Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pink Floyd 15: The Final Cut

Roger’s irritation over the way the film version of The Wall came out was soon trumped by his rage over the Falklands War. The pent-up emotions he had reliving his father’s death in World War II on the big screen had already spilled into the new music he’d provided for the film, which then expanded into a song cycle recorded and released as the next Pink Floyd album.
Or was it? The Final Cut is basically a Waters solo album featuring contributions by David Gilmour and Nick Mason, Rick Wright having been jettisoned as soon as they finished the Wall tour. Much of the music is slow and mournful, as one might expect from a requiem, Roger’s cutting vocals often supported simply by piano, an acoustic guitar and the National Philharmonic Orchestra. But there’s enough Gilmour on guitar scattered throughout to remind you whose name is on the spine of the jacket.
As happened with The Wall, the album uses lots of sound effects to help illustrate the story somewhat. “The Post War Dream” rumbles in over the news on a radio broadcast to indict “Maggie” Thatcher for both starting the war as well as allowing British warships to be built in Japan instead of at home. (Clearly, there’s no pleasing this guy.) “Your Possible Pasts”, “One Of The Few” and “The Hero’s Return” are sung from the point of view of the schoolmaster in The Wall, but that isn’t exactly clear until you’ve seen the promo clips for the album. Once that starts to sink in, it’s easier to appreciate “The Gunner’s Dream”, which documents the final thoughts of a soldier as he’s blown out of the sky. As the last notes fade and follow us into the pub round the corner, “Paranoid Eyes” only underscores the lingering pain.
An excellent demonstration of the sonic details on display comes in “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert”, followed by a near-nursery rhyme, which leads into the horror of “The Fletcher Memorial Home”. In something of a twist on Dylan’s “Masters Of War”, Roger imagines all these corrupt leaders being housed in an old-folks’ home, before subjecting them to Hitler’s Final Solution. Besides being one of the more memorable songs on the album, Gilmour’s solo is suitably wrenching. “Southampton Dock” provides something of an interlude into the title track, wherein Roger talks directly to the audience (or his shrink, as the video would suggest) and suggests that tearing down the wall on the last album didn’t solve any of his neuroses. Then, quite rudely, “Not Now John” interrupts with Gilmour’s only vocal on the album, a hard Floydian rocker from the point of view of factory workers, with wonderfully out-of-place female backing vocals and ending with another Waters list. The comparatively pastoral “Two Suns In The Sunset” imagines the end coming in the form of a nuclear explosion.
The Final Cut is not easy listening in the slightest, dripping as it does with anger and tears, but it would arguably be the last time Roger came up with a concept so accessible while being so personal. Over time the strengths of the album emerge, as do the recurring musical themes that tie the songs together. And even if the other two guys in the band felt like afterthoughts, they certainly gave it their all.
While some may consider it tampering, the current CD version includes “When The Tigers Broke Free” from the film of The Wall inserted in the middle of what used to be side one. The song had finally appeared on the Echoes compilation, but its inclusion on The Final Cut is fitting, as it details the actual events surrounding the death of Roger’s “Daddy” on the beaches of Anzio. While very slow, the lyrics are as matter-of-fact as they are heartbreaking.

Pink Floyd The Final Cut (1983)—4
2004 CD rerelease: same as 1983, plus 1 extra track

2 comments:

  1. I'm pleased to see you gave this a relatively creditable 4 -- I think it's the overlooked gem in the Floyd catalogue, better than anything they did outside of Dark Side and Wish You Were Here. You hit the nail on the head in describing it as "not easy listening in the slightest", but this is a rare example of an album where the work you need to put it really is amply repaid. There are four or five moments on the album that raise the hairs on my arms every time I hear them.

    The only miss from my perspective is Not Now, John. I've never understood what that song was doing on the album -- it feels completely out of place, and not only because of the Gilmore vocal

    I hope you'll be going on to cover Gilmore's and Waters's solo albums: I have some strong feelings about the latter in particular, and I'll be interested to see how far your perceptions and mine align.

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  2. My uncle got his leg torn to shreds by shrapnel at Anzio, and he was at least as much of a grouch as Roger. But I digress.

    My knowledge of Pink Floyd or Waters' solo career is not deep in the least, but based on what I know, it seems like a classic example of entities that went their separate ways and enjoyed some success after the split (at least the Waters-less Floyd did) but neither party was never nearly as good without each other as they were together.

    Vance

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