Since Pink Floyd’s uneasy reunion at Live 8, Roger Waters has spent far too much time rubbing people up the wrong way. He isn’t shy in spouting angry political opinions via a webcam for the whole internet’s benefit, or offering other pointed opinions, even if they weren’t asked for. Following the release of the rather dull ‘Is This The Life We Really Want?’ – an album where the best arrangements seemed indistinguishable from lazy rehashes from a Waters past – his live shows became increasingly like political rallies with some songs thrown in. He’s spoken publicly many times about the war in Ukraine, siding with the Russians. He’s attacked British politicians, even stooping as low as to use disability hate speech against one MP. He was always a curmudgeon but, in 2023, the 80 year old ex-Pink Floyd bassist finally reached the point of being intolerable.
At the point where you think his deliberately confrontational behaviour couldn’t get any worse, he finally carried out his rather loud threats to re-record Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ in its entirety. Despite that flawless album being the child of four brilliant musicians, Rog somehow believes the entire record was always his, pretty much only his, and that the rest of the band just came along for an easy ride. He’s wrong, of course. Can you imagine ‘Time’ without Gilmour’s emotive vocal, or ‘Us & Them’ without his soaring guitar lines? Or those moments where Rick Wright’s voice comes through and almost seems to be the perfect embodiment of life’s transient nature – itself a perfect musical compliment to the album’s voice over which talks openly about being unafraid to die? Well, now you don’t have to. Waters has re-imagined it for you, and in the ultimate act of belligerence, he’s made a once beautiful, thoughtful and sometimes rather sad work seem really flat and boring. Being generous, there are moments that could be described as introspective, but anyone looking for great music here will be sorely disappointed.
It’s no secret that Waters can no longer sing. This has been the case since his best wounded walrus came to dominate ‘The Wall’ as far back as 1979 and subsequent works showed a limited talent, but his vocal abilities in 2023 are non-existent. He’s lip-syncing to pre-recorded tracks at live shows, when he isn’t browbeating a paying crowd with his opinions – which in Waters-World, the least fun theme park you could overpay to visit, are the only opinions – but his vocal presence on ‘…Redux’ is absolutely shocking. He only attempts to sing at all on ‘Breathe’ and ‘Us & Them’, and even then, any vocals sound like a Horlicks imbibed mumble from a man at the prog rock retirement home who spends most of his time trying to convince the other residents he was one of the world’s premier talents. The rest of the time, he limits himself to equally spoken word passages which, as you might expect, leads to far too much spoken narrative and not much else. It’s also a narrative he fails to project. It’s safe to say he’s certainly no John Cale.
In fairness, the spoken word angle manages to hold its own a couple of times. On the intro ‘Speak To Me’, his decision to recite Floyd’s earlier ‘Free Four’ over the heartbeat has the benefit of attracting the fans’ attentions, even if they’re heading for a catastrophic fall very quickly, and a dream related tale involving various clunky metaphors for losing control, set against a minimalist ‘On The Run’, supplies a reasonable distraction. Beyond that, though, this vocal device becomes overused to the point where any effect just becomes numbing. An audio Valium, shared by an uncaring vendor. Obviously Waters feels this is a workaround for his devastating lack of ability, but it’s just one of this album’s massive faults.
