Pink Floyd is a band that has released a fair number of great albums. Some of them were very obvious candidates for writing an album profile, in this series I try to make each review about one of the best albums by the band I select. For Pink Floyd the most obvious choice would be Dark Side of the Moon, that legendary album that influenced nearly everything since and is a landmark in the history of recorded popular music. The Wall and Wish You Were Here are the other best candidates. I don’t want to profile double albums too often and the story of The Wall is so important to the album that a proper profile would be far longer than anything else I’ll every write for this site. Wish You Were Here is like Dark Side, it is still an album that’s known well enough that I don’t think I need to promote it on this site. By the way, all three of these albums are near required listening for any fan trying to break into classic rock. If you haven’t heard them please go right ahead.
In choosing to write about another Pink Floyd album, Animals became the clear choice. It was released in 1977, in between Wish You Were Here and The Wall, and is sometimes overlooked because of its more inaccessible features. Mostly the fact that the album basically is made up of 3 songs each over 10 minutes long. It is also the first of three very politically charged albums, this coincided with the transition of bassist Roger Waters being the songwriting leader of the band to him being more or less the sole authority of what the band’s output would be. The tension in this change would bring eventually lead to him leaving the band and nearly ending Pink Floyd as an entity.
Nevertheless, Pink Floyd’s Animals is a thought provoking and critical commentary on modern society. The idea behind the album is that it uses the George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm as a template, classifying man into three different categories, the pigs, the sheep, and the dogs. Despite (or maybe because of) the tension within the band it is some of the hardest rocking music Floyd ever wrote. Let’s dive in.
Pigs on the Wing (Part I) is the first track on the album and it lasts only 1 minute 25 seconds. It features Roger Waters alone playing an acoustic guitar. It is a short and wistful song that stands as an island of comfort before the storm that is the rest of the album hits.
The entire rest of the first side of the album is taken up by the behemoth epic Dogs. Just over 17 minutes long, Dogs is the real face of Animals: harsh and angry. Going off of the Animal Farm connection, the dogs are the enforcers. They work for the pigs to protect their interests, doing the dirty work behind the scenes to maintain order and the power structure. The dogs in question are also victims of this world, being used by those in charge and then disposed of themselves when they can no longer carry out their duties. This is the only song on the album co-written by anybody other than Roger Waters. The song began as a composition by guitarist David Gilmour, and as such is the most guitar oriented song on the album. The guitar work on this song is sublimely intricate. The solos for this album are biting and snarling, which is fitting given the name of the song. As mentioned before, the first part of the song is very guitar driven, with acoustic and electric interplay by Gilmour and Waters. But around 8 minutes in, the song changes into a slow and spacey synthesizer solo by keyboardist Richard Wright as a middle section with dog noises and whistling dubbed in by Gilmour on a vocoder. Around 12 minutes into the song, the guitar format returns, mimicking the original section. This time Roger Waters is singing his lyrics, David Gilmour would later admit that it was very hard for him to sing all the vocals on this 17 minute long slog. The song ends with a roughly two minute electrically charged requiem for the dogs, who served their masters faithfully and without hesitation, only to be thrown away and replaced when they could no longer perform. A sad end to a sad life.
Pigs (Three Different Ones) is the first song on the second side of the album. It is an 11 and a half minute long scathing criticism of the powers that be. The pigs are the ones in charge, the ones pulling the strings in society. The “three different ones” in question are three different representations of people in power that Waters sings about in the three verses of the song. The first can be assumed to be a politician, the second is either an aristocrat or some kind of military class, and these of course can go together. From the very outset, the band plays sharp and determined. Nick Mason’s drums slowly plod along as the rest of the band creates a dense and furious atmosphere for the song. Richard Wright’s synthesizer takes the lead alongside Water’s rhythm guitar and David Gilmour’s lead guitar and overdubbed bass. After the second verse, the band extends into a lengthy jam that includes Gilmour screaming into a vocoder with animal like howls. After this, the third verse specifically mentions an actual person as one of the pigs. The person in question being Mary Whitehouse, a conservative social activist who was who was fighting the progressive changes in British society at the time. With two minutes left, the band fires into one of the most aggressive jams of their long and storied career. David Gilmour blasts away with the most intense guitar solo he ever composed. The song fades out at just at its most intense moment, giving away to pastoral sounds of birds and sheep.
From these recorded farm noises we come to the second track on this side of the album, the ten and a half minute long Sheep. It begins with a long and relaxed, jazzy electric piano solo by Rick Wright. As a droning bass begins to fade in, the song explodes into a mid-tempo rocker, again sung by Roger Waters. The sheep in question are everyone who isn’t a pig or a dog. They are the vast majority who has to keep docile and idle lest they face the wrath of the dogs. The sheep are beset on all sides but can do nothing to change their situation without severe consequences. The song features guitarist David Gilmour playing bass as he also did on Pigs, it is some of the best recorded bass by Pink Floyd. The middle of the song features an extended jam session of guitars and synthesizers before breaking into a more murky section of bass and synth that builds and builds until it explodes into the final verse of the song. Waters sings about the final social revolution where the sheep finally rise up to kill the dogs and pigs to take over. The song features another very hard rocking section that slowly fades out as we close the book on this world of dogs, pigs, and sheep only with the cold thought in the back of our minds that this world and ours are the same.
Just like on Wish You Were Here, one song cut in half bookends the album. Pigs on the Wing (Part II) once again offers a respite from the hurricane of raw anger and vivid images of greed and violence that dominate the album. Completely out of place, it could not be a more refreshing end to such an album.
In hindsight it is clear why Animals came out to be the least popular of Pink Floyd’s legendary four albums spanning Dark Side of the Moon to The Wall. Dark Side was all about the sad things in life that drove people apart, the beautiful music and universal nature of the lyrics made it an all-time great. Wish You Were Here was a musical collage of sound that served as a final tribute to former bandmate Syd Barrett but was also about so much more. The Wall was similar to Animals in musical and lyrical content, but it offered a more introspective look at the feelings associated with the political and social issues brought up in both albums. Animals is truly an angry album made by an angry band.
If you aren’t afraid of long songs and can look deeper beyond the tone of an album and into its core message, you may very well learn something by listening to this album.