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

Doronca2856's picture

This comment proves your political commentary to be valid

Jazzfan62's picture

I cannot believe it.

David B's picture

This only underscores the methods of BDS and anti-Israel hate groups. They will slander anyone who speaks the truth. Anyone who dares oppose discrimination against Israel is called names without any regard to reason or what was actually said. This is no different than the way they tried to shut down Matisyahu in Spain by slandering him. They failed.

elliotdrum's picture

Let's see Acoustic Sounds have reissues from Roger Waters
and Ted Nugent. I don't know if it was me would I be interested
in having them in my catalog? Probably not.
People like them if they had all the knowledge necessary to let go
of their racism and bigotry would be very embarrassed by there stoooped remarks and attiudes. My goodness this is the 21st century!
I had a job back in the sixties and several of the employees didn't like me, when I found it was because I was Jewish I said
wow I feel a lot better now I just thought they didn't like me!

McFaden's picture

The Nudge is an absolute s**t-bag of the highest order, but I'll be damed if that album doesn't rock. Right out of the gate Stranglehold melts your face off. I understand why Chad issued that album.

azmoon's picture

..on rock stars and their politics. Lets concentrate on the music. If I wanted to read people's bad opinions and half truths I would be looking at the newspaper right now. Do we have to get it here now too? Of course Waters is most likely a dip (this is all news to me but no reason to doubt Mikey's statements). But there are a million of them around - in all walks of life and professions. Bottom line to me is I don't buy records for sonics alone. Since I have never known anyone to have this album and have never heard this album that tells me it's not that good. If it was, either myself or one of my many LP loving friends would have had it. Therefore, no sale here.

jlstrat's picture

...for calling out Waters for what is clearly not just disagreement about Israeli policy. He's an anti-Semite, period. I have to say that, while I like Pink Floyd very much, Waters is a merely competent bass player and a middle weight thinker. As he controlled more of the band musically and conceptually, they became more bombastic. It started with Wish You Were Here and only got worse. His ideas for this album came from Neil Postman, but I'll bet Postman's book is more nuanced.

Jazzoid's picture

Thank you for the review of the reissue on vinyl; the rant: distracting.

RubenH's picture

glad my collection was purchased years ago when I knew and cared just about the music. Great review and commentary Michael.

IR Shane's picture

BTW, this article also puts Elvis Costello in Waters' anti-israel camp.

john ryan horse's picture

But was Townshend REALLY "researching" when he visited young boy sites? My conscience clouds...William Burrroughs shot his wife fatally, and was a poor parent to his son. Throw out all his books. What about "Brown Sugar" young minds may not hear the irony. Gore Vidal also made many provocative comments about Israel, smarter but not that far away from Waters'. And then there's Genet's meditation of his time spent with the Palestinians, "Prisoner Of Love" - I read it, but can it be erased from my memory somehow? While we're at it toss Huck Finn from the libraries; no young person should be exposed to the N word, it may be traumatizing. AND I haven't even scraped the surface of my own polluted collections!!!

cgh's picture

The inventor of the transistor was a racist that felt non whites had the lowest IQs and should be sterilized to prevent reproduction.

elliotdrum's picture

I expressed in a previous posting that if I owned a business like
Acoustic Sounds that I wouldn't put out albums by Roger Waters
and Ted Nugent because of their particular point of view.
The truth is I would after thinking about it only because people
should be able to get the music they want even if I don't agree
with there choices. I owned 2 record stores over a 10 year period of time and I never made inventory choices on anything but what I thought my customers would like to find.
I never really got into Nugent not for any other reason that it's
hard to cover everyone and I did like Pink Floyd back in the 60's
but didn't get into Waters solo stuff but I do have Dave Gilmore
recordings. Who knows why we like certain artists and ignore others. But as far as hate and discrimination I feel it's time for
that way of thinking and feeling to disappear.
If I found out that artists that I love are really messed up people, I would hope that they would eventually change for the better. So I still love Woody Allen and maybe Ted would start to eat less meat and more vegetables.

clusterchuck's picture

Great write up! I gravitate to this type of commentary - particularly because I have long admired the work of Mr. Waters and have used the original vinyl and compact disc versions of Amused to Death to demonstrate various home and mobile systems assembled over the years. Your perspective regarding Mr. Waters musical commentary on the human condition is very much appreciated.

