Roger Waters has always had a great FM-radio voice. With its subtly rumbling bottom mitigated by a rich, breathy rasp, his singing has often exuded the warm, hi-fi intimacy of the best FM jocks. It has the same luxuriant vividness as his approach to recorded sound, which may explain why Waters's old band, Pink Floyd, was such a staple in the early days of FM rock.
But if there's something in Waters's sound that's attractive to radio, there's something about FM rock that's attractive to Waters. After all, K.A.O.S., the semimythical L.A.... Read More
rock station Waters created for Radio K.A.O.S.
, provides more than the setting for his latest bout with apocalyptic loneliness; it stands as a complex and surprisingly convincing metaphor for interpersonal communication.
Apparently modeled on the postun-derground sound of the now-defunct KMET, Radio K.A.O.S. is described in the liner notes as "a renegade rock station fighting a lone rear guard action against format radio." But rather than pick a fight with the freeze-dried efficacy of format radio's musical content, Waters focuses on the fact that all that demographic-data processing essentially takes the people out of the process. The album's central character, Billy a displaced Welshman living in Los Angeles is a technologically savvier version of the Who's Tommy. Although "apparently a vegetable," he can not only hear radio waves in his head but transmit them as well, and he's managed to parlay his possession of a stolen cordless phone into an elaborate computer linkup that ultimately finds Billy nearly luring the world into nuclear Armageddon.
Waters raises a lot of knotty issues about communication, but he never really wrestles them to the ground he's too busy with politically specific jibes at Reagan and Thatcher. His attempts, however, have resulted in some of his most listenable work since The Wall. Because Waters has turned his attention outward instead of continuing the sort of navel gazing that gave us The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, the emotions that animate these songs are as easily accessible as their melodies. Waters has always had a flair for the sonically dramatic, but on this album his sweepingly majestic choruses and brittlely witty asides hit home, from the anthemic stomp of "Radio Waves" to the hymnlike sentiment of "The Tide Is Turning."
Radio K.A.O.S. is by no means perfect, but it is powerful. By drawing a connection between interpersonal communication and the communications industry, Waters makes a provocative case for the argument that there's far more at stake in the format wars than mere playlists. Here's hoping that argument gets played out somewhere other than on his fans' turntables. (RS 504-505)