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Saucer Full Of Sour Milk: Roger Waters' DSOTM Redux Reviewed
JR Moores , October 6th, 2023 08:00

If there is one thing that ruins Roger Waters' rerecording of Dark Side Of The Moon – Roger Waters' Dark Side Of The Moon Redux – then it's Roger Waters, finds JR Moores

Back in the pre-poptimism heyday of music journalism when people still cared about what kind of crap was being peddled to hapless consumers, musicians were sometimes asked to justify themselves. Interviewing stars for Smash Hits or Q magazine, the legendary Tom Hibbert (1952 – 2011) liked to, as one obituary put it, "give his subjects the impression that, despite their obvious successes, they were still somehow shameful underachievers, and then sit back quietly with a cigarette to enjoy the panicked response.

He sounds a bit like the Grub Street equivalent of The Inquisitor from the sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf, a terrifying character that continues to haunt the ongoing existential crises of those who were unfortunate enough to watch the show's fifth series at an impressionable age. In Episode Two, the crew of the titular spaceship encounter a droid who has survived until the end of time, discovered that there is no God or afterlife, and so the sole purpose in life is to make it worthwhile. The droid then roams eternity to visit every individual throughout history and assess each one accordingly. Those unable to justify their existence, who are deemed to have wasted their lives, are erased by The Inquisitor and replaced by other beings who never had the opportunity. "The unfertilised eggs," as the mechanoid Kryten explains. "The sperms that never made it."

Speaking of which, Roger Waters has spaffed out a new version of The Dark Side Of The Moon. Now there's someone who wouldn't break into a sweat were The Inquisitor to knock on the door of his Hamptons palace. This is the bloke who was described by writer and director Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon as having too much self-importance to appreciate the ego-diminishing experience of LSD. Waters could point The Inquisitor towards the many platinum discs lining the walls of his endless corridors. He could recall flying in the face of punk by releasing one of the most bloated albums ever made to astronomical success in 1979. He could note the joy his palatable arena prog has brought to countless baby boomers over the decades and occasionally some younger listeners. Additionally he could draw attention to his earnest global activities, such as sticking it to Israel and being one of the few voices in the West to defend the reputation of vulnerable weakling Vladimir Putin.

There would be the risk he could take it too far. Speaking to The Telegraph earlier this year, Waters said this of his estranged Pink Floyd bandmates: "They can't write songs, they've nothing to say. They are not artists! They have no ideas, not a single one between them. They never have had, and that drives them crazy." Ergo, Waters now claims sole responsibility for 1973's The Dark Side Of The Moon: "Let's get rid of all this 'we' crap! We all contributed – but it's my project and I wrote it. So… blah!" The songwriting credits tell a different story.

The ideas man's latest idea has been to rerecord that classic album in full to mark its 50th anniversary. Justify that, Waters! The Dark Side Of The Moon? No one's really nailed those songs before, have they? No, I'm not talking about the Pink Floyd original. The Flaming Lips' 2009 version is the definitive recital. Why? For one thing, they treat the material less preciously than its original creators. Secondly, it's got Henry Rollins on it. Case closed.

It is hardly surprising that the pandemic saw several stars seeking comfort by delving into past glories. Dark Side Redux follows The Lockdown Sessions on which Waters rerecorded six songs from his back-catalogue, mostly taken from the Pink Floyd years. It had the advantage of being far shorter than U2's exhaustively insipid Songs Of Surrender.

Apparently Waters performed just one bass solo (on 'Us And Them') and a small amount of analogue synth at the beginning of his new Dark Side LP. This left his collaborators, especially producer and multi-instrumentalist Gus Seyffert, to do the heavy lifting. Waters has therefore directed most of his own efforts into the album's added narration which is easily the worst thing about it, as most listeners – or victims – will surely agree. No doubt Waters believes these soliloquies are coming across as wise, poetic, philosophical, deep, etc. but they are utterly devoid of humour or any sense of self-awareness and always as welcome as a dung beetle in one's cornflakes.

Matters improve only moderately when Waters stops talking and starts singing. His now-gravelly vocals rasp deeply. While this does provide some sense of gravitas or poignant frailty, they are far too dominant in the mix, cranked up to the max at the expense of every other sound. When he growls the word "Monneeeeeyyyy" with unbridled relish it's as if Rob Brydon is competing with Steve Coogan to see who can do the most ridiculous impersonation of the late Leonard Cohen. As with the narration, the singing results in a similarly violating experience as having a stalker harass you down the telephone line (and not in a good way like 'Through The Window' by Prurient).

As for the music, the complete absence of lead guitar solos could be interpreted as yet another bitter dig at David Gilmour. On the plus side, this gap does provide space for some nifty replacements using elegant string arrangements, warm keyboard textures and some really quite beautiful theremin accompaniment. The weakest link being Waters' own vocal presence, if he had left this album as an instrumental reinterpretation it could well have been a triumph. Alas, he did not. Have you ever listened to an audiobook through one device with Radio 3's Night Tracks playing simultaneously on another? It's not as good as that.

We don't have to wait for The Inquisitor to get round to Waters and ask him to account for this particular project because the rarely camera shy YouTuber has already made the effort. It's more reflective, he says, and yes the music does have a mellower and more introspective feel than the original, for what that's worth. He also claims that "not enough people recognised what it's about, what it was I was saying then", so the new version is "more indicative of what the concept of the record was".

On the Dark Side episode of the documentary series Classic Albums, Waters famously wrote off the lyrics he'd penned back then as "sort of lower sixth [form]". They actually got worse on the albums thereafter, as his critics have emphasised: more adolescent, clunky, self-pitying and solipsistic. Go through the lyric sheets of the Pink Floyd albums on which Waters increasingly came to dominate and it's like seeing a case study of Devo's de-evolution theory in action.

In the moments when the barrage of freshly scribed narration makes much sense, the main message seems to be that Waters is now 80 years old and having to face the inevitable, which can't precisely have been the case when he was making the original recording on the cusp of turning 30. So the chances are that Waters himself no longer recognises what Dark Side was really about, if anything much, or what exactly he was saying back then. The death of Waters' father in the Second World War continues to loom large, if not very coherently what with all the dodgy metaphors and imprecise details, but perhaps that is part of the point. Once a goose-pimpling centrepiece thanks largely to Clare Torry's soulful and wordless vocal improvisations, 'The Great Gig In The Sky' is now a long-winded tribute to the poet Donald Hall, who died in 2018, and his assistant Kendel Currier. That famous singing passage is recreated with an effect that might as well be someone who's just been winded by a low-flying football moaning into a plastic cup.

Waters hammers home the point that that war and evil are, of course, BAD THINGS. As for the straightforward solution to humanity's ongoing woes, Waters seems to think that if everyone, especially the "fucking warmongers" he targets in the liner notes, had bought and heeded The Dark Side Of The Moon the first time round, then world peace would have been achieved post-haste. That would be a useful accomplishment to have in the back pocket when The Inquisitor comes to call but life is not as simple as Waters' post-hippie idealism conceptualises it to be. When Pink Floyd regrouped in 2005, two individuals who were said to be thrilled by the booking were Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The Dark Side Of The Moon is David Cameron's favourite album of all time. The latter ex-Prime Minister actually has a lot in common with Waters. Both men have taken charge of something arrogantly and made it immeasurably worse than it was in the first place. Also, each one owns a wardrobe full of inflatable pigs.

One trait that certainly hasn't diminished with older age is Waters' chutzpah, so admire that if you must. What with everything else that he broadcasts, blogs and blathers from the stage, this record is further evidence that Waters has simply never learned when to shut up. Blah indeed.