The Final Cut: A Review

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Jan 20 2012, 0h44

The Final Cut (1983)




By the early 80s, Pink Floyd was basically finished. It was no longer a cooperative unit of musicians, but a full-fledged act led by Roger Waters, who now had absolute control over songwriting duties in the band. With Rick Wright gone, Nick Mason and David Gilmour were now nothing more than just a bunch of musicians that he happened to know really well. Waters and these musicians recorded another album, The Final Cut, a fitting name for such a project, as this would be the last time they would record any music together.

I’m not sure if this applies to any other CD edition of the album, but the 2011 remastered version of some of the songs on the album features Holophonic audio (I actually had to look that one up), which I wish could have been featured on some of Pink Floyd’s earlier albums. The planes whizzing above in the opening track and the footsteps in “Paranoid Eyes” all set the mood for their respective pieces. Had this kind of virtual reality existed during the early 70s, the band could have done wonders with the sound effects featured on their best works. It works best when listening to it on headphones rather than through speakers or on vinyl.

The Final Cut is yet another conceptual piece by Roger Waters, who seems to have gotten more than comfortable with writing in such a narrative style. Remember the schoolmaster from The Wall? The one who was barely mentioned in several songs? He’s the protagonist of the story, which reveals that he is actually a war veteran who tries to find his place back in society, only to come down with post-war depression, severe alcoholism, and the pain of facing the enemy once again. Think of it as an addendum to The Wall, or a prologue. It’s not required to listen to in order to understand the previous album better, but it will satisfy your curiosity if you ever wondered about that cranky ol’ teacher who would bat around his students.

The album features an unequal lyric-to-music ratio. Waters is more of a wordsmith than a musician. He’s a man who has many things to say, but only 40-something minutes to say it. Because of this, the songs are highly lyrical and jam-packed with information to decipher on many levels, causing the music to suffer as a sort of afterthought. Compared to the lyrics, the music is incredibly calculated and formulaic. If this is the first Pink Floyd album that a person will ever listen to in full, then the music will be incredibly impressive, but to someone who has been following the group for some time, the music will almost seem like a parody of the orchestral rock mix of The Wall and will feature tropes that are all-too characteristic of the band’s style. The album’s style may work in favor of Waters’ fans and those who value a song’s message over the music, but not for those who prefer the other way around. This album has its fans, but that probably didn’t matter to Waters when he wrote it.

Before getting into the main story, the album starts off with a two-song introduction in the forms of “The Post War Dream” and “Your Possible Pasts”. In a matter of minutes, Waters manages to reintroduce his favorite character, his father, and talk down on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and refer to the Japanese and their role in World War II. The track is mainly orchestral, which makes it seem like Waters had forgotten that he was recording a rock album until the last verse. The song, like the majority of the album, tries to be grandiose and epic, but it lacks the sort of connection it needs to move a listener like me. I usually look forward to tracks like that on albums of any kind, and if the melodies are mostly going to be variations of “Nobody Home”, “Vera”, and “Bring the Boys Back Home” off of The Wall, then those efforts should be reduced to a minimum.

We’re finally introduced to the war veteran-turned-educator “One of the Few”, which was inspired by some of the teachers Waters knew in his youth. There is beauty in simplicity, making the lyrics in this some of the most attentive in the entire album. Instead of trying to pour out as many words as there are emotions, Waters goes back to the minimalistic style that he often used in the first half of The Wall. Unfortunately, this is the most the album will display of this kind of style. A shame, since it would make the album more poignant by having both the artist and listener work together in connecting their perceptions of the events before them.

“When the Tigers Broke Free” wasn’t featured on the album’s original release, but at the time, it was used as a piece of expositional songwriting in the film adaptation of The Wall. In both cases, the song talks about the death of Eric Waters, a horse of a concept that has surely been beaten to death by this point. The placement of the song on the album is fitting, but in terms of content, it’s slightly confusing as to what the song is trying to address. It might just be Waters switching out of story mode to tell us about his father or it might be the son of a soldier talking about how he lost his father. The last line of the song, “And that’s how the high command took my daddy from me”, is painful to listen to and almost ruins a beautifully-arranged song. It’s one giant whine and a good piece of evidence to use in Gilmour’s favor as to why he decided to reform Pink Floyd without Waters. Musically, the song features a lush chorus and a trumpet playing in the distance. It’s chilling to listen to and enjoyable both in and out of the album’s context.