Mr. Waters musical style and execution will forever be part of my life experience, even going back as far as Uumagumma - it is so very rewarding to witness his self expression thru the vehicle of music and stage production. I consider him a human treasure and an example of excellence at many different levels. On the political side of things, I couldn't be more polar opposite, but that doesn't affect my admiration for his unrivaled talent as a performer and fellow traveler in life.

Awaiting the arrival of this re-release was an agonizing mix of anticipation and healthy suspicion the original could be noticeably improved upon without screwing up vocal and instrument levels - or the over application od "new and different" sonic effects gratuitously added to a very familiar soundtrack. My concern was... given too much rope, this species might &#@% up one of my all time favorites from the studio. Immediately after delivery of this release, it was transferred to my trusty Gen 2 64G iPod using ALE via iTunes PC application, which was then attached via USB to the Stage 4 Pioneer head in my daily driver. I listened to the very familiar tracks during a 400+ mile road trip. Despite the resolution the system in my ride is capable of, first impressions of this release were not good. As an example, I found the overlay of Jeff Beck’s guitar on “Bravery of being out of range” to be unnecessary and gratuitous. After listening thru a few times during the trip, the changes that first stood out became more subtle to my ear and I relaxed and listened with an open ear/mind rather than one listening to hear what had changed and therefore what to take issue with. The subtle changes in mix and levels are really, really subtle – unlike other re-releases hastily thrown together by money grubbing producers looking to suck a few more $ out of the pockets of fans.

The road trip ended and I found myself at work where a modest desk top system fills the role of producing a backdrop for the work day. In shuffle mode, “Too much rope” came around – I thought… OOoooo, I forgot! – pausing & grabbing Grado SR80s, cranking up the FiiO E9/E7 combo, the sonic magic was immediate and satisfying. Immersion, space, detail, vocal presence, drum attack/decay, sibilance, all the nouns & verbs were there! Work could wait. Fiddling with iTunes GUI & cancelling shuffle, selecting the first track “Bill Hubbard”, I listened as each tune ran its course. Again, Jeff Beck’s guitar overlay stood out as a striking change but this time in a more proper perspective – much less forward – almost in the background but not quite – which was very different than what was heard in the car. As a result of that listening, I’ll be tweaking the mobile system, but I digress…. I was simply itching to get home for a listen on the modest “big rig” which is an assembly of clean 70’s era Crown DC300a amps, VFX-2a electronic crossover, Holman and Crown pre-amps, MSB DAC & power base and modified “Just Real Music” electro-stat panels augmented with corner loaded, home built enclosures housing four 6 ½” Dynaudio drivers. Analog source is split between HK ST-7/Shure V15 and TD124/Sumiko arm/Grado Ruby. Accustomed to the staging from those and the ancient Carver disc player, I was eager and not disappointed. Bills voice on the first tune has long been the source I use to confuse and confound first time listeners in my room. I get a real kick out of watching a newbie look around in search of rear channels sources. Over time, I’ve come to realize this recording and the random interaction with these bi-polar radiating drivers just happen to cause an amazing phase relationship between direct and reflected waves arriving at the listening position. Bill’s voice seems to come from several feet to the right and well above the translucent speaker panel. And the minute sounds of nature mixed into this world class recording seem to originate from beyond, above, below and behind them. No other recording I’ve come across accomplishes this and the fact that this random relationship between source and listening space was preserved in this re-release makes me very happy. When Jeff Beck’s over dub came around, it was almost impossible to pin-point it as a source on the sonic stage floating before me. Now, I am convinced. Mr. Waters has done it again. Taken an original masterpiece and applied the benefit of experience, knowledge and technology to improve the near un-improvable.

My cheeks began to hurt as the stupid grin on my face persisted through the entire playback session. VERY WELL DONE!

Sean Zloch's picture

It's nice to finally have this, after having it pre-ordered for two years. I agree that this is a great sounding album and overall I am mostly happy with this release, except for two points:

1) I really wish that they used the original mix (and cover art). I think that the 2015 mix isn't as good as the original 1992 mix.

