When it comes to Pink Floyd fans (Floydians, as we are sometimes known) there is some debate over which album is their best. There are those who think Dark Side of the Moon takes the title. Others, such as myself, think The Wall is their masterpiece. There are those, including members of the band (such as the late Rick Wright) who say Wish You Were Here was their best. However, whenever there is a poll over which album is hated by nearly every fan, there is always a clear winner. That album is almost always The Final Cut.
For me, however, this has always been a grave injustice. I think that the circumstances around the creation of the album and what happened to the band as a result of it cloud the minds and the ears of the fans and people who listen. It was released in 1983 and came at the point where Roger Waters and the rest of the band, David Gilmour (guitarist, vocals), Nick Mason (drums) and Rick Wright (keyboards) were coming to an impasse. The friction had started years before and had grown to an almost unbearable pitch during The Wall, and now exploded. Therefore, The Final Cut became the last album of the lineup of the Floyd that most fans know. Roger Waters left and it seemed as if one of rocks greatest bands had ended.
All of this negative energy makes the album hard to listen to for some fans. In fact, the album is really a Roger Waters solo album. During the nearly constant arguments that ensued between Waters and the rest of the band during the recording of the album Waters did offer to make the album a solo effort. However, since Pink Floyd was under contract with EMI records, and the rest of the band still wanted some kind of royalties, this option was not taken.
If you look at the album not as a Pink Floyd record, but as a Waters solo effort, the entire album takes on a slightly different resonance. The record is a deep and troubling looking into Waters’ mind rather than the sweeping kind of songs the Floyd were used to making in albums like Animals. Thus, the album maybe be a little less accessible than some of the band’s other records. However, if the fans take a moment to really listen, understand the circumstances around the recording of the album, and give it another listen, applying its themes and messages to a modern world, the album becomes musically beautiful, lyrically poetic and amazingly prophetic.
To understand where the album places in the band’s history, you really need to go back to the “In the Flesh” tour that the band embarked upon with the album Animals back in the late 70s. After the band had become a super-band, moving from playing clubs and small arenas to huge stadiums with hundreds of thousands of fans, with Dark Side of the Moon. They had repeated their success with Wish You Were Here and then Animals. Although both of those later two albums have become classics, they were exhausting affairs for the band. The grueling touring schedules they had to go on to support their albums and the trappings of the huge success they were receiving were fracturing their psyches. Members of the band began losing their creative muses.
Waters and Gilmour have been referred to as the Lennon/McCartney of Progressive Rock. They reached their zenith during the Dark Side album. The music and the lyrics were at a perfect combination. However, after that, Gilmour still provided musical influences, but Waters began exerting more and more influence over the album content. Gone were the times when they were make obscure references as Waters began to get more and more angry at the world he saw around him and the excesses the band was experiencing. He became more and more specific, using his lyrics and his stardom to attack politicians and more. This began to create a divide between Waters and the rest of the band.
Waters began to perceive a wall between him and his audience and between him and the rest of the band. This is where the origins of The Wall came from. That album was conceived in three parts by Waters as an album, stage show and a film. However, despite the fact the album has become an enduring classic and their masterpiece, the recording of that record was not pleasant.
First off, Rick Wright, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, had descended, by that point, into cocaine addiction. This resulted in him being almost completely unable to play when he sat down in the recording studio. It became so frustrating that Waters insisted Wright be kicked out of the band. He even threatened to take the tapes of the album and leave. Gilmour ratified this decision but it was decided Wright would be removed from the Pink Floyd partnership and receive a standard session musicians salary. Wright was in no position to fight and agreed to it and then returned to Greece to sail his boats.
A similar problem was happening with drummer Nick Mason. Mason was not descending into drug addiction but he was having trouble understanding where Waters was going. Mason has told stories of Waters and he yelling at each other, trying to understand what was needed for the album and then Waters re-doing the drumming after Mason had left. Mason has become the man who managed and maintained the sound effects on the albums and he maintained his partnership status by managing to contribute sound effects and sound collages to the albums.
