Released early in 1977, "Animals" is the tenth and best album from Pink Floyd, despite its appearance in bargain bins at places like Musicland only six months after coming out. Far more spontaneous than "Dark Side of the Moon", this album emphasizes guitar licks over the synthesizer washes found all over "Wish You Were Here", and it was called "Punk Floyd" by some, but Punk songs eschewed synthesizers altogether and rarely exceeded 2 minutes. Animals features one epic track that is seventeen minutes long and two more that clock in over ten minutes, which made it poison to FM radio DJs who preferred somewhat shorter tunes (The Beatles Hey Jude at seven minutes was pushing the envelope).
I can't tell you how many times I sat in front of the stereo listening to this masterpiece, reading the lyrics in Roger Water's raspy handwriting on the back of the LP. It's a concept album, inspired by George Orwell's "Animal Farm", which lumps everyone in society into three groups, the Dogs, the Pigs, and the Sheep. The Dogs are the capitalists, the go-getters, the people who burn themselves out climbing up the career ladder, often stepping on the people below them to get a leg up. The Pigs are politicians of both left wing and right wing persuasion who use the Dogs to control the Sheep, which are of course the rest of us among the unwashed masses. The words are all very interesting, but I don't listen to Pink Floyd to derive any great insights into philosophy or politics.
To me, the highlight of the LP is the track Dogs, a seventeen minute song which nearly fills the first side. It is the last Pink Floyd song to be of such epic length, and it is the direct descendant of Shine On You Crazy Diamond from the preceding album, which in turn can trace its lineage back through the side-long Echoes on "Meddle", Atom Heart Mother on the album of the same name, and the progenitor of them all, A Saucerful of Secrets. Structurally, Dogs resembles Echoes the most, with a slow lead-in, a furious main section, a contemplative "night" section, which then gives way to a reprise of the main section, but even more furious. The difference is that Dogs sustains the aggression right up to the very end of the track.
The plaintive mood Pink Floyd conveys during the aforementioned "night" section, with the sound of barking dogs far far away, dogs barking through a vocoder even, and a brilliant modulated synthesizer solo by Rick Wright in high register is worth the price of admission right there. There's an endlessly repeated tape loop of David Gilmore saying "the stone...the stone...the stone..." that pops up again in the track Sheep, lending a sonic unity to the album. In the next album, on "Hey You", Roger Waters asks if you will help him carry "the stone", which ties Animals together with The Wall into a conceptual whole. Very provocative.
Pigs (Three Different Ones) is my least favorite track, because Roger Waters snarls some very nasty lyrics about some very nasty characters. I suppose that is the point of the piece. David Gilmore uses the same device made famous by Peter Frampton which lets him make his guitar sound like a pig talking. To me the highlight is Waters' ascending and descending bassline in the long outro.
It gives way to Wright playing an expressive solo with the Rhodes electric piano as Waters rumbles in the background on bass, a pastoral setting that soon gives way to a storm of sound very much resembling Run Like Hell on "The Wall". Not to be missed (you get it twice): Roger Waters' trademark maniacal scream giving way seamlessly to a shimmering synthesizer howl with exactly the same pitch, which then crashes along with the drums and guitars in a rock explosion. During the slow middle section you get a funny version of the 23rd Psalm recited by Waters through a vocoder right before the mass uprising of the Sheep and the death of the Dogs, but the casual listener won't make out what he's saying. You have to sit in front of the stereo over and over again, reading the back cover.