I need to begin with a caveat - you need three things to appreciate this album: the right frame of mind, a good set of headphones, and an appreciation/understanding of what a Roger Waters solo album entails. Without these three crucial elements, I feel that you won’t enjoy listening to this in the most optimum manner. That much being said, let’s begin.
Roger Waters as a solo artist is an acquired taste. Obviously Waters is best known as the primary lyricist and creator of the majority of the Pink Floyd catalog. While my love and admiration for Pink Floyd is well documented, I would like to move into the world of the Roger Waters solo album. If one were to judge Amused to Death solely on the history of Roger’s previous solo albums, one could make the mistake of dismissing it. This is not the case, however. Amused to Death is solid in almost every way, and it’s a lot more parallel to some of the Pink Floyd greats than the solo albums which preceded it.
1984's The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and 1987's Radio K.A.O.S. were underwhelming solo efforts at best. One dealt with a protagonist who was dreaming all night, and the songs were interpretations of his dreams, while the other was about a mute boy who speaks through radio waves. Yeah, those were a bit much for the average listener to comprehend. While Pink Floyd was touring the world in support of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Waters was playing mostly clubs, to audiences which regularly averaged in the hundreds to thousands. Obviously, Roger’s solo efforts weren’t affecting the audiences as he had hoped. This changed with Amused to Death.
Released in 1992, Amused to Death was about how desensitized the world had become due to electronics. It spoke in eerily prophetic words about the comfort we feel in war using long distance bombings and drone strikes, while the public sits safely at home, watching on TV screens. The background for this album was the first Gulf War. However, when the album was remastered and reissued in 2015, its contents took on much deeper and relevant meanings. Now we are behind not just TV screens, but any device which separates us from other humans while claiming to bring us together.
The album follows the regular Waters pattern of a concept, but he peppers the album with notable guests. Amused features Alfred “Raz” Razzell (a WWI vet), Jeff Beck, Randy Jackson (he of American Idol fame), Hal 9000, Marv Albert, Don Henley, and Rita Coolidge. Each guest is used to the best of his/her talent, and it’s never overwhelming. They are there, they do their job, and then they are gone.
Roger Waters has never had the strongest of voices, and here it’s no different. However he uses his voice as an instrument, and nothing feels forced. His vocal range moves from lower hushed tones to Scottish howls to pained and anguished wails. It’s exactly what you’d expect to hear from him, but for whatever reason it sounds comfortable here, like it fits. That’s a compliment.
As far as the tracks go, my personal favorites are The Bravery of Being out of Range , Too Much Rope (about what happens when people believe religion over reality), Watching TV (with contributions from Don Henley), and It’s a Miracle . Mind you, they all fit together in the overall concept of the album, and something might be lost without that context, but a sample is required.
Like I said, please be in the right frame of mind when you listen to this, hint-hint. Wait until nighttime, get a cold beer, put on some headphones (this is very important), and take an hour or so to sit back, close your eyes, and listen to this from the beginning all the way through with no interruptions.
Let me know what you think in the comments.