After the band managed to complete the album they then launched the stage show. They played only a handful of shows, but they were huge affairs requiring expensive light shows, staging and special effects. A major tour of The Wall was never mounted. However, films were made of those stage shows because the original intent was to make the film with Waters as the lead characters, Pink, and footage from the actual concerts was to be used to tell the story. In fact, Waters envisions the movie to be more of a filming of the stage show with some connecting films to move the story along.
This was changed, however, when director Alan Parker took over the directing duties and Hollywood stepped in. Waters, always a bit of a control freak, suddenly found himself on the outs and having to deal with someone else in charge. Parker had his own ideas and thought that the film needed to flesh out the story. The concert footage was abandoned. Bob Geldof was suddenly the lead. The band itself never appears in the movie. Parker and Waters argued, tooth and nail, throughout the filming. When the film was released the band known as Pink Floyd was nearly in fragments, and Waters felt betrayed by Parker and the film producers.
During the making of the film and during the original recording of The Wall, there were a number of songs recorded that were never used. So, the original intent of The Final Cut was to be a companion soundtrack to the movie called Spare Bricks. Right away this caused some trouble as Gilmour felt it was lazy and a half-thought-out idea. He argued that if the songs were not good enough to be on The Wall, why were they good enough now with a separate album. However, Waters won out.
First off, if you look at the album you will see that the full title is The Final Cut: A Requiem for the Post War Dream by Roger Waters as Performed by Pink Floyd. In short, it is a Roger Waters album performed by Pink Floyd. Then, take a look at the musicians on the record. You will see that the members of Pink Floyd are listed as Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason. At this point, Rick Wright, a founding member, had outstayed his welcome and had no participation in this album at all.
Just as the band began recording some new material for this album something happened in the real world that changed Waters’ opinion of what the record should be. Britain entered a shooting war with Argentina in the Falkland Island conflict. The idea that Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister at the time, would simply, over a luncheon, decide to send men into battle over islands that were thousands of miles away from Great Britain angered Waters. Waters’ father had died in World War Two, as explored in The Wall, and he felt that this hunger to go to war betrayed the things that his father, and others, had died for. In short, that Thatcher had betrayed the “post-war dream.” Waters suddenly began adding new material to the album that very directly attacked Thatcher (referred to throughout as “Maggie”).
So, what is the album? Well, the concept of the album is a Waters scream of rage against war. He feels that humanity should have learned by now and no longer used war as a means of solving problems. He also feels that the world should become more liberal and that society should be doing a better job of taking care of each other which is a deep seated belief of Waters who was raised by a mother who had strong socialist beliefs. This is not an album that is happy, though. There is no happy ending here to leave the listener happy as he or she walks away.
The album, then, expands on characters from The Wall. It then segues into an attack against modern culture and attacks societies seeming dependence and love of going to war. Thus, given today’s culture and the various wars that so much of the world is currently engaged in, it remains remarkably timely.
The main character of the first part of the album is one that anyone familiar with The Wall should know: the teacher. Yes, the same teacher that is so much a villain in The Wall is expanded upon here. As the album opens we hear news reports discussing the Falkland Wars. One snippet of news discusses how a ship that has been lost in the conflict will be replaced by a ship made not in Great Britain, where jobs were needed, but in Japan. As this plays, Waters’ voice (really the only voice you hear throughout) asks if this recent conflict is a betrayal of his father. This then leads into the story of the teacher.
