The Wall tour of 1980-81 had taken a serious toll on Pink Floyd. But it wasn't physical exhaustion - the cumbersome nature of the show had meant only 32 performances over two years. Financially, the tour had made a huge loss which was footed by the three remaining band members (Rick Wright, fired during recording, ironically made a profit after being hired back as a session player). The group spent the remainder of 1981 and most of 1982 working on the film version of The Wall, directed by Alan Parker and starring Bob Geldof as Pink. Pink Floyd The Wall went on general release in July 1982 to the bemusement of many in the film industry; to this day it remains as divisive as the album which spawned it. Throughout all this the feud between Roger Waters and David Gilmour grew, and as clamour for a new record grew, the situation did not look promising.
'The Post War Dream' opens the album, and already we are encountered by one of the fixtures of Floyd albums - the sampling of voices and noises from the real world. Opening with the döpplered sound of a car whizzing past and then ever-more-bleak radio snippets, the track then dovetails into Waters lyrics. As usual these are dark, but there is a deep sense of mourning in them - instead of just paying lip service to his father (killed in WWII), he turns it around into an attack on the modern world. His voice shifts from creepy to a scream as only he can. It's a very emotive start to this controversial album.
'Your Possible Pasts' is more melodic, backed as it is with some thoughtful distortion from David Gilmour. Waters delivery is always caustic, but it shifts from a sarcastic whisper to a full-blown rant. The chorus - Do you remember me,/ How we used to be?/ Do you think we should be closer? - works because of this. Sonically this is like 'Mother' from The Wall, except louder and more in-your-face. As a result it's as good as 'Mother', being as it is hewn from the same block of sulphur. 'One Of The Few', meanwhile, falls short if nothing else because it goes against the positive example of the last two tracks. It's Waters on his own with an acoustic and a ticking clock, and it feels lazxy and self-indulgent. Being only 1:11 long, it's the shortest track, and it has the feeling of being inserted between songs as if to continue the narrative.
Now we come to 'When The Tigers Broke Free'. Written especially for Pink Floyd The Wall, it was included in the 2004 remaster and slots in nicely. Here Waters is atoning with his father's passing at Anzio, by making a barbed pass at the establishment which sent him to his death: the very way that he sings the phrase And kind old King George send Mother a note, when he heard that Father was gone conveys all the pain and hatred that sprang from that loss and has since permeated into his music. It's a very moving song, backed with a very good male voice choir, and Waters is reigning himself in from endlessly and pointlessly screaming, as he would do on The Pros & Cons Of Hitch Hiking (1984). It is not just a good song because it's so personal, it's also honest and a fantastic indictment of war.
Soon the whispers fade, replaced by the wailing of Gilmour's guitar on full angry setting. On 'The Hero's Return', Waters is back in rage mode, only this time he is decrying the younger generation, railing against the punks and politicians who have neglected all the war fought for. Look at the opening verse: Jesus, Jesus, what's it all about?/ Trying to clout these little ingrates into shape/ When I was their age, all the lights went out/ There was no time to whine and mope about. Waters in turning into his parents, in a manner of speaking, and without good grace - much to our delight.
The next track, 'The Gunner's Dream', is one of the most indicative songs on the album. It begins with an explosion, then gives way to a tragic-sounding piano - like the album as a whole, it oscillates between being a expression of regret and sorrow and an horrific indictment of modern Britain. Waters again takes lead vocals as both Gilmour and Nick Mason are pushed to the sidelines - this is without doubt Waters' album. Lyrically this is splendid. To some lines about dreams seem sentimental; here they serve as a desperate plea from Waters, for us to hang on to our humanity and the desire for a better world. It's not the greatest track on the album, as we shall see, but there are many nice touches, like the saxophone part, something which vanished from Pink Floyd after Wish You Were Here (1975).
Having expressed the sentiments of the older generation on 'The Hero's Return', Waters then turns it on its head in 'Paranoid Eyes'. This slow-mover zeroes in on the veterans who survive conflicts and are left with their lives hollow, revolving entirely around the past. Gilmour's acoustic work is very subtle and intelligent, but once again Waters is the centre of intention. This is no bad thing, though, when he is writing verses as good as this: You believed in their stories of fame, fortune and glory/ Now you're lost in a haze of alcohol, soft middle-age/ The pie-in-the-sky turned out to miles to high/ And you hide, hide, hide/ Behind brown and mild eyes.
