The Final Cut is Pink Floyd’s 12th studio album.
Pink Floyd was in a state of confusion after The Wall. Keyboardist Rick Wright had been booted out of the band, drummer Nick Mason was more interested in racing cars than music, and lethargic guitarist David Gilmour was powerless as the energetic General Roger Waters ran the leaky ship with dictatorial grip.
After The Wall, Pink Floyd’s first thought was to build some more wall. The idea was to release an album called Spare Bricks, which would bring together the leftover material from The Wall and music composed especially for Alan Parker’s film The Wall.
When Floyd got down to business in July 1982, the Falklands War had been fresh in Waters’ mind for a few months. The burning issue captured Waters’ attention so strongly that the conflict became a key inspiration for a new album. Spare Bricks was consigned to the dustbin and Waters decided to build an entirely new concept based not only on the Falklands War but also on Waters’ wider disillusionment with the way the world had changed since the Second World War. Waters saw the Falklands War as a completely idiotic mistake by his native England. Waters saw the whole conflict as essentially a populist manoeuvre by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to strengthen her political position by stirring up nationalist war-mongering.
”I am not pacifist. I think there are wars that have to be fought, unfortunately. I just don’t happen to think that the Falklands was one of them.”Roger Waters
At the more universal level, Waters was outraged that the welfare state, which had been promisingly built up after the Second World War, was crumbling as the right wing came to power in Britain. The promise of eternal peace had also turned into a worldwide cold war and the whole of humanity seemed to live under the constant threat of nuclear war. Waters decided to vent all his anger and sorrow on the subject on the next Pink Floyd album, The Final Cut, which was subtitled Requiem For A Post-War Dream.
The Wall had already explored some of the same themes and Waters saved four songs from the Spare Bricks project, ”Your Possible Pasts”, ”One Of The Few”, ”The Final Cut” and ”The Hero’s Return”, which had originally been proposed for The Wall. Gilmour was not happy with the solution. He felt that songs that were not, in his opinion, good enough for The Wall had no place on the next album. Waters hit back and asked what songs Gilmour had to offer for the album. Gilmour had none. Gilmour would have liked time to write songs, Waters referred to the suggestion with a glance, noting that if Gilmour had three songs in the last five years, he wouldn’t wait for the possible burst of inspiration from Mr. Guitarist.
So the project went ahead under Waters’ direction and became an extremely contentious and stressful experience for all involved. Apparently, along the way, Waters threatened to turn the project into a solo album. He had already used the same trick during The Wall to keep the rebellious crew in check. Before The Wall, Pink Floyd was on the verge of bankruptcy due to failed business ventures, so it’s understandable that the threat worked then. It’s harder to see why a similar threat would have carried any weight after The Wall when you’d have imagined the accounts of everyone involved would have been bulging with that huge success. On the other hand, it is also a different matter whether EMI would have agreed to such a move as Pink Floyd owed them another album.
Whatever the reason, Waters managed to get his way and marginalise Gilmour and Mason’s contribution to the album. Partly deliberately, partly because neither seemed to have much to offer. The music and lyrics on The Final Cut are both 100% Waters’ and he sings almost all the vocals on the album (Waters even designed the album artwork himself). Gilmour only gets to sing on one track, so his role is mainly to play electric guitar solos here and there throughout the album. Mason, on the other hand, does play drums on almost every track, but on several songs the drum role is very sporadic. The Final Cut is not typical rock music where the drum kit is constantly kicking the music forward, instead the drums are used in a more orchestral way and are often only brought in for highlights of the songs.
On the back cover of the album, Waters’ dominance is spun with the words ”the final cut a requiem for the post war dream by roger waters performed by pink floyd”.
So Waters managed to overpower his bandmates, but for some reason he didn’t want to produce the album on his own. The classically trained Michael Kamen, who had written orchestrations for The Wall, was hired to produce alongside himself and Gilmour. Recording engineer James Guthrie was also eventually rewarded with the title of producer. Gilmour, on the other hand, lost his after a dispute at the end of the recording sessions.
