary to the false history he tries to purvey, Israel did not displace or "kill Arabs" in response to the Holocaust. Jews have lived in Israel for thousands of years long before it became independent. Unfortunately, as soon as Israel gained independence, the Palestinian Arabs along with the invading armies of six Arab nations, attacked Israel in order to annihilate it. They failed but in the process they caused an equal number of Jews and Arabs to become refugees. Ironically, Israel supported a two state solution when it gained independence in 1948 but the Arabs, like Roger Waters, rejected the idea of a Jewish State and preferred to destroy it instead.

Michael Fremer's picture

Doronca2856's picture

This comment proves your political commentary to be valid

Jazzfan62's picture

I cannot believe it.