‘Breathe’ and ‘Time’ – once intrinsically linked by a glorious melody calling back to ‘Echoes’ – are both reduced to a middling, easy listening mulch. ‘Breathe’ works a soft acoustic guitar line and occasional organ noises, creating a painfully slow, but almost bluesy listen. This might work if it were the bones of something less familiar, even though a really flat drum sound does its best to make the recording sound half finished. Unfortunately, any success the track could’ve had, musically speaking, is rendered utterly devoid by the presence of Waters himself, running through the vocal melody in the manner of a man who just can’t be bothered, almost as if he’s only really doing this to spite his ex-bandmates – because, let’s face it, he is. ‘Time’ is no better. With Gilmour and Wright absent, the arrangement barely rises beyond a minimalist acoustic shuffle, helmed by a man who’s breathy speaking voice runs through the familiar lyric with the presence of a half-asleep mole who’s been awakened somewhat prematurely, and now finds himself feeling more than a little inconvenienced. The melodies supplied by Gilmour’s guitar work and the once great keys are rendered to their most basic: a cheap theramin-like sound and a cello that never dares to take centre stage, because it wouldn’t want to upstage Roger’s massive ego. It’s horrible. Linking these tracks, the aforementioned ‘On The Run’ has transitioned from sounding like a groundbreaking piece of electronica to a non-committal noise, over which Waters subjects his fans to another spoken ramble, which renders the music almost pointless. ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’, meanwhile, is utterly disrespectful and ends the album’s first half with an all-time career low. Very few people could nail Clare Torry’s groundbreaking, improvised wail from the original cut, so wisely Waters doesn’t try and recreate the track. Instead, he reads a passage about a dying friend over the familiar piano chords. It could be moving, but to be so, the listener would have to have some kind of connection to the narrative’s central figure, or be moved by the orator’s prowess. Here, it’s almost impossible to find any enthusiasm or sympathy for either, since Roger sounds unimpressed to the point of being comatose, and the listener will be constantly be distracted by a woman humming, and a lightweight tune that vaguely resembles something they once loved. Not so much ‘Great Gig’ as ‘Bad Trip’.
One of the original album’s more enduring numbers, the once funky ‘Money’ is now shared in the manner of an almost jazzy shuffle. In relation to the bulk of the material here, there’s not much wrong with the music on its own. With a great and always distinctive rhythm in hand, the melody suits the late night, almost smoky feel in its own way, and the presence of some really dark strings lends a unique atmosphere in a few places. What it didn’t need was Roger Waters. His performance is limited to a constant mumble, first reciting the lyrics like a beat poem from the lips of cut-price William S. Burroughs, before veering off into a rambling spoken narrative about a boxer. Something that starts well enough musically is ultimately dragged out forever, making itself just as boring as the album’s first half. ‘Us & Them’, meanwhile, retains the closest musical approximation to the original, only played in an average cover-band style. It suffers from the same indignities as ‘Breathe’, in that a flat arrangement is dragged down further by a nasty sing-speak vocal from a man no longer trying. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would choose to listen to this, and the same goes for ‘Any Colour You Like’, which takes on the mantle of being ‘Us & Them’s half-formed overhang, trotted out by an average lounge band. At least Roger has shut up for over three minutes, though, so this rather ominous cloud does have a silver lining of sorts.
Slowly moving towards this album’s depressing lack of climax, ‘Brain Damage’ features Waters sing-speaking in a way that makes the track sound like a half-finished leftover from the second half of ‘The Wall’, and even an old style organ weaving behind his tedious voice fails to give anything the necessary lift, before ‘Eclipse’ limps across the finish line abetted by a deathly mumble and similarly unimpressive backing vocal. As the last notes fade, it allows for a moment to take stock, and to question everything. It’s easy to imagine most listeners sitting, feeling indifferent as the last heartbeats eventually disappear.
This was unlikely to be a modern classic but, at best, it’s a bewildering waste of forty seven minutes. At worst, it’s an ugly work where resentment seeps, pus-like, through every giant crack. Any artist attempting to rework an undisputed classic is destined to gain criticism – or even a proper creative kicking – but this is boring. It’s the product of Roger’s massive SuperEgo lashing out miserably against his ex-band mates, and seeing how far he can push fan tolerance; seldom more. Shorn of Gilmour’s beautiful guitar lines, Wright’s aching humanity, and even Roger’s own distinctive basslines, it’s amazing how deathly dull these songs can be. ‘The Dark Side of The Moon Redux’ is the ultimate misanthropic gift from prog rock’s very own Gollum. If this is his precious, then he can keep it.