If Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd’s extremely successful followup to their legendary breakthrough album Dark Side Of The Moon, contained the first hints of Roger Waters’ growing disgust and misanthropy, Animals is the full-on document of it. Animals is, to put it bluntly, bleak. Waters divides the whole of British society into three categories, in an homage of sorts to Orwell’s Animal Farm: the pigs that rule over society, the dogs that bully society, and the sheep that comprise the rest. The three main suites are lengthy, nihilistic jams that eschew radio-ready hooks for slashing blues guitar, lumbering bass, and vocal lines that sound as though Waters is literally chewing off the words and spitting them out. To say that 10-minute-plus slabs of dark, misanthropic guitar music was rather unfriendly to radio is an understatement. There are two reasons for this change-up in the sound of the band: first, as “Welcome To The Machine” and “Have A Cigar” on Wish You Were Here indicated, Waters and the band were growing sick of the record industry’s increasingly banal demands on the band; second, the underground punk rock movement that had grown throughout 1976 had set it’s sights on “dinosaur rock” prog movements, who were perceived as bourgeois and decadent. The latter is not entirely the case – Johnny Rotten was actually a fan of a lot of prog acts, and his infamous “I Hate Pink Floyd” shirt was a sort of joke – it was enough for the band to think that keeping their art separate from industry concerns was probably a good thing.
Animals has remained something of a black sheep in the catalog for many less hardcore Floyd fans, stuck as it is between the (relatively) radio-ready sound of Wish You Were Here and the generational majesty of The Wall. The sound of the latter album has it’s roots in Animals, though, and the concept emerged from the In The Flesh tour the band undertook to promote Animals. The tour was even more of a slog than recording the album had been, with many members of the band at odds with each other and the whole concept of being in Pink Floyd to begin with. Keyboardist Richard Wright, feeling shut out by Roger Waters, feuded constantly with him, at one point flying back to England and threatening to quit entirely. Promoters tried to cheat them out of portions of ticket sales; the inflatable pig they used as a stage prop kept getting filled with a continually more dangerous mix of gases; David Gilmour lapsed into a low point of his professional career after realizing that he’d reached the top with nowhere left to go. Waters, for his part, began arriving alone to the venues and leaving before the rest of the band; as the tour went on he became increasingly more hostile to the audience. This culminated in an incident at the last show of the tour in Montreal, where Waters spit on a group of fans who were irritating him in the front row. Afterwards, he spoke about the utter alienation he felt from the people in the audience and how he would like to build a wall between him and them, “brick by brick.”