Review Summary: It's the end of an era as Roger faces his final cut.“The Final Cut was absolutely misery to make, although I listened to it of late and I rather like a lot of it. But I don't like my singing on it. You can hear the mad tension running through it all. If you're trying to express something and being prevented from doing it because you're so uptight...It was a horrible time.”
Roger Waters, interview by C Salewicz, 1987
There’s no denying Roger Waters’ prowess in the recording studio. As practical ringleader of Pink Floyd throughout it’s glory days of the 1970’s, he clearly displayed all the hallmarks of a great rock composer, and even proved to be a keen conceptualist, with his work on albums such as the eternally revered Dark Side of the Moon
and 1977’s Animals
still boasting themes and ideas relevant today. It was 1979’s The Wall
though, that would begin the slow decline of the band members’ relationships, and which would see Waters’ eventual disbandment from the group. His ultimate departure would have to see through one more chapter though, and this is Waters’ last swansong - The Final Cut
Originally entitled ‘Spare Bricks’
, it was intended to contain a collection of songs left over from The Wall
, plus new material. It wasn’t long however, before Waters had nutted out a new concept, that of The Final Cut – A Requiem For The Post War Dream
. This would still include off-cuts from The Wall
, yet when incorporated in with the newer material, would create a brand new theme on it’s own; ideally, the album is a tribute to Waters’ father who died in the Second World War. This concept was explored on the previous album, yet never on an individual level - as opposed to the fictional characters on The Wall
, this record was a personal account of Roger Waters' feelings and experiences about his father’s death.
However, this personification of the project presented an immediate problem for the rest of the band - guitarist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason - who had always operated best as a team. Mason and Gilmour, whose contributions to the previous album had been minimal-to-fair, would let Waters’ domineering on the making of The Wall
slide. After all, it did go a long way to rejuvenating their commercial career. The Final Cut
however, was quickly descending into what is regarded by many to be an unofficial Waters solo album. This is typified by the fact that all
of the works on the record were solely penned by Waters himself, with minor assistance from composer Michael Kamen, who had worked previously on The Wall
, on the side. David Gilmour showed concern in 1983;
“It's very, very much Roger's baby, more than any one has been before. It's not the way I'd have produced it and we did have an argument about the production on this record - several arguments. It's not personally how I would see a Pink Floyd record going.”
David Gilmour, Sounds “Guitar Heroes”, 1983
Drummer Nick Mason highlights his apparent indifference to the record in his Pink Floyd biography;
“I don’t think Roger feels entirely happy with The Final Cut – ‘deeply flawed’ is one comment he made, I believe. The fact that it is dedicated to his father spells out how personal the record is to him, and in a way how disenfranchised from it the rest of us were."
Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, Inside Out
So why on earth was this record released under the Pink Floyd name, when two thirds of the band members had no obvious involvement in the creative process whatsoever? Was Waters simply abusing a popular franchise to kick-start his premature solo career? History would certainly say so. The simple reason is however, several years after the huge success of the The Wall
, the label was knocking on the studio door for another Pink Floyd release, and considering The Final Cut
(which had no predetermined home under anyone's name at that point) was almost finished, it looked like it was going to be it. It was soon sold under the Pink Floyd banner, and cemented into rock history forever.
Pink Floyd – The Final Cut
‘Subtlety’ is a word often associated with Pink Floyd. It’s a characteristic found in some of their most admired works – from the delicate overture to hit Shine on You Crazy Diamond
, to the restrained drifting of Us and Them
. But while this musical containment is integral to the success of most of their product, is it possible to hold back too
much? Can this self-control be refined to the point where all melody and meaning is eventually lost in a sea of subtlety? If you’ve ever heard Pink Floyd’s highly misunderstood (and highly flawed) The Final Cut
, you’d certainly be prone to believe so.
That’s not to say the album isn’t exciting at times. On the contrary - the record includes some of the more thrilling compositions you’d find over their career, with rock numbers Not Now John
and the highly infectious The Hero’s Return
providing the material you’ll be tapping your feet to. However, these songs comprise just two of twelve (thirteen if you have the recently re-mastered version), which leaves a whole lot of melancholic meandering and a whole lot of ballads to wade through before the decidedly anti-climactic finale.
Considering the gloomy subject matter, it shouldn’t be too surprising to discover that most of the album operates on slow moving ballads, with large orchestral support working in the background - for added melodrama. Second track Your Possible Pasts
for example, is simply too quiet and unassuming to bare any remarkable qualities at all. Waters’ lyrics pale over an understated acoustic guitar, and when the drums finally kick in, it’s simply too late. Chances are your thumb would have already graced the skip button, with the confidence you had in your new musical purchase seriously waning. This same account applies to utterly forgettable track Paranoid Eyes
, which does little to raise the pulse at all. Considering the fact The Final Cut
is essentially a pop album, the subtlety that proved beneficial in their previous work – which was distinguished by it’s impressive flamboyancy - proves detrimental here.
