Disgusted with England’s politics at the time and inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Roger Waters crafted Pink Floyd’s 10th studio album to be a scathing attack on society.
Waters and David Glimour took songs that were performed live (and even considered for the band’s 1975 classic Wish You Were Here) and refashioned them to fit the theme of the new record. Gilmour’s epic “You Gotta Be Crazy” became “Dogs” and Waters’ propulsive “Raving and Drooling” turned into “Sheep.” In addition, Waters took a cue from the funky “Have a Cigar” for “Pigs (Three Different Ones).”
Although Floyd’s previous albums had expressed their share of cynicism (see “Money” and “Welcome to the Machine”), nothing could have prepared fans for the sinister Animals, released early in 1977. With only a hint of levity to be found on the barely-there bookends “Pigs on the Wing,” parts 1 and 2, the album went after its targets with unrestrained vitriol. “Dogs” attacked the combative, two-faced villains of the world, “Pigs” took on the “well-heeled big wheels” and “Sheep” ripped into the mindless masses.
The analogies on Animals seem particularly brilliant when you’re a teenager, fresh off reading Orwell for English class and just beginning to think critically about the world around you. “You see, people are like, animals, man.” By the time he was working on Animals, Waters was so fed up with the world, he no longer saw it as “Us and Them”; it became You versus Everyone. It’s the same way almost every teenager feels. At that age, it’s so easy to think everyone is crazy but you.
As you get older, though, Waters’ over-simplification of society appears a little ridiculous – even if his white-knuckled commitment to his vision is worth admiring. He proves himself master of creating an all-consuming sense of dread (something he’s expand to two albums on The Wall). He gets in his share of good cracks, too – although Gilmour sings “It’s too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around,” it’s got to be a Waters line.
Although Animals fits firmly into the era of a Waters-dominated Floyd, the album contains some of Gilmour’s finest moments. There’s that shimmering, metallic coda to “Sheep,” his tight-as-a-tourniquet licks on “Pigs” and the entirety of “Dogs,” which the guitarist has claimed as 90% his. With all the respect that’s due “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Dogs” is the band’s best epic, with an incredible sweep, haunting melodies and Gilmour at his most expressive, vocally.
And then there are the solos. Gilmour gets chance after chance to show off, and he never disappoints – whether he’s emitting those trademark, arching cries, overdubbing one solo on top of another for a harmonized attack or making his guitar cackle nefariously with the help of effects. “Dogs” is more than 17 minutes long and the band make use of every second – even the subdued middle section, with Rick Wright’s synth workout, adds atmosphere.
Although an obvious cousin to “Have a Cigar,” “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is a great song on its own merits, with unbridled, keening singing from Waters placed on top of a rack-and-pinion groove. This mechanical animal should be credited mostly to the rhythm section of drummer Nick Mason and Gilmour, who played bass on this track and “Sheep.” Pink Floyd were a funkier band (in their prog-rock, white-boy way) than they ever get credit for.
Where “Pigs” is rooted in precise rhythm, “Sheep” blasts off after its extended preamble – sort of like an updated “One of These Days,” considering the undulating bassline. The twin guitars (Waters on rhythm, Gilmour on lead) bring an incisive quality to the tune, particularly during the song’s end-run, when the axes sound like they could cut the song into little pieces.
The album ends nearly the same way it began, with a minute-long acoustic ditty from Waters – small rays of sunshine on a grim album. Construction-wise, Animals is the negative version of Wish You Were Here, which had two halves of an epic song placed on either side of three concise tunes. The quick, folksy numbers on this album, which speak to the virtues of love and togetherness, bookend the seemingly endless nightmares contained in the middle. They start and end Animals on hopeful notes that belie the rather bleak worldview of the three middle songs.
Don’t you just love a happy ending?
Pink Floyd, Animals (1977)
1. “Pigs on the Wing 1”
3. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”
5. “Pigs on the Wing 2”