Pink Floyd had firmly established its mid-70s sound by the time Animals was released in early 1977. The record remains immediately identifiable. When I hear it, I think of how the band was responding to punk rock and how politically engaged co-leader Roger Waters had become.
I can easily listen to Animals while doing something like a bike repair or house cleaning because the music is engaging. But like most classic records, the message comes through best if you listen closely.
A film about the downside of industrialization and globalization.
With Animals, Roger Waters’ cynicism and dark view of Western (especially English) industrial culture becomes more focused and begins to define Pink Floyd’s worldview. What could have been tiresome and preachy—and, lyrically, still is at times—becomes listenable because of the band’s inspired playing.
Some of the electronic effects the group effectively used on its two previous albums—Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and Wish You Were Here (1975)—get reined in a bit on Animals, yet Rick Wright’s keyboards still play a key role in the overall impact of the recording. Electronic and tape loop effects are more precisely employed, which leads to a pointed use of sound that helps focus the darkness at the center of the album’s message.
Bernie Grundman’s cut of the album, very likely sourced from digital masters done by James Guthrie and Joel Plante, has slightly less top end than the original U.K. vinyl release. The acoustic guitars on “Pigs on the Wing” and “Dogs” are not as bright or sharply edged on the new pressing, but they sound fuller. It’s also easier hear the tonal range of the strings. Waters’ vocals on the former track, and for a large portion of the latter, make a more lasting impression by way of a better-defined and rounder tone.
“Dogs” takes up nearly all of side one. As the song builds in intensity, the new pressing better separates the instruments. Acoustic guitars that fade into the background on the earlier pressing are now audible, and Wright’s keyboards hold tighter. When David Gilmour’s voice echoes at the end of the first section, it sounds bright on the earlier pressing but provides a fuller, three-dimensional feel on the 2016 LP. Other effects, such as the dogs barking during the song’s midpoint, come across with more intensity on the original pressing but possess a richer sound on Grundman’s version.
By extension, Nick Mason’s kick drum sounds expansive on the U.K. original but gets precise placement here. Wright’s keyboards are more layered. On the old pressing, Gilmour’s bass playing on “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” sounds bigger and somewhat enveloping yet claims increased attack and detail here. It appears Grundman gives more space to the instruments so that, for example, Wright’s piano on the aforementioned track doesn’t lose power as the dynamic level rises.
To be certain, the U.K. pressing proves more exciting in certain ways—namely, its more pronounced highs and slightly forward sound. But the new master allows a plethora of individual details to emerge. Wright’s electric piano hangs in the air longer on “Sheep,” and as the song builds and its arrangement becomes denser, it seems easier to track each instrument in the soundstage.
In 2017, the points conveyed in Animals feels more relevant than ever and sound less strident than they did 40 years ago. This pressing also makes it clear Animals remains one of Pink Floyd’s pinnacle musical accomplishments.
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