This type of containment wouldn’t be so disappointing if there weren’t actually great hooks being lost in the barren soundscape. Make no mistake – some of the songs on this album are potentially superb! You’ll just have to open your ears a little and fill in the gaps to find them. What’s more, Waters’ vocal style – while full of emotion – is horrendously discreet at times. It’s almost as if the vocals were recorded in Roger’s local library, with many of the lines softly spoken as opposed to sung in full throng. However, while Waters’ small vocal range has never been a secret, he’s always fought above his weight when it comes to singing duties by making up for it in raw emotion. Fortunately, his efforts on The Final Cut
support this, with many of his heart-felt lines stirring pure sentiment in the listener.
Conceptually, the album is a hit and miss affair. Rather than focusing on one solitary idea, The Final Cut
divides it’s attention between three themes that interconnect at various points throughout the album. Unfortunately, this only adds confusion when an album comprised of basic pop numbers sorely deserves tight direction. The Final Cut
swings vaguely from one concept to another, with little cohesion or apparent forethought. The use of leitmotifs
to signify recurring themes should be a masterstroke (and in albums past proved so) but is lost here. It’s hard to pin the blame on one issue for sure, but the power struggle experienced by the band at the time – and Rick Wright’s messy departure previous – could explain the record’s conceptual flaws.
Wright’s unofficial replacement for the making of the album was maestro Michael Kamen. Having worked previously on The Wall
, Kamen seemed fitting to provide the orchestral support to Waters’ songs. His work on The Final Cut
is mostly superb, with tracks like The Post War Dream
and The Fletcher Memorial Home
providing great examples of his studious support. His brilliant additions to Waters’ brave ballad The Gunner’s Dream
is demonstrative enough of his knack for bringing out the emotion in Roger’s work. The only criticism is that his orchestral backing can be a little quirky at times, juxtaposing many of the album’s more touching moments, descending the record into a mess of soppy melodrama as a result. However, this is a minor issue considering his outstanding work on the majority of the record.
While the withdrawn production of most of the album hampers the proceedings, David Gilmour’s searing guitar still stands head and shoulders above everything else. With no writing credits to speak of, and a singing role in only one track (Not Now John
), Gilmour’s efforts with the guitar are still at the zenith of his long and prosperous career. The solo to highlight track Fletcher Memorial Home
is just one of his many fleeting moments on the record. Lead in by Mason’s thundering drums, it resonates with all the power and ethereality we’ve come to adore from him over the years. The emotional title track and Your Possible Pasts
also include imposing solos, and truly highlight his often underrated efforts on the album.
As far as individual tracks are concerned, there’s certainly some value to be found on this record. While the title track may sound a little formulaic (and eminently similar to The Wall
epic Comfortably Numb
), listened to out of context, and it’s definitely one of Waters’ more emotionally thrilling works. Lyrically and conceptually similar to The Wall
(it was a b-side from the famous “rock-opera”), fans of the previous album should definitely find much to like about it. Rock number Not Now John
takes from hit Floyd single Another Brick in the Wall part 2
and pushes the aggression further, while prog-pop track The Hero’s Return
deals with a returning soldier having to cope with post-war society and a blundering government. Musically, it’s the most interesting piece on the record and one of the more original works in their extensive catalogue.
It may all come undone with closer Two Suns in the Sunset
however, which effectively kills much of the momentum any of the preceding tracks may have created. The irony is; it’s one of the most utterly moving lyrical pieces Waters has ever produced. With poignancy and heartrending aplomb, it tells of an innocent man who meets his unfortunate demise by a nuclear attack. With the blast radius moving ever closer, he muses…
“And as the windshield melts
My tears evaporate
Leaving only charcoal to defend.
Finally I understand the feelings of the few.
Ashes and diamonds
Foe and friend
We were all equal in the end…”
With words as moving as that, the music could at least reflect the sentiment. Unfortunately, it’s nothing more than a passive acoustic track which is neither as epic nor as profound as it should be. As a single song, it's rather lovely. As a closer, it’s truly perplexing. Maybe Roger was trying to be ironic…
Irony aside, The Final Cut
is undeniably a momentous record in Pink Floyd’s history. It’s the last to feature Waters, and effectively ends an era that lasted more than a decade. Lazy people will liken it to The Wall
, but there’s definitely more going on here than what first meets the ear. Sure, that familiar voice is still ever-present, and those same resentful lyrics ring tried and true. But given your full attention, and The Final Cut
may just surprise even the most ardent Pink Floyd critic – provided they exchange a fair amount of blood, sweat and tears in return. Make no mistake; The Final Cut
is unique and at times considerably enjoyable. It’s just a shame there’s a few blemishes along the way.