A Floyd Fan's Introduction
To Lee Saunders
By Mike McInnis.
It seems odd that an artist that has released
only one album should warrant an introduction-- if you are at
all interested in Lee Saunders, you have only one conceivable
starting point. And on the surface it seems strange that Pink
Floyd fans would have any particular interest in an artist such
as Saunders, who admits that the Floyd and Roger Waters have had
little (if any) influence on his work.
That said, Lee Saunders is an artist of whom
any fans of late-Waters-era Pink Floyd and Waters' solo work should
definitely sit up and take notice. Though Saunders' lone release,
1995's A Promise Of Peace, has thus far failed to make much impact
on the music scene, it seems only a matter of time before somebody
somewhere figures out what a powerful message this 39-year-old
Englishman is trying to share.
Telling the story of World War II from a decidedly
English point of view, the album is essentially a 77-minute long
tirade against the futility of war. Like Waters, Saunders looks
back at the war with eyes stained not by tears of nostalgia and
national pride, but by tears of sorrow and grief. He sees a Britain
(and indeed a world) still tortured today by the same hatred,
prejudices, and ignorance that were supposedly eliminated by WWII.
Saunders asserts that we have a responsibility to make such deaths
meaningful by learning from the sacrifices of those who died,
and by stamping out the hatred that they died to destroy.
Saunders' music is Floydian in a vague way. The
song structures and melodies don't have that familiar feel that
most of Pink Floyd's post-Dark Side music does. That's not a criticism--
sometimes I yearn for the Floyds (including Waters) to do something,
anything, that is not directly reminiscent of something they've
already done. (You know: "Mother" sounds like "Pigs on the Wing",
"Lost for Words" sounds like "Wish You Were Here", "Your Possible
Pasts" sounds like "Near the End" sounds like virtually all of
The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, and so on.) But somehow the
performances capture the spirit of the classic Floyd. The blistering-guitars-over-swishing-cymbals-and-layered-synths
of "Overlord" remind me of "Shine On" and much of The Wall. The
funky backbeat of "For A Thousand Years" sounds all the world
like "What God Wants" and "The Bravery of Being Out of Range".
There are loads of keyboards throughout (Saunders
is, after all, a keyboardist), but there are plenty of guitars
too-- acoustic strumming and arpeggios à la Roger Waters as well
as killer lead parts à la David Gilmour (well, not quite David
Gilmour). There is a lovely sax solo in "Is This The Shape? part
1", and female backing vocalists who are capable of solo moments
that would make Clare Torry and P.P. Arnold (or Rachel Fury, if
that's more your speed) proud.
But in general, this isn't necessarily an album
that Floyd fans will settle into comfortably on the first listen.
Saunders makes more use of syncopated, hip-hop influenced beats
than Waters ever would (though not as heavily as Rick Wright did
in Broken China), and near the end of the album he leans heavily
toward funk in a somewhat dissatisfying way. Still, like Amused
to Death, this is an album that really grows on you with repeated
listens-- by the time begin to become familiar with the songs,
you really find yourself hooked.
Lyrically, Saunders hints at topics very similar
to ones that Waters has explored in the past, but in very different
ways. In a song thematically reminiscent of "Us and Them", Saunders
compares soldiers to pawns, and war to a chess game played by
unfeeling generals. In another, he mocks the letters sent by the
generals to the mothers of the killed soldiers, telling how they
died, then nonchalantly asking if the grieving mothers have any
more sons to sacrifice to the army's cause. He makes subtle references
to Shakespeare, and less subtle references to T.S. Eliot. Saunders
doesn't quite have Waters' poetic touch, and the lyrics lose a
great deal of their power when read out of the musical context.
But for those willing to dig deeply into the text, there are great
In general, it is the record's production and
concept that are the most Floydian. From the opening track there
are samples of historical speeches, broadcasts, films, and sound
effects that carry us from Hitler's early rise to power through
the beginnings of the war, the British and later the American
entry into the war, and several key military campaigns. These
sound effects generally set the stage, much like in Dark Side
of the Moon or The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, rather than
driving the story as in The Wall. The sirens and the drone of
the bombers used to punctuate the section on the "Battle of Britain"
are particularly effective, and combined with the haunting music
and lyrics make for an amazing listen as you immerse yourself
in it. There are samples from war films which provide a humorous
portrayal of the British mindset and show the nationalistic, patriotic
nature of such films. There are numerous snippets of speeches
by Churchill, as well as some by Roosevelt and other newsmakers
of the day, which are used as historical references as well as
to provide subject matter-- though not included in the liner,
I think these words are as crucial to understanding the record
as Saunders' own lyrics.
And this is a key point: A Promise Of Peace is
not simply a pop album meant to be heard-- it is a concept album
that demands to be understood. Referring to the heavily conceptual
nature of the record, Floyd historian Glenn Povey wrote that "Saunders
very nearly beats Roger Waters at his own game". As dense and
complex as Amused to Death or The Wall, there are multiple levels
on which to appreciate the material. He has put a lot of time
into this project, and he has very strong feelings about what
it means and what the audience should take away from it. And as
an added enticement, he tells us that A Promise of Peace is only
the first record in a series of projects he calls 'The Puzzle'.
Building on the themes first explored in this record, he plans
to add to them and expand them as he continues to look carefully
at history, and the promises of peace and prosperity that have
been made time and time again over the years-- promises he says
have not yet been made good.
The next album, already in production, goes under
the working title of The Space Race, and in it Saunders hopes
to examine the cold war era race between the U.S. and the Soviets
to be the first to put a man on the Moon. I'm sure that such a
record will be similar to A Promise Of Peace in execution, rich
in samples from Kennedy, Cronkite, astronauts, and cosmonauts.
It wouldn't surprise me at all if the album opened with a long,
spacey instrumental number growing out of Sputnik's radio signal
(that being the Space Race's starter's pistol, if you will), and
continuing on through the Apollo 11 Moonshot and beyond, touching
upon the human elements along the way. Given mainstream culture's
fascination with this subject matter (for example, the popularity
of films such as The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, and the television
mini-series From the Earth to the Moon, as well as the publicity
surrounding the recent 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon
landing, and John Glenn's recent return to space-- an event at
which Saunders was present, for research purposes), this may well
be the record that puts Saunders on the map.
Much more information about Saunders, A Promise
of Peace (including purchase information), and The Space Race
project can be found on the web at <www.LeeSaunders.com>
Part 1 of an exclusive interview with Lee Saunders
by an avid Floyd fan is available at www.ainet.com/eye/brightside.html
(The interview can be found in the 'Interviews'
section at this site).
Mike McInnis is a staff writer for Spare Bricks
and is the list maintainer for 'Jigsaw', the Lee Saunders
Originally published in Spare
Bricks, the Pink Floyd webzine.
Winter 1999 issue. Republished by permission.