In its lifetime Pink Floyd slowly amassed enough alienation anthems to win the allegiance of kids in high school smoking lounges the world over. "Time," "Money," "Welcome to the Machine," and eventually The Wall, a sprawling two-LP concept album from 1977 that chronicled the fascist impulses of an increasingly insulated rock star driven to madness, all centered around the songwriting of Roger Waters. For the album he assumed the role of "Pink," and while most of the songs he penned for the set allegedly were written about Barrett, anyone listening closely could see that, consciously or not, Waters was looking at his own reflection in the mirror.
The members of Pink Floyd used to get quite a kick out of the fact that clueless promoters and hot-shot record-industry folk would ask, "By the way, which one's Pink?" But when Waters gave them an answer--his answer--it didn't play particularly well with the other members of the band, who at one time were actual contributing members to the group and not involuntary sidemen to this emergent dictator. For 1983's The Final Cut, Waters steamrolled over the wishes of the group and set about writing and recording a concept album centered around the fate of his military father, who died in World War II, his anger toward Britain's involvement in the Falklands, and his generally pessimistic views of society. Guitarist David Gilmour relinquished creative control, but held on to his producer's royalties, while drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright often were replaced by studio veterans. It was only a Pink Floyd album in name.
By the mid-'80s lawsuits flew and, ironically, the remaining members were awarded the use of the name "Pink Floyd," leaving Waters as the solo act who had written most of the band's most notable tunes. These days Waters performs many of the songs that made him exceedingly wealthy alongside tunes from his solo albums, which mostly serve as a reminder that he ain't the musician he once was. Like many aging rockers, from Pete Townshend to Ray Davies, Waters gets revved up to set the Great American Novel to music (even Brits have the same lofty aspirations) and then shortchanges the music part altogether.
Thankfully, however, increasing age and economic realities have sobered up Waters' theatrical ambitions. He had already exhausted the former anyhow, with the over-the-top performance of The Wall--Live in Berlin (released as a live album in 1990), which featured an impressive list of artists from Marianne Faithfull to Van Morrison. Unlike Pink Floyd--which used a giant floating pig or 5,000 Styrofoam bricks set across the stage to hammer home the conceptual thrust of the music--Waters lets the music do the talking these days.
Waters does, however, employ a crack band to re-create his former glories. Texan Doyle Bramhall II serves as David Gilmour while Waters' old friends Snowy White and Andy Fairweather-Low add special seasonings to the atmospheric sound. Gilmour always possessed the smokier voice, but Waters' bitter crackle sounds brilliantly like that of a senile military man barking orders at a regiment long since sent home from the war. He may send thrill-seekers to the concession stands while he works through the shakier parts of Radio K.A.O.S., but he's always sure to fire back with the rousing anti-authoritarian anthem "Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2" (that's "We don't need no education," to those in the cheap seats).
In that sense Waters revels in the contradictions of being a thinking man playing a nonthinking man's game. His songs deal with man's inability to relate to his fellow man through anything other than technology. And as an aficionado of sweet irony, he knows he's got the technology to prove it.