Search This Blog

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pink Floyd: The Final Cut


1) The Post War Dream; 2) Your Possible Pasts; 3) One Of The Few; 4) The Hero's Return; 5) The Gunners Dream; 6) Paranoid Eyes; 7) Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert; 8) The Fletcher Memorial Home; 9) Southampton Dock; 10) The Final Cut; 11) Not Now John; 12) Two Suns In The Sunset.

General verdict: For those who much prefer Pink Floyd as activists to Pink Floyd as musicians — or for those who want to hear more of The Wall, only worse.

And here comes the big split: the album that not only tore apart Pink Floyd itself, but also the fans, some of whom love the record to death and tear into its enemies like Maggie tore into Galtieri — and some of whom simply refuse to recognize this as a Pink Floyd album, good or bad. Indeed, even though both Animals and The Wall were conceptualized by Waters exclusive­ly, they still sound like Floyd albums: cosmic keyboards, blazing guitars, mind-blowing sound effects, tons of different stuff going on — Waters may be the conductor, but the Pink Floyd Symphony Orchestra is no slouch on its own, either. With The Final Cut, this is no longer even «Roger Waters & Pink Floyd»; this is a bona fide Roger Waters solo album, with special guest stars Michael Kamen on keyboards and orchestration, Raphael Ravenscroft on sax, Andy Bown on organ, Ray Cooper on percussion... oh, yes, and also David Gilmour on guitars and Nick Mason on drums, almost forgot to mention.

It is not entirely true that music and politics should not mix; there is no unwritten law like that, and in fact, there is no prohibition against music mixing with anything — as long as the balance between music and non-music is kept in check. Such is not the case with The Final Cut, a very rushed project that Waters hastened to complete in the wake of the Falklands War, while the memory of the conflict was still fresh in everybody's mind. For the first time in Floyd history, lyrics and direct political message took vast precedence over the musical structure of the songs: in fact, Roger cared so little about the tunes that he made use of several outtakes originally written for The Wall and wrote new (or modified old) lyrics for them (instead of the original plan to release them as outtakes under the working title Spare Bricks). As for Gilmour, by all accounts he never thought much of the project from the start, but lacked the energy to battle Roger on this, and essentially took up the position of a grumbly session player.

It is no surprise, then, that usually one's reaction towards The Final Cut very much depends on how much one sympathizes with Roger Waters, his social views, and his ability to express them. The music, predictably, mostly sounds like an inferior, much less catchy and much less energetic sequel to The Wall — very similar sonic textures, very similar use of sound effects, very similar alternations between loud and quiet, and even a very similar lyrical protagonist, except that this time around the hatred and the venom are targeted at the powers-that-be rather than parents, teachers, girlfriends, and showbiz executives. And this, really, is the only thing that can elevate the album above average: is there enough rage, enough passion, enough intelligence to transform the mediocre melodies into something greater?

For starters, this review is not going to be transformed in a discussion of Roger's leftist politics — honestly, I do not care if your name is Roger Waters or Ted Nugent as long as you have that genuine fire burning inside of you and the ability to chuck some of those embers in the final mix. The album's provisional title, Requiem For A Post-War Dream, is clever enough, I guess, and Roger's concerns about all those idealistic plans and purposes for the planet, for which our forefathers died in the war, going to waste in the wake of neoconservatism and nationalism and jingoism once again on the rise are certainly justified (and clearly even more justified in our modern age). That's OK, as far as poetry goes, I am not going to rail against questions like "what happened to the post-war dream?" or utopian visions like ʽThe Gunners Dreamʼ or the recurring presence of the ghost of Hamlet's, uh, I mean, Roger's father.

What I am going to rail against is the idea of one of the greatest, most proverbially perfectionist bands in the world going almost insultingly lazy on our asses — and, after an incredible decade-long run of constant creativity, innovation, and diligent work, suddenly deciding that now is the time to rest on those laurels and recycle old ideas. Be it the quiet organ hum, the low, tense, spiteful vocal whisper, the scratchy-delayed rhythm guitar run, the heavenly frequencies of the synthesizer, the macho arena-rock pump, we have heard it all — and in much better quality — on The Wall; for almost each song on here, you can find its earlier prototype on that album, and I am not even going to name any examples (they have all been named numerous times in profes­sional and amateurish accounts of the album alike). With The Final Cut, the awesome evolution of the Pink Floyd sound, stretching all the way from the early Barrett years to the monumentality of The Wall, comes to a close — not so much because the members of Pink Floyd have lost the capacity for evolving as because they simply lost interest in evolving.

I am not saying that Waters and Gilmour should have obligatorily be inspired by all the New Wave achievements: The Wall pretty much managed to close its eyes on almost everything that was happening around and still become an artistic and commercial success. But The Wall still gave us a band that was constantly looking for new sounds, new textures, new ways to exploit and manipulate your mind. The focus of The Final Cut, in comparison, is to give you a clear, well-defined social viewpoint, resting entirely on old pieces of musical software. This is the big difference between this album and Animals, where the message was less overtly determined by current events and delivered primarily through the music — one can easily disagree with Roger's tripartite dogs-pigs-sheep scheme, but one cannot disagree with the obvious fact that most of that album actually consisted of instrumental tracks. The Final Cut, however, is unimaginable without the vocals — it is essentially political poetry set to Wall-style music.

