RECORD REVIEW : <i> New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).</i> : ** 1/2 ROGER WATERS “Amused to Death” <i> Columbia</i>
The last utterance in this 72-minute opus is 1984 , and Waters’ thought-provoking, sonically ambitious album owes an immense debt to that great dystopian novel. Like George Orwell, Waters envisions a society in which endless war, incessant video and a fanatical civil religion enforce conformity. Waters’ new wrinkle is that this conformity isn’t coerced but seduced: no need for Big Brother to be watching when the minds to be controlled are already tamed--"amused to death"--by their own addiction to watching.
What’s missing, and critically needed, is a central figure to carry Waters’ ideas and shape a story--what the Winston Smith character did for Orwell, and what the Pink character did for Waters’ own Pink Floyd-era dystopia of the mind, “The Wall.” The result is blurred structure (partly improved by the moving old-soldier’s tale Waters uses as a framing device), too much repetition and a certain distance and overintellectualization.
Waters does bridge that distance in peak moments, notably with the heated funk of “What God Wants, Part I” (a musical heir to “Another Brick in the Wall”) and the Dylan-folk of “Watching TV,” which melds bitter ironies with deep, wounded feeling. But overall there’s a dearth of the good old pop-rock appeal that always lifted the better Pink Floyd records.
It’s not the first time that Waters the rock-opera-tor has gotten bogged down in an overabundance of the recitative needed to outline his ideas, while failing to deliver the arias that could bring those ideas to their emotional point. All of which makes “Amused to Death” more rewarding to think about than to listen to.