In early 1977 the winds of change were blowing. Reflecting the mood of unrest prevalent in the UK at the time, the established old guard of music acts had evolved into largely complacent animals, while the combination of general discontent and the cyclical nature of change meant that they were about to be swept away by something considerably more aggressive, dynamic and challenging. The Punk movement had started emerging from the underground in 1976, and although many of Punk’s big acts had yet to release album-length statements, there must have been a palpable sense of anticipation in the air by the opening weeks of 1977. Oh, and a flying pig which happened to belong to Pink Floyd.
There’s no two ways about it, Pink Floyd were one of the old guard that Punk had in its sights. They were progressive rock’s biggest band and premium brand, and as such, Punks had to be seen to be making a stand against them.
Imagine then the collective sense of surprise when people first heard Animals. Yes, the flying pig pictured over Battersea Power Station was pure prog, but the music inside found Pink Floyd in grumpy and snarling mood, as well as at their most guitar-focused, proving they could be as angry and as aggressive as any Punk act. While David Gilmour’s guitar attack took centre stage, it was Roger Waters that was assuming an increasing leadership role and was starting to exercise a certain amount of creative veto. Gilmour was standing his ground though, and as such “Dogs”, the track on which he had taken writing credit, takes up almost half of the run time of the whole album.
Animals’ other two epics, “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” and “Sheep”, were largely Waters-penned material, and were equally as claustrophobic sounding as “Dogs”. “Sheep” in particular is a stand out, as the snarling guitar work and Waters’ uncompromising lyric made it easily the equal of any punk number you can mention.
As dark and uneasy as Animals’ trio of epics can be, it is bookended by a pretty ballad that Rogers had written for his wife. They act as brief and life-affirming shafts of sunlight at either end of a dark and stormy album, and for me, they are utterly vital to ensure that the tone of the album isn’t completely oppressive. Anyone having previously avoided Animals due to the fact that it doesn’t carry the same heavyweight reputation as Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here or The Wall, will be surprised quite how potent it sounds, as Pink Floyd rails against a disengaged population, a complacent establishment and an aggressive asset-stripping mindset. At the time of its release, many were a little baffled by Animals, and considered it a lesser Pink Floyd album. Some pointed to the fact that parts of the album had been played on stage as early as the Dark Side of the Moon tour, as proof that the band were just not trying hard enough anymore. While it’s true that elements of the trio of extended epics had previously been road tested, as an album, Animals is a solid statement, and the fact it took a couple of decades for appreciation of it to gain momentum only adds to its mystique.
Listening to it in the context of the current political climate, Animals sounds oddly contemporary despite its 40 years, and it’s themes are more relevant than ever before. Obviously, there was no way that Pink Floyd could have foreseen these events, but in a twist of fate for an album which remained uncelebrated for too many years, perhaps now, more than ever, it is an album we should all be paying more attention to. It certainly acts as a potent reminder that it wasn’t just the Punks who were discontent and kicking off in the late 70s.