[Today: A befuddling shot of artistic hubris…]
If Pink Floyd didn’t invent the concept album, they sure perfected the recipe. Albums like Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall worked because they explored universal themes such as humanity, sanity, and war. In other words, they weren’t about a 23-year old Welsh “vegetable” named Billy who receives radio waves through his skull and ends up saving the world from nuclear annihilation. That’s just part of the diffuse concept behind Roger Waters’ 1987 album Radio K.A.O.S, a pretentious turdbomb that makes The Final Cut sound epic.
This album plays out like a bad movie – way too much time is spent explaining pointless background and introducing new characters, while the main plot goes nowhere and none of it gets tied up satisfactorily. The songs here are connected by nothing more than blips and bleeps and Waters’ theatrical screams, although if you paid attention like a perky college student in the front row of class, taking detailed notes about everything going on, you might be able to figure out how Uncle David and the Manhattan Project fit into the story. Good luck with that.
Musically this is a grim bastardization of the Pink Floyd sound. Some of the trademark tidbits are here (radio spinning the dial to pick up different voices, those screams, etc), but they’re plunked randomly within lightweight songs awash in synthesizers that can be carbon-dated to the Max Headroom era. While most of this is merely pedestrian and befuddling, ‘The Powers That Be’ is an outright embarrassment. Waters has never been a great singer – at his best he’s a yeller and screamer – but here he fancies himself a Dean Martin-style crooner, with predictably awful results.
In the wake of his acrimonious split with Pink Floyd, Waters let his former bandmates take the group name because he didn’t think they could possibly carry on without him. “I’m not at all sure how they’re going to manage,” he sneered through the press, “considering I was the only one who [did] anything for about the last 15 years.” The reconstituted Floyd released the just-above-tepid Momentary Lapse Of Reason in 1987 as well, so Waters was locked in an artistic showdown with David Gilmour and company – and coughed up this jumbled mess. Radio K.A.O.S is the sound of warmed-over artistic hubris, and no hands clapping.