This album will not tell you much about Roger Waters that you don't know already. His women still grind him into the dirt. His world is overrun with people who are morally bankrupt or emotionally crippled or both. And his music -- that familiar compound of awesome sky-scraping art-rock and dark acoustic musing that built the wall -- proves conclusively that in its twilight years Pink Floyd was little more than an inflated theatrical metaphor for Waters' own tortured ego. The substitution here of Eric Clapton's salty plucking for the long arching whine of David Gilmour's guitar gives parts of the record a leaner, more athletic feel. But the sense of Floydian deja vu on The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, Waters' first solo album, is so overwhelming it nearly obscures the soul he finally tried to bare at its end.
That this torment seems consequential affirms Waters' extraordinary talent for making self-absorption so engrossing. Strategic sound effects and peripheral dialogue wrapped in fat distant echo enhance the trance-like motion of the Hitch Hiking story, a nightmare tour of emotional crises and sexual upheavals. Musically, the opening scene "4:30 AM (Apparently They Were Traveling Abroad)" is a blueprint for the rest of the album. Introduced by a taste of sunrise Clapton guitar, Waters' bleak folkie theme sounds like a simple bedroom ditty suddenly swollen to fiendish proportions by bellicose fuzz guitars, air raid siren sax and Waters' own strident voice activated into a Nuremberg rant.
The stark contrast and rollercoaster switch between simmering introspective tension -- Waters' lullabye whisper and sensitive picking in two parts of "For The First Time Today" -- and his sudden explosions of rage, intensifies Hitch Hiking's lunatic impact. "I'd like to go on with this bit of a song/ Describing this schmuck," Waters screams at the man who stole his wife in "4:58 AM(Dunromin, Duncarin, Dunlivin)," "But I'm going to throw up!" Clapton's guitar often acts as a Greek chorus here, at once echoing Waters' emotional state and prefacing his violent mood changes with bittersweet country dobro and cutting solos -- like the swashbuckling break over the title segment's haughty disco trot.
But if Waters' dramatic gestures are in full Technicolor, his heart still beats in severe black and white. He accuses his women of falling for cheap transient pleasures and mocks Yoko Ono's fidelity to John Lennon with unwarranted viciousness. At the same time, he illustrates his relationships with crude locker room imagery, transparent references to fishing rods and "the doggy in the window (the one with the waggly tail)." Like Lou Reed's classic Berlin, another discomforting trip into the heart of darkness, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking is not meant to be pretty. Indeed this bridge over troubled Waters is a fascinating trip, a miracle of black humor and monstrous construction. Still, that bit of true love added almost as an afterthought, "The Moment Of Clarity," makes you wonder where Roger Waters' dream really ends and the real life begins.
-- David Fricke, Musician Magazine No. 69, July, 1984