In the run-up to Roger Waters' stop at London's Wembley Stadium for a showing of 'The Wall' - the landmark Pink Floyd album that is enjoying a new lease of life - we've taken the opportunity to focus on one of Waters' lesser-known solo albums released after he left the Floyd in acrimonious circumstances in 1984. 'Radio KAOS', his second LP outing on his lonesome, was unleashed in 1987. As with much of his material written for Floyd in the latter years of his time with them, the LP is a concept album, driven by a story and central narrative.
The story follows a mentally and physically handicapped man called Billy. Confined to a wheelchair, he harbours a secret ability to hear radio waves in his head, and to utilise them to communicate with people ('Radio Waves'). Billy's twin brother Benny is a coal miner, and Benny lives with Billy and his wife Molly. When Benny loses his job due to market forces, he goes on a pub crawl and takes Billy with him. They pass an electrical store full of televisions showing Margaret Thatcher, wich Benny becomes angry at, and steals a telephone. Drunk, Benny makes a protest on a footbridge at the mine closures that meant he lost his job. On the same evening, a taxi driver is killed after someone drops a concrete block off a footbridge ('Who Needs Information'). Benny is arrested in connection with the murder, and taken for questioning. Panicking about the stolen phone, he secretes it in Billy's wheelchair. Benny is sentenced to prison for the taxi driver killing, and when Molly becomes unable to cope with Billy, she sends him to live in Los Angeles with his uncle David.
Billy, who has begun to experiment with the cordless phone Benny gave him, realises how similar it is to a radio. He is able to use it to communicate with people, access voice synthesiser software and computer systems. Now armed with the ability to speak, he calls an L.A. phone-in radio show on the 'K.A.O.S.' network and confides in Jim - the DJ - telling him about his brother being in prison ('Me Or Him'), the government cuts that forced his brother's mine to close ('The Powers That Be') and the fact he was sent to live in L.A. by his sister-in-law ('Sunset Strip'). Billy laments the fact he was made to leave his homeland and what actually constites where you live ('Home'), and, now able to hack into government computers, accesses the military satellite systems and makes it seem that nuclear missiles are on their way to destroy the major cities of the world ('Four Minutes'). Just at the point of impact, as the world holds their breath and expecting imminent destruction, Billy pulls the plug and teaches the world leaders the biggest lesson they will ever learn. ('The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)'.
This was perhaps the first Roger Waters solo album I encountered, purchased when I was still 'getting into' Pink Floyd. It's a sublime piece of work that wasn't a commercial success - its hard to say whether it deserved to be, what with it's rather obscure concept - but in terms of creativity its easy to see how this could have been a full Pink Floyd band album, especially when you consider material such as 'The Final Cut', which, being so Waters-centric, made Waters seem rather arrogant and egotistical when he practically forced the rest of the group to record it under the Pink Floyd name. Even hardcore fans would arguably agree this was perhaps a bit too much, and the catalyst that led to Waters leaving the band. In terms of musical output, 'Radio KAOS' shares aspects with 'Amused To Death', the 1992 album Waters put out some time later - while 'Amused To Death' was not a concept album as such, a lot of the subject matter and sound of the LP originated here. It also came hot on the heels of Waters providing the score to the animated 1986 film 'When The Wind Blows', the chilling and heartbreaking tale of an ordinary married OAP couple completely failing to realise the severity of a nuclear attack on Britain. Not outstaying its welcome, 'Radio KAOS' is a cracker of an album, focusing on issues that were relevant at the time of the album being released - the threat of nuclear war, Thatcherism, miner's strikes etc.
It's a shame Waters didn't put out more solo albums, as the trilogy of this, 1984's 'The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking' (another conceptual offering based around a dream) and the aforementioned 'Amused To Death', were perfect. There was his much vaunted operatic offering that came later of course, but this was perhaps not best suited to rocking out to in the car. This leads us up to Waters deciding to take Pink Floyd's 1979 war horse 'The Wall' out on the road, which has served him well for a number of years now. With the tour rolling into Wembley very shortly, it will be interesting to see how the live show has progressed and evolved since it was brought back to life. Look out for our review of this unique concert experience at www.musicmuso.com, your one stop shop for all things music!