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The music is performed by four studio musicians (producer Kamen plays most of the keyboards), a few backing vocalists and a full symphony orchestra. The Final Cut has a semi-acoustic sound. Instead of synthesizers or electric guitar, the sound is often dominated by the National Philharmonic Orchestra (arranged by Kamen), an acoustic guitar or piano, often with a low-key sound. Mason’s drums are used sparingly, but when they do make their presence felt, they play with explosive power. And as bitter as the relationship between Waters and Gilmour was in the making of the album, Gilmour’s electric guitar still features quite prominently here and there.
Gilmour’s electric guitar wails particularly bitterly on the extremely dynamic ”Your Possible Past” and ”The Fletcher Memorial Home” where it plays with a melancholic, reflective yet emphatic tone. The sarcastic and largely orchestral ”The Fletcher Memorial Home” is one of the album’s highlights. In that fine song, Waters’ lyrics imprison dictators and colonialists in a nursing home where they in turn are humiliated and forced to live by the arbitrary rules of others.
Take all your overgrown infants away somewhere
And build them a home, a little place of their own
The Fletcher Memorial
Home for Incurable Tyrants and Kings
In ”Not Now John”, Gilmour’s guitar is also given plenty of space. In fact, it’s the only song on the album that sounds more or less like ordinary rock music. And the only one where you hear Gilmour’s vocals in the lead role. For a long time I thought that ”Not Now John” was a flaw in The Final Cut’s otherwise sophisticated and un-rock style, and it kind of is, but over the years I’ve warmed up to the song and even if it doesn’t fit seamlessly into the whole, it’s a very entertaining rally with its fuck-bombs.
The solo lead role is also handed over a couple of times to saxophonist Raphael Ravenscroft. For the first time, his tenor saxophone wails dramatically lyrically in ”The Gunner’s Dream”, where it is accompanied by Waters’ aggressive roars and a symphony orchestra striking with a blunt pathos. Ravenscroft is heard a second time in the very closing moments of the album in the exquisite ”Two Suns in the Sunset”.
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 be miles too high
And you hide, hide, hide
Behind brown and mild eyes
However, it is Roger Waters’ vocals that play the main role throughout the album. Waters’ voice wanders from whispers to roars and often sounds as if he is choking on anger. Or sometimes, in softer moments, in sadness. Whatever one thinks of Waters’ performance, one can hardly deny its passion. And while the vocal performances sometimes have a similar theatricality to The Wall, they also have a new authenticity.
The lyrics of The Final Cut are bitter, political, but on the other hand Waters clearly draws on them not only for a lot of his personal feelings but also for his own personal history, which comes out clearly, of course, in direct references to the death of his father in World War II. A subject Waters already touched on in The Wall. I can’t think of many rock albums whose lyrics beat The Final Cut. At their best, the emotional charge of the lyrics is staggering and their power is underlined by Waters’ passionate (and sometimes manic) vocal performances.
Perhaps the strongest vocal performance on the album is heard in the title track ”The Final Cut”. Somewhat reminiscent of ”Comfortably Numb”, the song features a similar insistent, circular, softly strummed string overtone to its more famous predecessor. Waters takes his voice from one extreme to the other in the song. He starts out singing very quietly and calmly, gradually building up the intensity until his voice finally explodes into a truly frenzied roar full of emotion. The dramatic arc is magnificent. The song is crowned by Gilmour’s bravely soaring guitar solo, which could have been much longer.
Waters is no natural as a singer and he had to work very hard to get the vocal parts of The Final Cut into the can. He was joined in a long process by Michael Kamen, who was almost driven mad by the lengthy sessions.
And where is Nick Mason? Yes, Mason’s drums are there on the album and often they play quite effectively, although this is more due to dynamic arrangements and production than clever playing. In the last song ”Two Suns in the Sunset” there are an unusual number of time changes for Pink Floyd, which was too much for Mason and he gave up his place to the session drummer Andy Newmark. Mason was also tasked with sourcing/recording the numerous sound effects on the album.
Built in no less than eight different studios, The Final Cut was recorded using a Holophonic system designed to add an extra three-dimensionality to the music. I can’t say what the ultimate significance of Holophonic is, but the album sounds really good all the way through. Particularly impressive is the wide dynamic range of the album, which Waters uses effectively to build up the dramatic arcs. Few rock albums are as sharp in their dynamic variations as The Final Cut. I know some people will find it distracting, but I personally love the sounds on this album and wish more bands would dare to go as far.
