Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Final Cut

And so Roger Waters' tenure with the band he helped found ends not with a bang, but a lament.

Following the massive, surreal, psychedelic head trip that was The Wall, Pink Floyd followed with The Final Cut, another concept album that's about as far removed from The Wall or even the traditional Pink Floyd sound as they could get. Where The Wall was big, bold, and theatrical chronicling a rock star losing his sanity, The Final Cut is somber, contemplative, and even quiet. There's some anger here, but it's a subdued, shocked anger, coming from a place of genuine pain instead of lashing out.

"Tell me true, tell my why
Jesus was crucified.
It is for this that Daddy died?"

Like The Wall, The Final Cut was the brainchild of Roger Waters, and like he did with the former, he works his personal life into this album's story. Like his fictional counterpart in The Wall, Waters lost his father during World War II, and that loss hangs a melancholy over The Final Cut. Waters reportedly saw the then-recent Falklands War as a betrayal of what his father and others fought and died for, and The Final Cut is his response.

The Final Cut is less of a music album and more of a political and personal statement with lyrical verses and backing music for atmospheric and emotional effect. It's not a rock piece you put on in the background and bob your head to. There are no catchy choruses, pop-like riffs, memorable anthems, or soothing melodies. It requires careful attention from the listener.

Throughout the album, Waters takes shots at Margaret Thatcher, whom he refers to as Maggie. In the opening track, "The Post War Dream," looking upon the state of the world, Waters implores, "Maggie, what have we done?" On the satirical "Get Your Filthy Hands of My Desert," he notes how Maggie decided "over lunch one day" to take back the Falklands. The use of the word "desert" in the title should indicate what Waters thought of that territory. On the following song, "The Fletcher Memorial Home," Waters decries the leaders he sees as "overgrown infants" and and says they should be locked away.

"They'll be good girls and boys
in the Fletcher Memorial Home for Colonial
Wasters of Life and Limb."

The album gets personal and revisits some characters. Remember the teacher from The Wall, the one "who would hurt the children any way (he) could" but who is thrashed within an inch of his life every night by his fat, psychotic wife? Well, he's back on The Final Cut. He is returning from the war a hero, but in "The Hero's Return," we discover he's haunted by the death of his comrades. In "Paranoid Eyes," he can't relate to his wife or the people around him as he descends into drinking.

"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."

Other songs manage to be sad and peculiar. "The Gunner's Dream" tells about an airplane gunner falling through the sky to his death. As he plunges, he dreams of a future world without war. The imagery invoked is both quiet, tender, and horrific.

The Final Cut feels the least like a Pink Floyd album. There's the expected multi-instrumentation, including some jazz saxophone and backing orchestra, and the use of sound effects, but the music employs a lot of soft piano and minimalist drums and only occasional guitar solos from David Gilmour to remind us what band this is. Waters does almost all of the singing, using an echoing, almost whispered voice.

It's not an album to enjoy, but Waters' grief, anger, and feeling of betrayal are palpable. Maybe it's indulgent on Waters' part, maybe this is only for hardcore fans, but I keep returning to it and thinking about it. It lingers.

Standout Songs
"When the Tigers Broke Free" - The loss of Waters' father is felt strongest here.
"The Hero's Return" - This feels most like a traditional Pink Floyd song.
"The Final Cut" - Want to know what happened to Pink from The Wall? This offers some clues. Gilmour's solo provides some much needed release.

Favorite Moment
The closing lyrics of "When the Tigers Broke Free." They're just so sad and filled with pain.

Album Cover
Colors that seem to be military ribbons and patches across a black background. Maybe. It's vague and abstract, and it doesn't really pop. I look at it and have to wonder what it is.

Track Listing
1) The Post War Dream
2) Your Possible Pasts
3) One of the Few
4) When the Tigers Broke Free
5) The Hero's Return
6) The Gunner's Dream
7) Paranoid Eyes
8) Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert
9) The Fletcher Memorial Home
10) Southhampton Dock
11) The Final Cut
12) Not Now John
13) Two Suns in the Sunset.

Roger Waters - Vocals, Bass, Synthesizers
David Gilmour - Guitar
Nick Mason - Drums
Assorted other guest musicians but no Richard Wright

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