This is not to say that I actively hate the record while it is on. I like the good old intensity of Roger's voice, that snake-like hiss of his fricatives and the subtle menace in his high vowels that you can never mistake with any other singer's. I like Gilmour's guitar tone on ʽYour Possible Pastsʼ and all those other songs where he contributes solos that are at least not any worse than the ones he concocted on his own solo albums. I like ʽThe Gunners Dreamʼ, whose piano chords and epic vocals make it sound like solo John Lennon (although it may not be a completely healthy sign when a Pink Floyd tune begins to sound like solo John Lennon). I am not even enraged when we get down to ʽNot Now Johnʼ, the song that typically alienates fans because of its arena-rock monster riffs and needless screaming — we are not, after all, supposed to believe that Floyd could ever take the bombastic arena approach of Queen so seriously as to want to imitate it without any signs of irony (of which this song has plenty).

But the end result is still dull. It is as if with The Wall, Roger really succeeded in pulling out all of his worst nightmares and finding the perfect musical ways to convey them to other people; but with The Final Cut, he simply was not able to reach the same psychological depths when shifting focus from deeply personal imprints to the overall situation in the world at large. If The Wall was essentially an album about himself (and he did that part pretty damn good), then The Final Cut is more of an album about his father, and about all those other war veterans («is this what we were saving this world for?»), and, perhaps because Roger Waters is not his own father and not a war veteran, the entire effort comes across as misguided. I know that there are people who were, and continue to be, deeply moved by the message here, but there is a damn good reason why the entire Floyd stretch from Dark Side to The Wall continues to receive universal acclaim, while The Final Cut is kind of stuck in limbo — and that reason, in my opinion, is not even the lack of musical progress as it is this whiff of fakery.

We will even omit the fact that, probably, not all British veterans of WWII were disgusted with the UK's involvement in the Falklands War (I'd be highly surprised if they were). We will simply say that Roger Waters is great when he is playing himself; but when he tries to play somebody else, he comes across as unconvincing — and this does not have anything to do with whether you agree with his points or not (I, for instance, agree with quite a few, though I probably would not take such a definitively one-sided stance, had I been in this man's shoes in 1982 instead of minding my own business and not even giving a damn about Brezhnev's funeral). An alternate option, of course, is to insist that The Wall was childish (puerile? infantile?) and inane while The Final Cut is mature and insightful, and that Roger's fits and pangs of self-pity and self-hatred are so ego-driven and laughable that it is a relief to finally see him turn away from his own problems and look at humanity at large. To this I can only reply that you should always do whatever it is you are good at doing, and that I will take an effective, musically well-engineered bout of self-pity over a derivative, half-assed sermon on the fate of humanity as long as humanity is still alive and kicking.

As far as I'm concerned, The Final Cut is the final cut — the one album that showed the world that Pink Floyd had become a dysfunctional entity, completing the evolution of Roger Waters from a cosmic dreamer and sonic experimentator into a second-rate singer-song­writer, and the evolution of David Gilmour from the revered guru of psycho-blues into a dispassionate sidekick for a second-rate singer-songwriter. Oh Maggie, Maggie, what have you done... to this band? Was it for this that Daddy died?


  1. Surprised that you don't mention the title song's blatant reuse of the "Comfortably Numb" string arpeggios. I expected some genuine offense at that.

  2. I am Uruguayan and I can confirm that the Falklands or Malvinas War was a real tragedy for the Argentinean society, our close neighbours. Worse than Vietnam for the Americans. Not sure if Roger Waters was struggling because of the Argentineans but the album was more than appropriate or timely.
    Anyway, from a musical perspective, it sounds like a bunch of outtakes from The Wall, but less polished and without energy. So probably it was like George said, it was rushed in order to don't lose the moment. After all these years it hasn't achieved a classical status like the previous albums. But if you are in the right mood, it is worth to listen to it.
    Just for you to know: people from The Falklands feel very close to Uruguay. They like to travel to Montevideo and I am almost sure it is the only direct connection to the rest of the world by aeroplane. Even they are supporters of our national football team, in second place to England, of course.

  3. Yeah, for the most part all that one can say about this album is that it is irrelevant, whether to the Falkland war or to anything else. However, I confess to liking "Not Now John." The pandering backing vocals should have been omitted, I think, but I like the bombastic drama. I also like "Your Possible Pasts," which always seemed like more of an abstract meditation on betrayal in general rather than anything related to the war theme.

    The rest, though, I remember nothing about, so I think it's probably just as crappy as this review says, if not more.

  4. I remember buying this album when it first came out, hurrying home to put it on the turntable, and by the middle of side one I was hovered over the toilet revisiting my lunch. OK, that's an exaggeration.
    Someone once told me this album was an ode to Water's father.

    Seriously, I just didn't connect with it. Just like I didn't connect with Queen's Hot Space a year earlier.

  5. As a band Pink Floyd pretty much defines the concept of "more than the sum of its parts." After The Wall none of its members either as solo artists or in the various fragments of the group even came close to reaching the quality that the band had achieved during its 70s peak.

  6. Well, it is not as catchy as the previous and I was seriously underwhelmed when I heard it for the first time, but Final Cut turned out to be a grower. Nowadays I like it from start to finish.