“We cannot turn back the clock, cannot go back in time,” Rogers Waters sings near the midway point of “Is This the Life We Really Want?” But, true to form, the Pink Floyd co-pilot follows that somber reflection with a defiant jab that we can’t reprint here. It’s hardly provocative. In fact, given the vehemence Waters has been dispensing from his songs for the past four decades, it’s all but expected. Even that opening line is, in essence, old news: “Is This the Life We Really Want?” falls so eerily in line with his last proper rock recording, “Amused to Death,” that the most shocking attribute of the music is that the two recordings were released nearly 25 years apart.
At 73, Waters remains unintimidated in his outrage. He blasts our current president in “Picture That” (again with lyrics we would love to quote here but can’t) against a dark, jangly groove that sounds as if it fell right off his Floyd-ian opus “The Wall.” Later, “Smell the Roses” keeps the groove elemental and fearsome as it underscores a saga of warfare with a spitfire of sound-effect montages and spoken-word chatter that brings to mind the lost 1977 Floyd epic “Animals.”
So why does the aural angst Waters summons throughout “Is This the Life We Really Want?” make for a recommended listen? Part of it is the Pink Floyd appeal, for sure. Waters has often flirted with the narcissistic, fashioning solo music that is dramatically bleaker than the post-Floyd work of former Floyd co-chieftain David Gilmour. Some listeners might find such despondency repetitive and even boorish, but Waters gives plenty of reasons on “Is This the Life We Really Want?” for us to buy into the bleakness, especially when the music settles.
For all its inner turmoil, Waters’ message on the new album is rooted in anti-war and global human rights sentiments. On its finest track, “The Last Refugee,” he outlines a tale of separation that isn’t violent or revolutionary, just human and sad. That it dances about lightly with a warmer, ballet-like melody (echoed later in the album during “The Most Beautiful Girl”) makes the tune even more arresting.
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Waters likes to work with en vogue producers, from 1970s arena-rock heavy Bob Ezrin (for “The Wall”) to pop journeyman Patrick Leonard (for “Amused to Death”). On “Is This the Life We Really Want?,” he enlists longtime Radiohead sidekick Nigel Godrich. That might provide Waters some cred with new-generation fans, but it matters not a smidge to the music. Waters rattles on here the same way he always has, with a clenched-fist attitude, an unrelenting world-weariness and a sonic splendor that proves that the mighty Pink Floyd grandeur is alive, well and highly ticked off.