As we move forward we discover that the reason the teacher is such a bastard in The Wall is that he is a former World War Two pilot. Having managed to survive the war, he returns home to a heroes welcome, but finds he is completely unable to deal with the memories of war. Trying to find something to do with his life, he takes up teaching, but finds the next generation is not willing to give him any respect. At the same time, he wonders if all he is doing is teaching them so that they too will grow up and die in wars created by selfish world leaders. We also learn that the teacher is unable to relate to his wife and has no one to talk to about the memories that haunt him from his war experience as society just wants to forget and move on. So, he descends into alcoholism
All of this takes place during what was originally the first side of the record. Throughout it Waters is the voice we hear. Gilmour lends his vocals to only one song and that is on side two. The music is soft, sung just above a whisper by Waters, punctuated with moments of intense anger where the lyrics are shouted or screamed. Strings fill in the background as if Water is playing in front of a full orchestra. Interspersed within that are some dazzling guitar solos by Gilmour who recorded his parts separately as things between him and Waters had degenerated to the point that they could not be in the same place at the same time together.
The second song on the album “Your Possible Pasts” has a brilliant Gilmour guitar solo to give it a more conventional Pink Floyd sound. Waters lyrics are sung very clearly throughout. This time he wanted there to be no misunderstanding of what the album was about. At the same time, he manages to convey some of the most beautiful and powerful lyrics that the Pink Floyd ever recorded.
One of the highest points on that first side is “The Gunner’s Dream.” This is where we learn what it is the teacher cannot get out of his head. He remembers hearing one of his bomber crew, a gunner, dying over the intercom. As it happens he has a vision. He envisions the world as it should be and here Waters creates a lyric that is evocative and timeless.
“A place to say. Enough to eat. Somewhere old heroes shuffle safely down the street. Where you can speak out loud about your doubts and fears and, what’s more, no one ever interferes you never hear their standard issue kicking in your door. You can relax, on both sides of the tracks and maniacs don’t blow holes in bandsmen by remote control. And everyone has recourse to the law, and no one kills the children anymore. No one kills the children anymore.”
So powerful is this vision that it is literally driving the teacher insane. It is driving him so insane that his only recourse is to hang out with a rabble of friends in a bar across the street and get lost in an haze of “alcohol soft middle age.” He has become disillusioned because the “pie in the sky turned out to be miles too high.” Meanwhile, he puts on a brave face in front of his friends and hides behind “Paranoid Eyes.”
From here, things suddenly shift into the present and the narrative gets a bit hazy. From this point forward Waters focuses his attack not on wars of the past, but on the leaders of the present and the future. But first, the next track, “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Dessert” opens with a spectacular sound effect.
The Final Cut was recorded with a new recording process that produced “3D Sound” from standard analog recording methods. Sound effects were recorded, by Mason, using this technology to provide a three-dimensional effect for the listener. The effect is very startling when listened to on headphones. For example, when the teacher goes through the bar in “Paranoid Eyes” it feels as if the noise of the bar is all around the listener. In “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Dessert” a missile is fired in front of the listener, passed over head, and explodes behind the listener.
Waters now takes direct aim at politicians and people who were around at the time of the album. He compares the leaders of the world fighting over scraps of land to children fighting over their sweets for dessert. He uses the word play of the words desert and dessert to show how stupid and pointless the war is. He mocks how Galtieri, leader of Argentina, took the Falklands and how “Maggie” decided to send a “cruiser with all hands” to make him give the islands back as casually as if she were ordering her lunch.
This track leads into one of the angriest that Waters had written yet. He imagines the despots and leaders of the world being gathered together into a place he names the “Fletcher Memorial Home” which is named after his father Eric Fletcher Waters. He imagines this place where leaders can be housed and “appear to themselves on closed circuit TV, to make sure they’re still real.” Because leaders have no connection to the people they are supposed to be leading. Here the names of the leaders is a bit dated. He mentions Reagan and Haig, Margaret Thatcher and Ians Paisley. However, he also throws in the “ghost of McCarthy and the memories of Nixon.” He then spits the bitter question, “Did they expect us to treat them with any respect?” Finally, he suggest that the “Final Solution” could be applied to these “wasters of life and limb.” As a final note the song also contains another spectacularly angry Gilmour guitar solo.
