Analysis Of Amused To Death (take 1)

By David D. Dennis


War, famine, poverty, crime: We, as a society, have become used to it all. Practically anyone thinks twice about it anymore. We are too busy with our televisions and country clubs and suburban lives to care. In Roger Waters' Amused to Death, he evaluates us. He forgets all the material possessions and personal images and looks at the world in its state of shambles. He disputes religion. He debates racial tension. He critiques war. The accompaning music provides a powerful and meticulous background for Waters' lyrics. The result is one of the most riveting and influential musical albums of the decade.

The composition begins very calmly. Crickets chirp, a dog barks, and the listener is immersed in the dark of night. A television blares in the background. A somewhat unfamiliar peace can be felt. A single guitar, soft and clear, suddenly pierces the night. The cries of the guitar evoke a sense of sorrow in the listener. The voice of an old man enters into "The Ballad of Bill Hubbard." The low, tired voice of the British gentleman carries on the sad tone as he tells his story. The setting is World War I, deep in the dark gray and red of battle. The voice tells of his anguish and helplessness as he is forced to leave another soldier to die in the cold. As the sharp chords of Jeff Beck's guitar echo underneath the soldier's sad tale, the true atrocities of war are experienced by the listener. The song is an appropriate, tranquil forshadowing to the methodical stories which are to follow.

"What God wants, God gets, God help us all," begins the next song. A crowd cheers, a tiger growls, and a curtain of uncertainty befalls the listener. Full of anger and fury, Beck's guitar again sharply cuts through the distorted blur. Here, Waters speaks for the first time on the album, telling us all what God wants. "God wants peace, God wants war. God wants famine, God wants chain stores." These simple, sometimes absurd statements serve as the theme for the song. Sound effects and distortion haze the background, alluding to the restlessness and haste of life. The overall feeling is one of complete helplessness. What is to happen will happen.

"The Bravery of Being Out of Range," opens with a lively, heavy guitar and drum prologue, giving the listener a suspense as to what will happen next. The lyrics reflect the mundane, ordinary lives of people. They have learned to accept war and even take pride and excitement in it. It is something to occupy one's time, watched just like a developing soap opera on the television. "Just love those laser guided bombs. They're really great for righting wrongs. You hit the target and win the game." It's almost ironic how war kills so many innocent people, yet still there are some who cannot live without it.

The accusing mood shifts to a tranquil one, complete with subdued acoustic guitars and violins. The calmness represents the "beauty of military life. No questions, only orders." Waters alludes to Americans as the "fans" of the war, amazingly introspective since he wrote the lyrics to this, as well as many other songs, prior to the Gulf War. Unexpectedly, the once melodious music becomes violent and ritualistic. A baby cries in the background over the ceremonies and raging television. A loud explosion is heard, then all is silent. "Late Home Tonight, Part II," begins the aftermath of the devastation and destruction. The pilot who delivered the fatal blow returns as a hero, greeted with a cigar and hometown publicity. But blood-thirsty soldiers are not the only people he has silenced. Women and children, innocent people are dead. He did not know, though. He has no questions, only orders.

"Too Much Rope," begins in a very eerie and disturbing manner, showing much frustration. Attention shifts to society's obsession with materialism, then to ethnic and religious tension. While Waters' point of a cruel over-accentuation of different religions is meant as a counterbalance to show that we are all human beings, regardless of race, color, or religion, it does not accomplish its purpose. The song is somewhat disorganized and unclear, and in trying to make a point, becomes confusing and hostile.

"What God Wants, Part II," opens with television preachers energetically persuading their audiences to unite -- socially, spiritually, religiously. The whole aura given off by all the shouting and preaching is one of power, of strength. Waters then surfaces again, giving the listener more of what God wants. "God wants winners, God wants solutions, God wants TV, God wants contributions." More anger fills this second section of the song, with Roger Waters indirectly telling the listener that he has lost his faith in God. The track fades quietly into the night as the audience is transported to a quiet meadow. This provides the setting for Part III, which commences with a deep organ tone identical to that of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," from Waters' Pink Floyd days. It quickly, however, is cut off by his voice, deep and uninviting. Beck's forceful guitar then intrudes, pouring out emotion and feeling. The deep, sharp chords release the building pressure through pure sound which reverberates through the listener's mind. A phone rings, and the digital Q Sound of the compact disc begs the audience to answer the non-existent phone. This important interjection is meant to put our priorities in perspective. Every single person who hears the phone looks to the phone in the room, wanting to stop the music to answer it. The reaction is symbolic. We, as a society, cannot just sit and read, or listen to music, or relax. We are too advanced for that now. We need our phones and stereos and TV's. We would be lost without them. Meanwhile, the music plays on. The call is unimportant, but haven't we still put our lives on hold instead of the call?

The next track, "Watching TV," is undoubtedly the most powerful, understanding song on Amused to Death. Here, Waters constructs, in vivid detail, a moving portrayal of just how somber and horrible war can be. The story focuses on a man, the brother of a young Chinese girl. His "yellow rose" was killed in the protests in Tienanmen Square. Waters goes on to describe her as having shiny hair, almond eyes, and high hopes. Purely through Waters powerful lyrics, the listener feels the love between the man and his sister. Questions arise as to the causes of her death. Waters answers these questions with a harsh attack on communism in China. Reminiscent of Bob Dylan with his acoustic guitar and nasal voice, Waters tells of Mao Tse-tung, Chiang Kai-shek, Taiwan, the whole story. Waters ends the masterpiece with what is also the best stanza on the disc: "She's everybody's sister. She's symbolic of our failure. She's the one in fifty million who can help us to be free. Because she died on TV."

"Amused To Death" is the title track of the album, and appropriately sets the proper underlying message. The focus is the fascination of our society with television. We have given up everything for it. We have lost our thoughts, our creativity, our determination. Instead, we are content to sit on the couch and amuse ourselves with the atrocities on television. Sex, war, death: it's all part of the program.


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