The album ends with the absolute highlight, the stunningly gorgeous and moving closing track ”Two Suns in the Sunset”.
Mostly in 4/4, the atmospheric track contains a few subtle lapses into divergent tempos which, as we’ve already learned, was too much for Mason. This adds a certain unpredictable energy to the song and of course allows for a perfect rhythm with the passionately sung lyrics by Waters who, admittedly, is the real star of the song with his passionate vocals.
Ravenscroft’s saxophone returns in the song’s coda. The melody written for him is gorgeous and the mood is strong, but his tone is a little too soft.
The lyrics of ”Two Suns In The Sunset” paint a darkly moody picture of a moment when the world’s obsession with war reaches its climax. In the song’s story, a family man drives his car towards the sunset until suddenly two suns glow in the sky, one of which turns into a mushroom cloud. The last three verses of ”Two Suns In The Sunset” are perhaps the most chilling rock lyrics I’ve ever heard. Especially when combined with the relatively laid-back music and Waters’ vocals, which for about the first time on the album sound sympathetic and downright companionable.
The wire that holds the cork
That keeps the anger in
And suddenly it’s day again.
The sun is in the east
Even though the day is done.
Two suns in the sunset
Could be the human race is run.
Like the moment when the brakes lock
And you slide towards the big truck
You stretch the frozen moments with your fear.
And you’ll never hear their voices
And you’ll never see their faces
You have no recourse to the law anymore.
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.
A really chilling end to the album. It is one of Pink Floyd’s, or Roger Waters’, greatest songs and serves as the perfect swan song for his Pink Floyd era. In a way it would have been beautiful if it had also been the finale of the whole band. In the end everyone would have been equal even though in the everyday life of Pink Floyd some had long been more equal than others… ’Foe and friend… We were all equal in the end’.
The 2004 re-release added a song ”When The Tigers Broke Free” in the middle of the album, which was leftover material from The Wall that had already found a home in The Wall movie. Completely without rock instruments and accompanied only by brass, drums and a male choir, the song is a great listen, but for me, used to the original song list, it feels alien as part of the album. Thematically, the song about the invasion of Anzio, who killed Waters’ father Eric Waters in the Second World War, fits the whole as it breaks ground for many other songs about post-war disappointments.
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The Final Cut went to number one on the album charts in the UK, among other places. However, this says more about Pink Floyd’s enormous popularity after The Wall than about the commerciality of The Final Cut (as anyone reading this site will understand, chart success has never had anything to do with quality). In the longer term, the sales figures were a way below what Floyd had usually achieved after Dark Side Of The Moon. In the long run, it is also obvious that The Final Cut is not held in very high esteem by the average Pink Floyd fan. The album received a mixed reception in the reviews when it was released. Some critics praised the album (”art-rock’s crowning masterpiece” – Rolling Stone), while others relegated it to the depths of the earth as ”a miletone in the history of awfulness” – Melody Maker).
Ultimately, the biggest problem with The Final Cut is probably that it was released under the Pink Floyd label and not as Roger Waters’ first solo album. Waters himself has claimed that he would have been perfectly willing to do this, but Mason and Gilmour objected because ”they understood that songs don’t grow on trees”. Waters’ claim, however, does not seem very credible. How could Mason and Gilmour really have prevented an autocrat like Waters if he really wanted The Final Cut to appear under his own name? In any case, released under Waters’ name, The Final Cut would not have suffered from the excessive and skewed expectations that are always placed on an album by a giant like Pink Floyd. On the other hand, even if The Final Cut is not Pink Floyd in its most typical form, it is in a way a relatively natural continuation of The Wall. Personally, some days I like The Final Cut even more than its predecessor. At least it’s a more consistent whole even if it doesn’t quite reach the brightest moments of The Wall or reach the same level of conceptual genius.
After The Final Cut, the Pink Floyd story was supposed to be over. At least if it depended on Waters.
Floyd didn’t go on tour after The Final Cut, but the band went into a kind of slumber without much further ado. Waters has said that he realised early on in the sessions for The Final Cut that he never wanted to work with Mason and Gilmour again.
Surprisingly, for years Gilmour and Mason, who had bowed to Waters’ will, rebelled. Just like the sheep in Animals rising from their slaughter hooks to challenge the dogs that oppressed them.