The next song, “Southampton Dock,” discusses how many men died after World War Two. He talks about those families coming to see the men come off the boats and how many “spaces in the line” there were. He then compares this to a woman (most likely Thatcher again) now standing in the same place watching men go off to war again as they face death and battle in the Falklands.
The album then shifts into another extremely powerful and profound song. In what has to rank among one of the best songs the band ever recorded, Waters and Gilmour team up for “The Final Cut.” This song explores Waters’ own mind and his feelings of how he is dealing with life. He has dreams of having relations with girls in magazines but is unable to relate to the real women in his life. He has paranoid feelings of whether or not those around him would just leave him and “sell their story to Rolling Stone.” He bares his “naked feelings” and even contemplates suicide, but the phone rings and he is unable to make “the final cut.”
Then comes the only song where Gilmour lends any vocals. This was also the only song from the album released as a single. “Not Now John” mocks the general populace who seems to not want to deal with the things going on in the world around them. They are distracted by work and the trappings of modern life. Also, they are drunken idiots who insist on everyone speaking English and who blindly support their government and engage in blind patriotism (which reminds me of a modern Tea Party). The song goes back and forth between the guy who wants to ignore everything and the part of him who still sees what is happening and thinks he should do something about it. It is a rocking, hard-rocking, piece of music and provides a very guitar-heavy and loud coda to the album before the final song.
“Two Suns in the Sunset” then leaves the listener with the unhappy ending that Waters feels the world is headed for. He imagines heading home and suddenly seeing the two suns in the sunset. This is because “the rusty wire, that holds the cork, that keeps the anger in, gives way” and now the world is in a nuclear holocaust. He imagines never hearing the voices of his children again (and Waters’ actual children are heard screaming “Daddy!” in this song) and what society will be like once it all goes to Hell. Then, in another powerful piece of music, the song ends with a saxophone solo by Raph Ravenscroft who famously played the sax on Gerry Rafferty’s song “Baker Street.”
Other times Waters had wanted to end his albums on a negative note. He was always persuaded to change his tune by record companies. He added “Pigs on the Wing Parts One and Two” to the album Animals. He wanted to leave the wall up on The Wall, but was persuaded to tear it down. This time, he leaves the listener with the image of a windshield melting in the nuclear blast.
When the album was finished, Waters released a statement saying that the band Pink Floyd was a creatively spent force and he would never work with Waters or Mason or Wright again. The album was released and sold well initially but was not a lasting seller like so many of their others. For Pink Floyd management and fans, it was a failure. Fans were alienated and hurt by the album. It was considered too targeted to one specific time and place and not universally accessible. It was the one album by Pink Floyd that you could routinely find in the “cut out” bin at a record store.
However, the album has never entirely died. Although it has never been played live in its entirety, parts of it would show up during Waters’ few live tours. In 2004 the album was remastered and the tune “When the Tigers Broke Free” was placed in the number four slot where it was originally intended. That song is easily one of the greatest songs ever written or recorded by the band.
The Final Cut is definitely more personal. It is angry. It is a deep look into Waters. But his voice has never sounded better before or since. His freedom, once the band split, to bring in other musicians makes for some powerful moments of music that had never been heard on a Floyd album before.
The words and anti-war sentiment seem more relevant today than even when they were written. Sure, the names of the politicians have changed, but the world keeps sending people off to war for the slightest of reasons. It wouldn’t take much imagination to put some contemporary names in the places of the names that were prominent in 1983. Thus, the album is even more potent in modern times.
The Final Cut is never going to top Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here or The Wall for their best album. At the same time, it does not deserve the vitriol and contempt that most fans heap upon it. It is misunderstood and needs, at minimum, a second listen. For me, it is a powerful and emotional album. When I listen, I find myself not listening casually, but shutting out the world around me to envision the words being sung.
Thus, The Final Cut stands beside the best of the Pink Floyd albums. I think it succeeds there.