“The Hero’s Return” chronicles the schoolteacher’s mourning over one of his fellow comrades. It’s an overly-long, flavorless intro track to the much better and satisfying “The Gunner’s Dream”, which is about said soldier’s hope for a better world. This track, while it ultimately ends up being one of the strongest tracks on the entire album, has a lot more potential to it. It didn’t tug on my heartstrings as much as it should have, given its theme and orchestration, whatever emotion it did leave me with was only ephemeral. The “hold on to the dream” part was the only thing that really engaged me in the song. Of course, I knew that the lyrics were written with as much sincerity as possible, but I felt that the song was put there as just an anvilicious message to get out to the “ignorant masses”. Clearly, Waters has underestimated his audience.

“Paranoid Eyes” is unremarkable in melody and lyrics, but it presents the protagonist as a man suffering from severe alcoholism as a way to erase the painful memories of the war. The next track, “Keep Your Filthy Hands Off Of My Desert”, is, once again, Waters pausing the story to make a rant about all the fighting going on in various countries. While this may be another rant, it sounds nice to listen to and good enough to arrest my attention before going on to “The Fletcher Memorial Home”.

“Home” is undoubtedly the best track on the album. In a continuation of Waters’ raving and stream of consciousness (isn’t there a war vet we have to get back to?), the song is a fantasy sequence about rounding up major political leaders from around the world and putting them in a place where they can rot to death. Waters’ delivery on the track allows the album to be at its most visual. I can’t help but imagine Waters’ standing in front of these leaders in a function hall, dressed in his finest tux, and holding a glass of champagne as he recites the spoken part, breaking the glass in his hand out of rage soon after. The song also features Gilmour’s best solo on the album. Compared to his other guitar work on the album, this one actually has life to it. Poor guy.

“Southampton Dock” marks a turning point in the story where the schoolmaster goes off to war once again, leaving his wife to wait for him back at home. This is another brief track that serves as a set-up for the title track, another strong track on the album. The song is the canvas on which Waters’ paints his most beautiful vocal performance. The sincerity in his voice actually matches the self-evaluating lyrics of the character, where he analyzes himself and how others think of him just before he plunges himself into battle. What makes this track even more poignant are the references to previous Pink Floyd works scattered among the lyrics. Waters is also doing some self-evaluating here, looking back on the good times and realizing that he may be losing some very important people.

But never mind the sentimentalities. There are enemy forces to kill and bars to find, as indicated by the hard rock track “Not Now John”. The tension of the bouncing voices nicely illustrates the protagonist’s dependency on alcohol all while trying to maintain his composure in the line of duty. Waters isn’t afraid to drop a few bombs of his own on the track, launching enough F-bombs to take out the listener in several minutes. It’s a tiring track, but one that finally manages to squeeze life into the album, even for a few minutes.

The last track, “Two Suns in the Sunset”, ends the story with a nuclear holocaust and everyone dying within the vicinity of the blast. How cheerful. I first listened to this album on vinyl and, for some reason, I liked it more then than I do now. Must have been the sax. The last line, “We were all equal in the end”, has enough leverage to make the track, not necessarily the whole album, weigh on my mind for some time. A heavy ending to a heavy album.

A lot of fans are divided as to whether or not this is an acceptable part of the Pink Floyd catalogue. I say that this is only a PInk Floyd album in name. The chemistry between the band members is so non-existant that this might as well have been a Roger Waters solo project. It certainly feels that way. The music is all too predictable, the compassion in the lyrics is half-hearted at times, and it’s more about Waters making himself feel better rather than engaging the listener in a story that could be relevant to them. What if someone, like me, wasn’t a politically-minded person and could not relate to a lot of the material talked about in the album? Then, I suppose, this was made for a limited audience. The Final Cut is the worst Pink Floyd album I’ve listened to yet. The music was beautiful and Waters’ intentions were clear, but they lacked the heart to make them work. The album sucked my soul dry to the point where I didn’t want to write this review. Hopefully, I can gain it back through Gilmour’s incarnation of the band.

3/5

Key tracks: “When the Tigers Broke Free”, “The Gunner’s Dream”, “The Fletcher Memorial Home”, “The Final Cut”

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