* * 1/2 "RADIO K.A.O.S." Roger Waters. Columbia.
Like many of us, Roger Waters grew up with his ear glued to a transistor that introduced him to a strange and distant world, and he retains an affection for radio of any and every sort--the ham radio that can put one in instant contact with a random soul on the other side of the world, the contrasting modern ability to disseminate information to the entire global village simultaneously, the American free-form rock radio format that is all but dead and buried, even "Jesus saves radio waves, Morse code radio waves, Tobacco Road radio waves. . . ."
Trying to tie up all that examination of personal, technological, communication into one coherent theme would be hard work enough. But ex-Pink Floyd main man Waters doesn't stop there with his latest opus. He also wants to make comments on Reagan (he's anti), Thatcher (more anti), the arms race (anti-er still), and a few dozen other targets--all in the midst of spinning a trans-continental narrative laced with minor characters and anecdotal incidents.
Perhaps, the story will hit home with some impact on stage this fall when accompanied by Waters' flair for smart visual spectacle. Perhaps not, though: After a highly autobiographical and sometimes emotionally devastating trilogy--"The Wall," "The Final Cut" and the underrated "Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking"--Waters has put together a project that seems more an exercise than an exorcism.
Commercially, it may restore any mass audience ground that was lost with the severely introspective "Hitchhiking"--if the sonics and production here lack the usual unsettling atmospherics, the new album has a more accessible rock punch (with horns and female vocals aplenty), and if it's less personal, it's also more linear .
The story centers around the phone relationship between a deejay and a wheelchair-bound genius named Billy who is able to pick up radio waves in his head and can work miracles accessing computers via phone. It all builds to an ending that's a combination of "WarGames" and "Amazing Grace and Chuck." Bits and pieces of all this reek of genius, but if there's a convincing whole to any of it, it's in the stage show (or movie?) and not in a flighty album that seems to be missing major chunks of content.