I hear Pink Floyd in so much of the music that I love. They’re a profoundly important and influential band generally but for me personally too. Their capacity to develop and retain quality through styles and songwriters is virtually unparalleled, one example of which is the subject of this post: Animals, which turns 40 this year. To quickly address those hacks who would dare to question Floyd on a metal website, they have more metal in the occasional riff and denser compositions they arranged than 99% of snot-nosed, tattooed, bald fuckers who sneer about the desecration of Christianity, women ,their childhoods or whatever it is that’s cool to sneer about these days. Just so we’re clear off the bat.
Animals is the progressive rock purists’ album by Floyd. The short, melodically-linked acoustic intro and outro (“Pigs on the Wing I” and “II”) encircle three expansive tracks which each run at least ten minutes and execute the record’s socio-political criticism which directly refers to George Orwell’s Animal Farm. While Orwell damningly satirized the particulars of the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s ultimate control, Floyd (or should I just cut the bullshit and say Roger Waters?) utilizes the same farm animal props to criticize the failures of capitalism in 1970s Britain. Beyond the lofty concept and extended tracks, Animals occupies a unique place in the Floyd discography by drawing in elements of their sound as it was previously and as it would be. Prog betas may think that Dream Theater were progressive for writing an entire album as a sequel to a track. Prog alphas know that Floyd are progressive for writing an album which coherently draws so many of their other albums under its umbrella without sounding remotely repetitive.
For example, the relaxed mid-song interludes refer to the psychedelia of their 60s material. The off-hand whimsy from parts of Dark Side of the Moon are heard in the bouncier melodies and transitions between tracks which feature animals’ cries. Those epic soundscapes, which Floyd does better than any other band and which peaked on Wish You Were Here, are present and correct. Even the guitarist’s wet dream of The Division Bell gets a look in through the record’s insanely awesome riffs and Gilmour’s exemplary solos. And finally, the theatricality of The Wall might be the most clear comparison considering the concept and obvious use of the animals theme. And yet, despite these influences, Animals is also entirely cohesive and satisfying within itself. It’s a dark and bitter reflection on the circumstances of its era but is executed with a light heart and fun sensibility, the combination of which affords accessibility yet depth.
Compositionally, the most important aspect of the album is the use of motifs. The “Pigs on the Wing” bookends are clearly melodically and instrumentally linked but the careful integration of great individual ideas across the long tracks are the lifeblood of Animals. It would be easy to run these into the ground through overuse but maximum effectiveness is achieved through caution. On “Dogs,” the introductory acoustic lead returns at 11:50 while the delicate electric guitar lead underpinned by string synths at 3:40 returns after fourteen minutes to bring the song together even across its seventeen-minute duration. “Sheep” also deserves a special mention; the opening keyboard is the perfect instrumental representation of meandering sheep and carries a melody which is ultimately embellished and becomes one of the best riffs ever performed by Floyd. This riff also takes cues from the strolling rhythm in the passage subsequent to the introduction, establishing a true progression across the ten minutes which few others can match. It’s a favorite track by a favorite band and one of the best musical moments ever captured.
So in summary: Animals is one of the greatest progressive rock releases ever and should absolutely not fall by the wayside of the likes of Dark Side, Wish You Were Here and The Wall. It may not boast the immediacy of particular tracks within those others but its cunning and subtle hooks will embed deeply given half a chance. And that album artwork? Amazing.