‘All war represents a failure of diplomacy’
So said Tony Benn. Whatever you feel about this view, it’s a starter for conversation and strong feelings. As was The Final Cut, by Pink Floyd which has war at its heart – in many ways.
Following ‘The Wall’ was never going to be easy. That album crossed over. It sold to fans but also hit the charts – ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ was toppermost of the poppermost.
‘The Wall’ entered the public culture. It made a massive effect. And so this album, The Final Cut, coming 4 years after the behemoth that preceded it, was always likely to wither in the shadows.
The Final Cut made no1 in the UK and No4 in the US, but it seemed like a band in stasis, Rick Wright is gone, and David Gilmour and Nick Mason are marginalized.
It was a Roger Waters album.
That’s what was thought. The songs on The Final Cut were credited to him. It’s a deeply personal story to him, his dad’s death in World War II and the link to politics of the time, the whispers were that he brought the songs to the band fully formed and would brook no discussion.
That may be; it may not. But The Final Cut, made up of songs from ‘The Wall’ sessions and new tracks, isn’t easy to like.
And yet I like it.
Pink Floyd The Final Cut
Perhaps the quietude hits first. These songs take their time arriving and when they’re here, we are often straining to hear music and sentiments just on the edge of our hearing – I prefer to think this is intentional…makes us undertake to listen, it becomes something we do rather than something that takes place.
The music here is filmic, dramatic certainly – although ‘The Wall’ has really serious subject matter, the music around it has a much more conventional Rock feel; this is full of strained silences, heavy moments of musical explosion, and brass bands.
Yes, there are brass bands to remind us of time passed along with political comments from the bang-up-to-date present – some of the writing was inspired by the Falklands War – so ‘Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert’ has a singsong vocal explaining how world leaders play with people’s lives in a way which makes it sound like a very disturbing game.
Quite often though, the music on The Final Cut is like ‘When The Tigers Broke Free’, which wasn’t on the original album, added in 2004 – swelling brass bands, hymnal backing vocals, Roger Waters quietly explaining or the calmly folky feel of closer ‘Two Suns In The Sunset’, which has a full-flavored Raph Ravenscroft sax to shatter the calm.
Dave Gilmour Marginal But Still Stunning
As there aren’t many guitar solos here, when they arrive, they tend to be a beautiful surprise – the solo cuts into ‘Your Possible Pasts’, reminiscent of that Pink Floyd No1 song on their last album, a whisper of a past long gone. And the clean tone to the angry ballad ‘The Fletcher Memorial Home’ almost tries to make the bad stuff go away…almost.
What About The Single?
That was ‘Not Now John’, a track I remember stalling at 30 in the UK charts, I felt angry that more people didn’t understand that this track, the album, wasn’t ‘The Wall’, this was radically different music.
There were issues with the song itself, of course, the lyric seemingly about the winning of the battle but losing of the economic war, the song seemingly in the mouth of a British worker telling we ‘…gotta get on with these, gotta compete with the wily Japanese…’. It probably wasn’t the time to have the conversation, 1983, at the height of Thatcherism, the banking Big Bang was about to happen.
But then, Waters was always uncompromising, even now he is having to explain himself, telling CNN, in a frank exchange, why his most recent show tells people who don’t want to hear a political view that they may be better off at the bar.
There is another problem too; f*ck. That’s how the song starts, that’s the first word, which is then carried by the soulful female vocals – ‘f*ck all that’ was changed to ‘stuff all that’ but it didn’t seem to matter. Even singing the track in Italian, Greek and French didn’t shift the chart placing or add to the appeal.
Yet the roiling, worrying feeling to the track is really well done, the febrile feel of hot industry and cold comfort.
The Final Cut needs reappraising
Yes, all of The Final Cut does. The almost club singing, tinsel curtain feel to opener The Post War Dream, the almost slithering in and plaintive singing of The Hero’s Return, the smokiness of the title track ballad.
This album, conceived apparently as music to accompany the film ‘The Wall’ was rewritten when the Falklands were invaded. It has anger at what Waters apparently saw as his father’s betrayal, it has drama, it has a slower pace; it isn’t Rock.
It’s on the way to the paranoid travelogue of Waters’ debut solo album ‘The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking’, but it needs different expectations.
Waters told Mark Blake in 2008’s ‘Comfortably Numb – The Inside Story Of Pink Floyd’;
‘The Final Cut was about how, with the introduction of the Welfare State, we felt we were moving forward into something resembling a liberal country where we would all look after one another … but I’d seen all that chiselled away, and I’d seen a return to an almost Dickensian society under Margaret Thatcher. I felt then, as now, that the British government should have pursued diplomatic avenues, rather than steaming in the moment that task force arrived in the South Atlantic.’
there’s that Tony Benn quote again…
The lowest-selling Floyd album since ‘Meddle’, but at the time Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone wrote;
‘Attention is mostly devoted to the music’s human textures: the gorgeous saxophone solos of Raphael Ravenscroft, Ray Cooper’s thundering percussion, shimmering string washes, the sometimes gospel-tinged piano of Michael Kamen (who coproduced the album with Waters and James Guthrie) and, on every track, the most passionate and detailed singing that Waters has ever done.’
but it’s hard to find a happy review at the time. Of course, the album has been revisited since then, Classic Rock Review making a good point;
‘The musical restraint exercised on most of the songs is effective in exposing subtleties of mood. On “Paranoid Eyes,” for instance, the music feels like a brew being stirred in the background.’
The Final Cut marked the ending of this form of Pink Floyd. They would return of course, without Waters and, in my view, without some soul.
This album is a wonderful journey, Gilmour accepted it was a good piece of work but just not the way he saw a Pink Floyd album going – if only we could separate The Final Cut from mega platinum ‘The Wall’ and the expectations of Pink Floyd music, it might find the air it needs to breathe
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