So far, then, The Final Cut could easily have passed off as a sterling Pink Floyd album, despite Waters' megalomania. Sadly for him, and for the band, the next track are seriously below-par. 'Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert' is but an excuse to play around with the effects controls in the studio, create explosions and unnecessary echoes. And there is little substance to the lyrics, which are an attack on Margaret Thatcher as obvious (and thereby as useless) as Green Day's snipes against George Bush.
'The Fletcher Memorial Home' has often been derided by critics as proof of, amongst other things, Waters' total inability to sing. All such comments are ridiculous. True, Waters not have the vocal range of someone like Roy Orbison or Jon Anderson, but both of these are anodyne pop singers with an inability to convey feeling in what they do. Waters' voice is not pure, but it's snarling, raspy, brimming with irony and perfect for the Floyd's lyrics. To return to the song itself, again it's very good quality, one reason being that Nick Mason comes out of his shell and in the instrumental section duels a blinder with Gilmour. His drums are as heavy, as potent and as angry as Waters' lyrics are acrid in their criticism of the war leaders.
'Southampton Dock', on the other hand, sees Waters trying to sound romantic, crooning the lines. As we have just established, neither his voice nor his songwriting is suited to this style. As a result, his delivery is flat and quite slurry - like a lot of stuff on the album, there is no visible hook to drag you in - you have to give it your undivided attention to find something good. This song is actually closer to Pros & Cons in its use of double-tracking - having Waters sing the low part with his high part on echo above it features a lot. Perhaps it belongs there more.
Having sifted through all this acrid smoke and bitterness, we come to the title track. This is absolutely mind-blowing. In his vocal performance Waters concentrates all the bitterness, the malice, the fear and the regret that his subject has heaped upon him. He then channels it into the lyrics, which are completely from the heart (and yes, contrary to popular belief he has one). There are hints of Pink's fate in here - it is unclear whether Pink died at the end of The Wall, but here there are signs that he is still there, and still mad. Lines like Can anybody love you/ Or is it just a crazy dream? are utterly inspired, like something out of the pages of Nietzsche; equally, Would you sell your story to Rolling Stone?/ Would you take the children away/ And leave me alone? are beautiful in conveying the singer's loneliness - Thom Yorke aside, no-one does it better. Add in an equisite solo from Gilmour, and you have one of the best Floyd tracks, certainly in the later era.
If 'The Final Cut' was a song for the death of hope which left you weeping for all that was lost, then 'Not Now John' is a potent, bombastic number, inciting you to go out fighting. It's unusual on the album in that it's sung, for the most part, by Gilmour. He makes a great job of it on the choruses, while Waters creeps you out on the 'verses'. What this lacks in McCartney-style structure it makes up for in sheer power. Waters' bass lines are thundery and atmospheric, Mason has an understated field day and Gilmour, having been given his chance, shines. In the final chorus, Waters steals the limelight and makes a fascinating indictment about realpolitik and Thatcher, whom Waters sees as responsible for the betrayal of the post-war dream.
Against the run of play, the album closes with a slow-moving, almost calming number in the shape of 'Two Suns In The Sunset'. Waters may have quietened down, but there is still a sting in the tail - this song expresses his fear of a future nuclear holocaust, which he wraps in his socialist rhetoric in the closing lines: Ashes and diamonds/ Foe and friend/ We were all equal in the end. The drumming is distinctingly different, because it is not Nick Mason - not feeling confident in his abilities, Waters replaced him with session drummer Andy Newmark, who would later drum on Pros & Cons. Be that as it may, it's a good closer to a reasonable album.
The Final Cut is shot from the same gun barrel as The Wall, both in its genesis and its working title of Spare Bricks. All the material is from the original demoes, with the anti-Falklands vibes sewn over the top. Many Floyd fans who hate this record have a point: compared to The Wall, and its predecessors, it is a poor relation, in part because of the absence of Rick Wright. However, when taken outside of the Floyd context, it holds together very well, with a clear message and some lovely touches, if you choose to give it enough attention. Rolling Stone went as far as calling it "art rock's crowning masterpiece... Not since Bob Dylan's 'Masters of War'... has a popular artist unleashed upon the world political order a moral contempt so corrosively convincing, or a life-loving hatred so bracing and brilliantly sustained."¹ In all, then, The Final Cut is a very thorough effort from the Floyd, not their best album by any standards but a damn good effort. And when you consider that the band was tearing itself apart almost as the album was being recorded, you realise that's really saying something.
3.85 out of 5
¹ Kurt Loder, 'The Final Cut', http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/pinkfloyd/albums/album/107472/review/5943392/the_final_cut. Accessed on December 22 2007.