2) The 2015 mix only exists digitally. They didn't create a new analog mix just for the new LP. The new LP was cut from a hi-res source. This is per Acoustic Sounds when I talked to them at Axpona.

When I pre-ordered two years ago, I was expecting the original mix cut with AP's high level of quality. I'm frustrated that that wasn't what I got.

Michael Fremer's picture
I need to have a chat with Chad Kassem. My understanding was that it was cut from analog tape!
Sean Zloch's picture

I'd be curious to hear what he says.

At Axpona, the Acoustic Sounds employee kept insisting that the LP was cut from analog. I kept pressing him, asking him if he honestly expected me to believe that they remixed this album in both digital and analog. .

He finally said that the multitrack tape was analog, so that counted as being analog.

weirdo12's picture

You feel Roger's observations are neither profound nor insightful on the subject he tackled - are there albums that you feel are better examples?

weirdo12's picture

You feel Roger's observations are neither profound nor insightful on the subject he tackled - are there albums that you feel are better examples?

ThisPink's picture

anyone else see the irony of MF being put out by someone else having and expressing an opinion? Michael and Roger are both two very opinionated individuals, and both have developed venues to express them to their respective audiences. As I can choose to agree or not, I don't see much difference. MY opinion is that Roger through his venue has entertained about 10 orders of magnitude more people.

God just sits in heaven giggling anyway. Peace and prosperity.

ThisPink's picture

Where would rock n roll be without male vocalists who are an acquired taste?

Mick Jagger?
Steven Tyler?
Geddy Lee?
Kris Kristofferson?
Ringo Star?
Joe Walsh?
etc etc etc

Care to give any of them up?

green circles's picture

Wow, looked forward to reading a review of Amused to Death and instead got a "Waters is anti-Semitic" rant followed by a comments section lifted straight off of FOX News.

Michael Fremer's picture
The "rant" came well after what I think was a well-considered review.
DanaHolmes's picture

Hey gang, I have been reading reviews on Amazon that the two LP's sound bad and have pops and clicks although Michael's appear to have been fine. Also, is this 200 gram release 45 or 33 1/3 and is it black vinyl or pictured / colored vinyl? I am not going to plunk down $50 clams plus shipping on this double LP just to be disappointed like I have been in my last 5-6 purchases of newly pressed records. Thanks in advance for answering my questions.

Michael Fremer's picture
The one from Analogue Productions pressed on 200g black vinyl sounds fantastic and is very well-pressed. The "picture disc" version from Sony/Legacy is what always happens with picture discs: they sound awful and are noisy because they can't press at the high temperatures required for proper vinyl pressing....otherwise the paper sandwich with the picture would burn...
DanaHolmes's picture

I appreciate the information Michael. I am actually torn between getting the 200 gram vinyl or the SACD 5.1 that was just released. Maybe both?

Snowdog's picture

I think Sean might be right that this is a digital source, not analog. I have the original 1992 and the 2015 here and compared them side by side. Spectrograph data shows the digital noise in the 2015 reissue. Doesn't exist in the original. Original shows full frequency extension up above 60kHz. The reissue shows obvious compression implemented, slightly collapsed mix.

The 2015 copy I have (200 Gram) is noisy with various surface noise as others have experienced. Not really too surprising since I experience that about 50% of the time with Analogue Productions output. The sticker on the front says "Less than 1000 records per stamper", maybe I got 999 or something. LOL! All in all though, it's pretty close, but no, it's not the original. The originals are insanely expensive unfortunately, otherwise I would recommend you pick up a copy to hear it as I believe it would then become your new #1.

nottusleinad's picture

Without a shadow of a doubt, this is my all time favourite album.

I have listened to this (on CD !!) at least 3 times a week since it was released... even conservatively that is well in excess of 4000 times. Every single time I seem to hear something new hiding in the background, whether it's a squeak from Jeff Beck's fret-work, to a breath from the backing singers.

That said, I've always felt that there's more to hear.

Well, it could be my lucky day as I have just managed to track down a sealed Analogue Productions re-issue on 200g vinyl so I can finally hear this incredible record in all it's glory !!

I can't wait for it to arrive :)