Picked up a vinyl copy of this yesterday. Hadn’t heard it since I don’t know when—seems like I had a CD in the late 80s but don’t really remember it after that. In high school I found this album very moving; listening again after so long feels kind of strange, b/c I am more tuned in to my memories of listening than the actual music. I still like it though. Curious what Joe thinks of this record.
Ah, to be invoked. I’ll get to The Final Cut on Yeeshkul eventually, but for the moment, let me just say that this is the Pink Floyd album that I’ve waffled over the most. There are ways in which it is brilliant, even a masterpiece. I can see, though, how many would view it as a grotesque outlier, the least enjoyable album in the career of a band that specialized in making excellent albums. At one point, I may have leaned more toward this second category than the first, but I’m pretty firmly convinced it’s a great album these days.
I think viewed purely through the lens of artistic intent, there’s no way the album could be judged as anything other than a total success. Chris Ott’s original Pitchfork review, quoted above, makes this case as well as anything else I’ve ever read about the album. Pink Floyd was in a strange place in the early 80s. They’d been a punching bag for the punks, even as their own drummer produced the Damned, and they’d stomped all over the dinosaur dismissals with The Wall, which is one of the best-selling albums ever and also among the strangest ever to sell in the millions.
Before drawing conclusions about The Final Cut and its place in the band’s discography, I think it’s helpful to listen to it side-by-side with The Wall. This is a point Ott made, but I’ll make it again—if you extract “Run Like Hell,” “Comfortably Numb,” “Young Lust,” “Another Brick In the Wall Part 2” and “Hey You” from The Wall, the album you’re left with clearly points the way toward The Final Cut.
So you had a band that was at a commercial peak. They probably seemed unstoppable to all concerned, but they were also at a weird impasse—they’d made The Wall and spent unbelievable resources staging it and turning it into a turgid, deeply flawed but also kind of ingenious feature film, and where do you go from there?
"Comfortably Numb" aside, The Wall was a musical departure for the band even in its most accessible arena rock moments. Waters had sacked Richard Wright, whose keyboards were a defining element of the band’s sound right through 1977’s Animals, which I maintain is much more a punk album than a prog album in spite of its lengthy songs.
The only direction forward was to go even further than The Wall, to open up the floodgates and set your demons fully upon your listeners. There shouldn’t be any doubt that the decision about direction was solely Roger Waters’. He was absolutely the creative force behind the band at this point. Listen to David Gilmour’s second solo album, About Face, released in 1984, the year after the Final Cut. It has some songs on it that I love, but would you have accepted any of them as the new Pink Floyd after the Wall? It isn’t an album many people have heard, but I suspect the answer for most would be no. It would have felt like a retreat—relative to what Waters was writing concurrently, it’s very conservative (musically, not politically—Gilmour and Waters were largely in agreement on that score).
So the demons loosed, then. That’s what the Final Cut was. That’s the reason that this album with no choruses and only one somewhat conventional rock song (“Not Now John,” easily the worst thing on the album) is so powerful and cathartic. It didn’t come out of nowhere—it had been boiling in Waters for years, seeping out in songs here and there as they released albums. Check “Corporal Clegg,” from 1968’s A Saucerful of Secrets, or especially “Free Four,” from 1972’s overlooked and excellent Obscured By Clouds. “Free Four” is the first songs Waters wrote about his father, and he masked his real feelings behind a bouncy rhythm, cheeky sarcasm and a blanket of VCS3 synthesizer. It was tossed off for a soundtrack. These thoughts are there in “Time” and “Us & Them,” too, and of course on the Wall.
The Final Cut is an album about which volumes could be written—I suppose that alone is proof of how pregnant with meaning and ideas it is. For me, the album’s highlight is “The Hero’s Return,” which is just unbelievable, but I think its true genius is actually best heard in the “Fletcher Memorial Home”/”Southampton Dock”/”The Final Cut” triptych, which neatly collects Waters’ political, personal and social comments into three beautiful, haunting songs.
Like Mark, I was deeply affected by this album in high school, and then I drifted away from it in my cynical 20s, and have come back to it fully recently. I think that even though it’s essentially an audio diary, it’s written in a way that resonates emotionally, and it’s a very brave record. It’s brave in the way Waters puts so much of himself into it without concern for how his emotional struggles might be perceived (in that respect, it’s also not very English). It’s brave for the way Waters uses his voice—he spent most of his time in Pink Floyd ceding the vocals to more technically accomplished singers, but he performs amazingly well on the Final Cut. And finally it’s brave because it doesn’t give the people what they want, so to speak. It’s a man at the peak of his fame willing to make an album people might hate.
And that, after living with it for sixteen years, is why I love the Final Cut.