Dusting 'Em Off
Revisiting an album, a film, or an event on its anniversary

Dusting ‘Em Off: Pink Floyd – The Final Cut

on November 25, 2008, 10:00am

When recording sessions began for Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut, tensions between the bandmates were reaching an all-time high. The project was to be titled Spare Bricks, and would encompass songs leftover from the band’s previous album, The Wall. Roger Waters, chief lyricist and bassist, decided to take those unused tracks, write a few more, and base it around another concept. This upset guitarist David Gilmour, who didn’t understand why the songs were okay now, while they weren’t good enough before.

To make matters worse, Waters had become an all-out egomaniac and refused to hear suggestions from Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason. Founding member and keyboardist, the late Richard Wright, had been kicked out of the band for various issues before the sessions even began. For the first time ever, the feuding Pink Floyd would consist of merely a guitarist, bassist, and drummer. They would lose the “Pink Floyd sound” that set them apart from their contemporaries, and a large portion of their fan base. In the end, Roger Waters would leave the band to pursue a solo career.

Despite all these issues, why is The Final Cut one of my favorite records of all time? It may not pack a punch musically, but lyrically the album is a masterwork. The album’s themes still resonate today and always will, whether we would like them to or not.

The central concept of the album is based around the effects of war. It tells us stories of soldiers in battle, and to a more devastating effect, disenchanted soldiers who have returned home. Questions are asked straight away in the opening track, “The Post War Dream”. It is a question that sets the tone of the record, making the listener uncomfortable, yet sympathetic: “Tell me true, tell me why/Was Jesus crucified/Was it for this that Daddy died?”

This theme of questioning is prevalent throughout the rest of the album. We hear it in the chorus of “Your Possible Pasts” (“Do you remember me?/How we used to be?/Do you think we should be closer?”), in the middle of the night during “The Hero’s Return” (“Sweetheart, sweetheart/Are you fast asleep?/Good/That’s the only/Time that I can/Really speak to you”). We hear a man afraid to open up his wife in the epic title track (“Would you sell your story to Rolling Stone?/Would you take the children away/And leave me alone?”). It is an album full of questions, but rarely has answers.

In “The Gunner’s Dream”, we bear witness to a man’s journey into the afterlife after being bombed, featuring a powerful sax solo from David Sanborn and an orchestra conducted by the late Michael Kamen. We are reminded to remember those we have loved and lost; not only fallen soldiers, but friends and family who have left us (“In the corner of some foreign field/The gunner sleeps tonight/What’s done is done/We cannot just write off his final scene/Take heed of the dream”).

As for anyone who suffers from or knows anyone with depression, they might recognize the character found in “Paranoid Eyes”:

You put on our brave face and slip over the road for a jar.

Dial the combination, open the priesthole

And if I’m in I’ll tell you what’s behind the wall.

Fixing your grin as you casually lean on the bar,

Laughing too loud at the rest of the world

With the boys in the crowd

You hide, hide, hide,

Behind petrified eyes.

The album’s crowning achievement is found in the closing acoustic track, “Two Suns in the Sunset”. The other sun on display is actually the blinding light from a nuclear explosion, serving a representation of “the holocaust to come” if we don’t get ourselves together as human beings. The final lines here are worth noting, especially for their possible subtext:

Finally I understand the feelings of the few.

Ashes and diamonds

Foe and friend

We were all equal in the end.

Is this a way of Waters apologizing to his abused bandmates? I doubt the man himself would admit this even if it were true.

The album was released in 1983, the year of Return of the Jedi and Flashdance, The Police’s Synchronicity and Duran Duran’s Rio. Popular culture was not exactly clamoring for a primal scream album from a man with daddy issues. This was the time of the Reagan administration, where bigger was better. A stripped-down Pink Floyd album was commercially doomed from the start.

Shortly after it’s release (despite a glowing five-star review by Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone), the album would fade away into obscurity. Despite great love for many other Floyd albums, I find The Final Cut to be the band’s strongest album from a lyrical standpoint. For those of you who may have initially dismissed it, I strongly recommend giving it another listen.

Listen to The Final Cut not as a Pink Floyd album, but as a Waters solo album, and you may be surprised. It may have been released 25 years ago, but it has managed to stay relevant during these troubling times.

Dial the combination, open the priesthole

And if I’m in I’ll tell you what’s behind the wall.

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