Nobody seems happy these days. I know I’m not. Neither does Roger Waters, the singer and bassist who once led one of the most influential bands of all-time (it’s Pink Floyd, in case you needed a hint). Now a solo musician, Waters is embittered, frustrated, baffled and severely downtrodden like a wide net of people today — American or otherwise. His latest, angriest, arguably moodiest album, Is This The Life We Really Want?, is a reflection of the many, many discouraged/restless thoughts that run rampant inside the minds of millions these days. It’s not subtle, but who the hell has time for subtle today?
Waters’ fifth solo album, released almost 12 years after the literally operatic Ça Ira from 2005, is an impactful, curious, if not quite subversive or overwhelming, return. Filled with incentive and integrity, but lacking in originality or real insightfulness, Is This The Life We Really Want? isn’t necessarily an album we desperately need, but it’s nevertheless an inspired, invigorated collection, one that respects Waters’ continued legacy while providing enough urgent timeliness to not make it a mere nostalgic listen.
The revolution is alive and well. Is This The Life We Really Want? isn’t revolutionary but it’s not revolting. It’s Waters’ dives nose-first into the evergreen pool of wokeness. He swims with stride, picking up speed and agility, but it’s not all that illuminating — a common problem with these various inspired older musicians admit political unrest. Sure, there’s good reason to be upset, and Waters has more than a few, but even with his legendary status, there’s nothing the British musician says about the world’s upheaval and uncertainty that hasn’t already been explored in fine depth beforehand.
Blame it on the Internet or the rapidly spinning news cycle. In either case, it’s simply another musical #hottake that isn’t as fresh as it ultimately should be. However, when music comes as well-produced and well-polished as it does from Waters, it’s hard to complain in full. Waters isn’t a revelation here, by any stretch, but he’s still reeling — when he’s at his most invigorated, as he sometimes is here, that’s something to behold.
Waters starts strong with “When We Were Young,” an engulfing, paranoic tremor of an opening that promises an uncompromising, unbridled album — potential that’s only fulfilled in part. But with the mournful “Deja Vu” and the searching “The Last Refugee,” Waters continues to prove himself a highly adept, well-versed lyricist — even when this album, more so than you might expect, spits out a solid string of explicit, profanity-laced tunes. Of course, given how course and desensitized we’ve become at this point, perhaps that’s what makes Waters more relatable in this newest music endeavor.
And despite some of its fairly on-the-nose song titles, including the fitfully angry “Picture That” and the ponderous titular track “Is This the Life We Really Want?,” Waters proves vigilant and furious enough to give this political rally call strength. When Waters makes new music, it’s rightfully considered an event. While Is This the Life We Really Want? doesn’t quite live up to his all-time greats, it’d be erroneous to assume it’s anything less than worthwhile. Waters knows how to compose music like few other working musicians today, and while Is This the Life We Really Want? isn’t going to be remembered as among his endearing classics, it’s certainly another one of his triumphs — even admit all the confusion, disarray and broken hopes that continue to haunt him.
Vigorous and victorious, Waters might not be happy but he’s certainly riled up. For what it’s worth, Is This the Life We Really Want? — much like Waters’ one-time Floyd compositions — gets better upon relistening. Should it be Waters’ swan song, then it’s a fittingly compelling, quietly haunting conclusion. If Waters should live to make music for another day, however, it’s good to see him inspired once more. With its swift flow and fine form, Is This the Life We Really Want? is a welcomed return. For fans of Waters’ music, they’ll find just what they want, and what they want to hear.