It’s a bit of a challenge to give a concise account of how the Waters/Pink Floyd rift finally happened, but I’ll try, with a few twists and turns, to set the scene in a few paragraphs.
In 1984 Waters released his first solo album The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking and Gilmour his second album About Face. The success of both albums was fairly modest and the gentlemen’s tours did not attract anywhere near the scale of audiences to which they had become accustomed in Floyd. Mason and Wright released their own electro-pop albums a year later and their success was even more modest. The musicians who had deliberately remained quite anonymous and enigmatic figures in Pink Floyd found that on their own, their reputation in the eyes of the paying public was quite modest. For Gilmour in particular, this reinforced the idea that he was not ready to start his career all over again at the age of almost 40.
Waters, Gilmour, Mason and manager Steven O’Rourke met at a fateful lunch sometime in 1984. For some reason, different parties had very different ideas about the outcome of the lunch meeting. Gilmour and Mason were left with the understanding that Pink Floyd was just on hiatus and would resume as soon as Waters finished his solo album. Waters thought that Gilmour and Mason had understood his message, which was that Pink Floyd no longer existed. Shortly after the release of The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking, Waters declared in the media that Pink Floyd would not be returning. This was followed by negotiations over future royalty payments which eventually led to Waters informing the record company that he wanted to relinquish all obligations to Pink Floyd. Gilmour and Mason drew their own conclusions and interpreted this as Waters having resigned from the band. They decided to continue Pink Floyd without him. Of course, this was not okay with Waters. This led to a complex legal battle in which Waters tried his best to prevent the use of the Pink Floyd name. In the end, the various parties settled the case outside the courts. Gilmour and Mason were able to take over Pink Floyd. The long cold war between Waters and the new Pink Floyd had begun.
The worst mistake of Waters’ career was letting Pink Floyd slip through his fingers. Under Gilmour, Pink Floyd became a bloated and toothless stadium rock band. Exactly the kind of band Waters had attacked with Animals and The Wall and their associated tours. Under Gilmour, Pink Floyd managed to imitate the Floyd sound on a superficial level with 1987’s A Momentary Lapse Or Reason, but it lacked the intelligence, conceptualism and strong emotional fire of Waters’ day. And if The Final Cut really should be judged as a Waters solo album, then A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, assembled almost entirely by outside musicians, is at least as clearly a David Gilmour solo album branded as Pink Floyd.
Waters himself released a series of angry solo albums in which the lyrics became increasingly central. These albums contain a large number of great moments, but they don’t reach the level of Pink Floyd’s best albums. ”Together we stand, divided we fall” Waters sang on The Wall’s ”Hey You”. It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that none of the Pink Floyd camp fell apart after the split, such was the commercial success they all enjoyed in their own right, but on the other hand it is an inescapable fact that Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright made their best albums together. And that was when General Waters was in charge.
Best songs: ’The Final Cut’, ’Gunner’s Dream’, ’The Fletcher Memorial Home’ and ’Two Suns In The Sunset’.
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Author: JANNE YLIRUUSI
- ”The Post War Dream” 3:02
- ”Your Possible Pasts” 4:22
- ”One of the Few” 1:23
- ”The Hero’s Return” 2:56
- ”The Gunner’s Dream” 5:07
- ”Paranoid Eyes” 3:40
- ”Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert” 1:19
- ”The Fletcher Memorial Home” 4:11
- ”Southampton Dock” 2:13
- ”The Final Cut” 4:46
- ”Not Now John” 5:01
- ”Two Suns in the Sunset” 5:14
David Gilmour: guitars (1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10-12), vocas (12), backing vocals Nick Mason: drums (1, 2, 4-5, 8, 10-11), tape effects Roger Waters: vocas, bass guitar, acoustic guitar (2-4, 6, 7, 9-12), synthesizer (3, 4, 11), 12 string guitar (11), tape effects
Michael Kamen: piano (5, 6, 8-10, 12), electric piano (2, 5), harmonium (1, 10) Andy Bown: Hammond organ (2, 6, 11, 12), piano (5), electric piano (4) Ray Cooper: percussion (6) Andy Newmark: drums (12) Raphael Ravenscroft: tenor saxophone (5, 12) Doreen Chanter: (11) Irene Chanter: (11) National Philharmonic Orchestra: symphony orchestra (1, 5-10)