In defense of Roger Waters’ oft-derided, over-the-top Radio K.A.O.S.

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Commercial flourishes like sequenced drums and programmed keyboards all but sunk Roger Waters’ Radio K.A.O.S., which today comes off as a plasticine bid for MTV acceptance. There there was the concept, a tangled mess of separated siblings, computer games and cold war scenarios, very loosely stitched together with a free-form radio theme in the person of legendary L.A. disc jockey Jim Ladd.

Radio K.A.O.S. was so overblown that it seemed, from the first, like the height of pretension, a huge mess defined by twinned disappointments in both narrative and approach.

But leave aside the larger storyline — and those aural missteps, of course — and you find a few items worth salvaging in the wreckage of Roger Waters’ second solo album, released on June 15, 1987. In miniature, there is something still to take away.

For instance, “The Powers That Be” offers a modern version of Waters’ patented call to arms against bloated bureaucracy and war-mongers — “they like fear and loathing; they like sheep’s clothing” — set amid a memorable, driving horn signature. It may be his funkiest aside ever. “The Tide is Turning,” meanwhile, remains Roger Waters’ most open-hearted moment in song. “Who Needs Information” still boldly resonates in the smart-phone era.

Then there was “Home,” which showcased Waters’ flair for biting commentary, despite the dated production. Here, he challenges us all to stand up to the creeping indignities that eventually coalesce into true injustice. Roger Waters then hits a riff, talking about any number of unexpected personalities who might one day provide the greatest danger to our every day lives — neatly presupposing the sweeping fear that eventually gripped this nation in the wake of September 11, 2001.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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