This album reflects of the Watersian parts of Pink Floyd’s albums and culminates into a biting criticism of American combination of capitalism and war.
The opening song “The Ballad of Bill Hubbard,” gives a very haunting picture with the piano, percussion, and the guitar somehow taking the listener back to a horrifying past. “What God Wants, Part I,” has a very upbeat rhythm, with vibrant guitar riffs and female back-up vocals. Along with the other songs in the album, it exhibits faux commercialism, mocking the catchiness of popular music while also being a stark critic of religion.
The middle of the album deals with the faux patriotism and the album definitely shows Waters’ mockery of the hyper-macho facade of America, particularly in “The Bravery of Being Out Of Range.”
As soon as “Three Wishes” approaches, the album takes on a slower, more ominous feel for the music. Though it gets too tedious in “Its A Miracle.”
Even though this is the third solo album of Roger Waters, I feel as though Jeff Beck brought more life into this album. Beck’s guitar solos are more memorable than Waters’ vocals. I noticed his voice was straining in some of the songs. There just doesn’t seem to be a perfect balance between Waters and Beck.
There are samples of speeches or an historical figure talking or interviews. Pink Floyd did this a lot. In the case of “The Ballad of Bill Hubbard” it included an interview with a WWI veteran named Alfred “Razz” Razzell, talking about how he was forced to leave his friend, Bill Hubbard, behind in the trenches with a deadly wound. In the song after that, it purposely juxtaposes the horrors of war with a little girl talking about how fun war was to watch on TV.
There are sound-bits throughout the album of animal noises. It did fit considering how animals are the main subjects in “What God Wants.” Pink Floyd, which Roger Waters originally fronted, was known for employing sound bits in their music, particularly in Animals, which definitely has echoes in Amused To Death.
For a brief moment in “Amused to Death,” there’s an organ playing near the end, as though suggesting the juxtaposition between a religious theme and the apocalyptic lyricism. Of course, there is an organ played in “The Bravery of Being Out Of Range,” but it is more performative for a sports stadium, specifically the one in the previous song “Perfect Sense: Part 2.”
There are several different stories that interconnect with the album’s overall theme of commercialism and war. The “Perfect Sense” sequence deals with a monkey leaving the Garden of Eden, which segues into the “Late Home Tonight” sequence which is about a jet pilot who unquestioningly kills innocent civilians, and the “What God Wants” sequence deals with a group of animals being test experiments to aliens who also observe human behavior. Animals are used as an extended metaphor in the three parts of “What God Wants.” The monkey represents the average person and it’s constant obeying of every word the alien says.
There are snippets of cynicism and nihilism found throughout the album, such as “there’s an ounce of gold and an ounce of pride in each legend,” “history is for fools,” “history is short,” “the sun is just a minor star,” on and on. Those very snippets help establish the very concept that the album was based on, which was Waters’ frustration with greed and television worship (he also includes video games in “Late Home Tonight: Part 1”). He even used this to his advantage when dissing his opponents.
In the original “Perfect Sense, Part I” there was supposed to be a recording of HAL 9000 from “Space Odyssey” to be played at the beginning, but didn’t come about because of copyright issues. Now, in the recent edition, it’s restored. I actually prefer that version to the older one which was Waters’ ranting recorded backwards.
The opening line in the global anthem in “Perfect Sense, Part 2” is very similar to the American national anthem. The lyrics begin with “Can’t you see it all makes perfect sense…?” while the Star-Spangled Banner begins with “Oh say can’t you see…” In both cases, it somehow harkens the listener to understand what makes patriotism. Waters is very critical of America, mainly, because it represents capitalism and a lot of global military influence.
Like American patriotism and support of war–specifically the Gulf War which was happening at the time the album was recorded–there are also references to such events as the Tienanmen Square Massacre in “Watching TV.”
Playing Uncle Sam’s Fun Combat Video Games During Summer With No Air-Conditioning
While the concept behind the album is quite profound, the instrumentation and the vocals do not sync very well together.
Waters. Roger. “Amused To Death.” Columbia Records. 1992.