With Eric Clapton's valuable assistance, Waters takes the concept album to new heights on this 1984 masterpiece, his first LP after leaving Pink Floyd. Each of the 12 songs represents a scene of a surreal dream (nightmare?), and Waters brilliantly captures … see full wiki
It is well known that the Pink Floyd faithful cleave brutally between those who cherish the dreamy, noodly prog-rock inflections of Richard Wright and the luscious, wet embrace of David Gilmour's soaring Stratocaster on the one hand, and bitter and twisted adolescents drawn to the bile-curdling world vision of grumpy bassist Roger Waters on the other. The former complain that Rogers was a control freak who couldn't really sing and by failing at any stage to stop, ruined whole Pink Floyd albums. The latter complain that, absent Waters' grand vision, there wasn't a lot to ruin, and point to The Division Bell to prove it.
The "Waters" take on Pink Floyd is most unflinchingly represented by 1981's The Final Cut, an album universally damned or feted - depending on your perspective - as in all but name a Roger Waters solo album, but the post Wish You Were Here output (Animals and The Wall) tend to be similarly indicted.
The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking is in all *including* name a Roger Waters solo album. Noodly prog rock types, therefore, really should stop here for their own good. Gone are not only Rick Wright's jazz-inflicted organ swells and Nick Mason's cheerful but uneventful drumming, but crucially also the leavening euphoria of David Gilmour's stately and ethereal electric guitar. Instead, the album is graced by crisp piano and the chops of another guitar god, Eric Clapton. And here the ironies begin compounding. For, as is his wont, Clapton plays in the blues rock idiom. Once upon a time, the Pink Floyd devised their signature sound by being at great pains to sound as little like a blues band as possible. In this way as many others, does Waters thumb his nose at his former compadres.
Nor, surprisingly, does Eric Clapton's playing have the stately and mellifluous quality you might expect from a guy known as Slowhand, especially when accompanying the creative impulse from Pink Floyd
To the contrary, Clapton's guitar playing is vigorous and angular, his tone cold and bright - perhaps not entirely intentional in an era when digital effects processing was a new and exciting idea - perhaps the sound engineer made him leave his Fender Twin at home.
But most likely not, for on this album Roger Waters is clearly intent on sketching dissonance, and Clapton's accompaniment fosters this ambience perfectly. As a songwriter and lyricist, Waters' ambition, finally unchecked by the need to pander to noodling instrumentalists - and without the subeditorial quality of David Gilmour's knack for a middle eight, is given full throttle. Roger Waters is not a man to let up: pedal stays to floor: (to quote the man himself "The reason, between you and me, was she'd just seen my green Lamborghini").
In parts The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking goes places a more reflective and less damaged psyche might not, but the results are still often exhilarating. Warped and messed up his head may have been, but still managed some beautifully spiteful and venomous lines such as: "Fixed on the front of her Fassbinder face/Was the kind of a smile/That only a rather dull child could have drawn/While attempting a graveyard in the moonlight" which are almost funny they're so nasty - and interestingly counterpointed against similar imagery from the Final Cut where more charitably, "She stood in the doorway/The ghost of a smile haunting her lips/Like a cheap hotel sign". Muscal motifs are also carried over - listen carefully and you will hear themes from the Fletcher Memorial Home and In The Flesh - and no doubt others - reflected in Clapton's guitar.
It's a very complex, multilayered album - utterly impenetrable in parts, taking as it appears to the form of a series of transcluded dreams and nightmares, featuring an attack by some knife-wielding mediterraneans, infidelities with a flaxen-haired hitchhiker, a woodland retreat in rural Germany (complete with s stoned reading of Winnie the Pooh!) and an encounter with a Hell's Angel somewhere on the way to Wyoming: I have owned this record for 20 years and listened to it as much as any other in my collection and I still don't understand it. Noodlers will declare it unsufferably dense and tuneless; the bitter and twisted adolescents will say that is the point, and the joy is in its repayment of further listening). I can't imagine anyone would unconditionally fall in love with this record in one sitting, but it may (if your tastes run to the Waters rather than Gilmour end of the Pink Floyd spectrum) be interesting and engaging enough to persevere with, and it will in time bear fruit. I encountered it at a point in my life (as a bitter and twisted 19 year old) when uniquely vulnerable to its ugly charm and I might not tolerate it if I were to come across it afresh now, but for all that it is still the most rewarding (if not accessible) of Roger Waters' solo works, and in the few places it is pretty, it is mightily so.
But, useful tip for awkward adolescents (acquired through painful experience): If you're a-wooing, don't put this on a mix tape for your intended. You'll never hear from her again.
Postscript note on the American sleeve: how odd that, in the land of the free, someone felt it necessary to mask a perfectly healthy (and if I might say, rather well-formed) posterior!
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