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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Roger Waters

Radio K.A.O.S.

Review by Scott Prinzing

Roger Waters’ second solo album (not counting a couple of soundtrack collaborations) is still satisfying to sit and listen to over 25 years since its original release in 1987, but it does sound more dated than his other solo work. It is hard not to compare and contrast it with Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason, which was released a few months later. Like comparing the Lennon and McCartney’s careers in the ’70s, David Gilmour and Roger Waters were the primary songwriting forces in Floyd: Gilmour the musician and Waters the lyricist. While both of them produced enduring material after Waters’ 1985 departure from Floyd, they really needed each other to create the most classic art.

Like the additional studio support Gilmour enlisted for Floyd, Waters drew on both instrumentalists and vocalists to create this concept album about technology and nuclear war. The most well-known players include vocalist Paul Carrack, sax player Mel Collins and guitarist Andy Fairweather-Low. Gilmour nabbed Bob Ezrin first, so Waters co-produced this with two lesser-known gentlemen. That may explain why one album sounds more like timeless Pink Floyd and the other, K.A.O.S., sounds more mid-80s radio-friendly pop. But there are definite prog elements as well as distinct Waters treatments throughout. I find it useful to read along with the lyrics and dialogue when listening. In fact, it’s almost necessary to read the lengthy storyline before even playing the album, which makes for a more demanding experience. For additional listening pleasure, seek out the B-sides and/or the video EP.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Radio Waves

One of the most radio friendly tracks on the album is coincidentally about radio. It is pretty repetitious though, making it a bit tedious after a few listens. Billy, the wheelchair-bound protagonist who communicates through radio waves, develops a friendship with a late night DJ, played by Jim Ladd. “Magic Billy in his wheel chair / Is picking up all this stuff in the air.”

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While the production is a bit dated throughout, a few songs one can easily imagine having worked perfectly as Pink Floyd songs. This is one. The female backing vocals and Collins’ sax are signature Floyd embellishments ever since Dark Side of the Moon.
Me or Him
More than any other song on this album, this sounds like it could have come from The Final Cut or The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking. Another Floyd/Waters trademark is utilized: the shouting in the distance that mirrors the singing. It also includes snippets of radio from what sounds like a Ronald Reagan campaign ad: “Do you really think Iranian terrorists would have taken Americans hostage if Ronald Reagan had been president?”
The Powers That Be
One of my favorite Waters songs, it surprisingly wasn’t released as a single. Paul Carrack and the female backing vocalists carry the song, along with a horn section: “Sister of mercy better join with your brothers.” I find this song rebounding in my head days after listening to it. I think if this had been the first single, it could have pushed this album much higher in the charts.
Sunset Strip
This song’s chorus reaches for a bit of the doo-wop sounds of a bygone era, along with another horn-heavy arrangement here. It’s not my favorite song on the disc, but adds a bit of levity to an otherwise dreary storyline.
Home
The lyrics here are probably the most poignant of the set: “Will you discretely withdraw / With your ear to the boardroom door.” The synth-bass works best here, creating a Phil Collins or Sting vibe, making it another missed opportunity for a radio hit single.
Four Minutes
There’s a bit of “On the Run”-like sound effects on this one, in which the female vocalists sing more than Waters. It reminds me that this album is best listened to as a whole, preferably with headphones.
The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)
One of the most enduring songs from this work, it was added after the label suggested that there needed to be a ray of hope to this rather bleak affair. It is one of the only songs here that Waters has continued to include in his life sets. It has a bit of a Dire Straits ballad feel to it and a memorable, singalong chorus, repeated to great effect by an all-male choir at the end. Morse code takes us out into the groove.
 
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