Roger Waters is a tool, that’s undeniable. He’s controversial, has said many bad things about the other Pink Floyd members, and seems to want to rile up as many people as possible. (To be fair, the feeling seems to be mutual from the other former members of the band.) His idea of a new version of one of the most iconic rock albums, Dark Side of the Moon sounded like a combination of vanity project and revenge. But given how formative that record was for me, I felt I owed it to him to give it a listen.
It’s not a reproduction of the original album, it’s a rearrangement of the songs in a different mood, in an offhand way. Old, bitter, or maybe just sad that he’s getting old, Waters strips down these familiar songs and delivers a lo-fi version of the record. He added lots of spoken word introductions and poems throughout, making it a different experience than the original.
Perhaps this way of thinking of this symphony for rock quartet and studio has some validity, as something more than just (Roger’s Version), being a way to grab some cash as the sole performer, but, as they say, money is the root of all evil today.
The weakest part of the record is Waters himself: his Leonard Cohenesque voice doesn’t have the staying power to grab the listener. He talks too much, his narrative additions, generally amounting to half a page of scribbled lines for most of the tracks, have nothing to do with the original, and sometimes his voice is so low in the mix that you need to read the lyrics to understand what he says.
In addition, gone are the wonderful vocals that made The Great Gig in the Sky a top-ten stoner hit. Gone is David Gilmour’s searing guitar, replaced throughout by synths and strings. Money lacks the sound of money that made the original so memorable, along with the saxophone solo and the blistering guitar. The last few songs don’t sound very different from the originals, though they feel too bland with Waters’ voice low in the mix, and Us and Them loses it’s second-side/first-track anthem status by being lo-fied to blandness. Apparently, Waters didn’t even play much on the album: one bass solo and a bit of synth. He just pulled the strings and put his name on the project.
And gone is David Gilmour’s – or anyone’s – guitar. It’s Waters saying that he was Pink Floyd, and that the others, especially Gilmour, were nothing to the band. Yet Pink Floyd without guitar is progressive muzak. While guitar solos aren’t as essential to Dark Side of the Moon as they are on Wish You Were Here and Animals, they are still the bedrock of this album. Imagine the song Time without Gilmour’s searing guitar; that’s what you get on (Roger’s Version).
It’s an interesting experiment, but it’s not something I would listen to again. I would be more interested if Waters did something like Dark Side of the Moon Unplugged, stripping it down even more to just a few instruments, but maintaining its original structure, rather than trying to make what is often lavish string arrangements replace the original synthesizers with his mumbling overdubbed.
So, what’s next? Will he do his own versions of Wish You Were Here and Animals?
“To get there, however, [to get to the music] we had to first sit through a slapdash hour or more of Waters the bad stand up comedian, making speeches, telling hecklers to “f___ off”, and indulging himself by reading (from a laptop computer) long passages from an unpublished autobiography focusing not on rock’n’roll tales but various domestic pets he has known, including 20 minutes on a duck called Donald. ”
In some ways, Dark Side of the Moon is played out. Everyone who grew up with this album has listened to it dozens or hundreds of times. It’s become almost a cliché of early 70s prog rock. But it still shines, and has the energy of a Mahler symphony, fifty years after its composition. It is a landmark for rock and roll, and one of the earliest examples of the recording studio being a key element of a multi-layered album.
It could be interesting to hear one of the best selling rock albums of all time interpreted in a new way, 50 years after its release, but there’s no way it can be anything more than a novelty. Roger would be better off writing his memoirs and leaving the music alone. Instead, he’s hanging on in quiet desperation.