Picks and Pans Review: Radio K.a.o.s.
updated 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Other rockers write two-and three-minute songs, the musical equivalent of short stories. Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, never writes anything but Moby Dick. For more than a decade he has stretched out his dour visions into "concept" albums, such as P.F.'s Animals, The Wall and his own first solo record, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking. Radio K.A.O.S. is another big statement, striking but diffuse. Insofar as the protagonist, Billy, a Welsh émigré to Los Angeles, is "a vegetable" with limited capacities, this album evokes the only praiseworthy rock opera to date, The Who's Tommy. But the K.A.O.S. libretto is sketchy and proposes far more than can be adequately explored in its eight songs. In a nutshell, Billy discovers he can communicate telepathically via a cordless phone and strikes up a dialogue with a deejay from an L.A. radio station with the call letters K.A.O.S. (Billy's voice is more robotic than Max Headroom's; the DJ's voice is provided by West Coast radio personality Jim Ladd.) Billy taps into military computers around the globe and simulates a nuclear holocaust to teach mankind the error of its ways. The ending, which holds up Live Aid as a beacon of hope for our misguided species, seems remarkably out of character for someone whose previous work has been as pessimistic as Waters'. He seems to be clutching at straws when he sings, "I'm not saying the battle is won/ But on Saturday night all those kids in the sun/ Wrested technology's sword from the hand of the War Lords." Musically the record's tense style, with its crisply enunciated female chorus and angry saxophones wailing aginst taut guitar backdrops, is reminiscent of Pink Floyd's. Some songs are excellent—among them Me or Him, a ballad of longing on which Waters plays the reedy shakuhachi, a Japanese wooden flute. The Powers That Be is a rocker with the explosiveness of a 21-gun salute. Other songs, such as Home and Four Minutes, disappoint. In general those tracks that most serve the plot and into which Waters tries to shoehorn meaning tend to be weak musically. Meanwhile, back at the courtroom, Waters is suing former Floyd mates Dave Gilmour and Nick Mason, who are planning to release an album as Pink Floyd this fall. How about a concept album about artistic differences? (Columbia)