War, pain, hate: 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 critiques war for what it is: pointless. 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 crimson 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.
Loud agitation fades to a comforting drum beat and a relaxing piano in "Perfect Sense, Part I," slowing down the pace of the CD and enabling Waters to more intricately elaborate on the problems of war. "Memory is a stranger; history is for fools," recites Waters. With all that is going on in the world, is it any wonder that we're all confused? With all the killing, with all the problems, how could anything make sense? Part I fades into Part II now, and immediately Waters alludes to money as the sole justification of war. Keeping this motif, the voice of Marv Albert, a well-known sports commentator, enters the foreground. He begins by introducing the soldiers who are to fight for their God, their country, and their own lives as merely "the players." Small and expendable, they are the young and unfortunate pawns of the war. The "game" rages on until someone wins, with one basic point in mind. If someone doesn't win, then what's the point of playing? This often overlooked question is a much needed reminder to the listener. Just what are we fighting for?
"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." The all-too-true message of the song is that 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. Once again, the music provides an almost perfect canvas for Waters to vividly paint his next story on. 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. By emphasizing the wake of the attack, Waters adds the other side of war to his tale, making one truly feel the pain and sorrow of war.
The only apathetic song on the disc, "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, eventually taking the listener out of the building story.
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. The focus here 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.
Throughout the masterpiece, Waters fuses calm and forceful music with contemplated, powerful lyrics. He not only provides a musically entertaining CD, but also an audible message toward society. War is not about money and guns and power. It is about people. No matter what, it's always about the people.