Pink Floyd's "Animals" Tamed: Prog Rock Countdown #13

Pink Floyd's "Animals" Tamed: Prog Rock Countdown #13

Oh boy. Another Pink Floyd album. But surprise! I actually sorta like this one, “Dogs” especially. I can even imagine wanting to listen to it again in the future.

Listening to Animals (1977) has helped me to understand my feelings about Pink Floyd, and how I think about prog more generally. In some cases, the genre is about complexity of structure and instrumentation. Yes songs regularly feature all instruments playing complex patterns in odd time signatures; Genesis songs are sometimes like concertos, where each band member gets a solo section to showcase his talents. Near-constant displays of virtuosity are a hallmark of a lot of prog bands. Another feature is the blending of non-pop genres – usually classical and jazz – with rock and roll instrumentation in order to push musical boundaries. Early prog was often a statement about breaking out of the limitations of rock and pop styles and themes and into something completely new, hence King Crimson’s improvisational experiments and the embrace of new recording techniques and new technology, including synthesizers.

These are just some of the elements I’ve noticed in the albums I’ve worked through so far. But Pink Floyd is different. While they do concept albums that explore and revisit particular themes, and while they incorporate synthesizers and other technology, the core sound always remains typically riff-based classic rock. Where some bands use special paraphernalia to create music, Pink Floyd merely uses unconventional instruments and techniques to disguise the simplicity, sometimes lack of substance, of their songs. At least, that’s how I feel about both Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and Wish You Were Here (1975).

Animals revises this pattern for the better. Here, the prog stylings are used more judiciously as enhancements of the guitar-based songs, providing flourishes or subtle tonal effects, and enabling long transitions. The band is more comfortably taking classic rock sounds as the basis for complicated song structures, embracing riff-rock as a foundation for extended soundscapes. Other prog bands write songs that only make sense as a combination of instruments, and sometimes the production techniques become part and parcel of the song’s essence. But with Animals, I can imagine Roger Waters and David Gilmore in an acoustic set, just strumming through these songs and having them work. Despite their long run-times, the tracks are not actually built on linked movements, but instead use extended instrumental sections with atmospheric effects to space out verses. So, when you strip away the effects and the filler sections, these tracks are all about slowly developing riffs.

“Dogs” is the slight exception in terms of structure since it has three somewhat different sections, excluding the long transitions. The two sections that take up the last five minutes of the song are easily the high points of the album, and also demonstrate what work’s best when the band embraces the fundamental simplicity of their songs. Holding these last five minutes of “Dogs”, and the entire album, together is a solid chord progression backed up by some creative noodling, unobtrusive drumming, pleasantly atmospheric keys, and impassioned vocals. The final section of “Dogs” slows down and offers a singable refrain of “who was . . ..” In that simplicity, Floyd finds their most power and charm.

No comment on the concept or lyrics: I’ve never read Animal Farm.          

 

 Rolling Stone Rankings                       

  1. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

  2. King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

  3. Rush - Moving Pictures

  4. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

  5. Yes – Close to the Edge

  6. Genesis - Selling England by the Pound

  7. Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick

  8. Can - Future Days

  9. Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

  10. Yes - Fragile

  11. Rush - Hemispheres

  12. ELP - Brain Salad Surgery

  13. Pink Floyd - Animals

ASK Rankings

  1. Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

  2. Yes – Close to the Edge

  3. Genesis - Selling England by the Pound

  4. Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick

  5. ELP - Brain Salad Surgery

  6. Rush - Moving Pictures

  7. King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

  8. Pink Floyd - Animals

  9. Yes - Fragile

  10. Rush - Hemispheres

  11. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

  12. Can - Future Days

  13. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

Dancing in Time to Genesis's "Foxtrot": Prog Rock Countdown #14

Dancing in Time to Genesis's "Foxtrot": Prog Rock Countdown #14

Dressing for ELP's "Brain Salad Surgery": Prog Rock Countdown #12

Dressing for ELP's "Brain Salad Surgery": Prog Rock Countdown #12