Pink Floyd - The Final Cut
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
The Final Cut came out and Kurt Loder gave it five stars in Rolling Stone Magazine. Now we all know Kurt Loder- the hardened journalist among all the fresh faced pre-pubescent panty wetting VJ’s that usually populate MTV’s ranks. OK, so maybe he isn’t a hardened journalist. But when you have to choose between him and John Norris’ new hairdo each year- each looking shockingly worse than the last- and Matt Pinfield, who came in with Carson Daly but was quickly ushered out of the studio after that incredibly long summer when MTV reinvented itself, we’ll say, for the sake of argument, that Kurt Loder is the most respected music journalist/talking head at MTV. This, of course, was before we all found him to be the rockist that he is (in 2002 he hyped the Hives as the big new thing! And gave Bruce Springsteen’s new album five stars), perhaps he almost equals Jann Wenner in his embarrassing out of touch attitude towards current pop trends. But listen, all of this preamble doesn’t matter. Kurt Loder was right. Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut is a five star album. Here’s why.
Coming off the blockbuster smash of The Wall and the extraordinary live show that accompanied it (David Gilmour playing the solo from “Comfortably Numb” atop a large scale wall that was built between the audience and performer over the course of the show being only one of the highlights- another, of course, being that no one had to see Roger Waters ugly mug for much of the show), expectations ran high for the follow up. Ostensibly one of the finer meldings of Waters political/personal paranoia and Gilmour’s bombastic guitar work, The Wall found the group at a creative peak and, as rock mythology dictates, completely sick of each other. It was under the pretense of going into the studio to record the follow up record that brought the frequently at odds Waters and Gilmour together again. Nick Mason and Richard Wright sat in the back and tried to stay out the way, but Waters eventually kicked out Mason during the recording sessions. And after this record the group broke up because they wouldn’t follow Waters farther into his genius/asshole. Gilmour came in and laid down guitar tracks for the album, some of which were used, some that were not. Waters holed up in the studio constructing tracks built around his own personal experiences with his father and his absence during childhood. Few drums are used, the ones that are seem to be canned into this militaristic beat or forced into submission by the tone of the song. It’s more than clear that the improvisational talents of the percussion section were not needed- the ability to realize Waters’ vision was. And this point is one of the first things you have to realize about The Final Cut. It has the Pink Floyd name on it. But it’s about as much a Pink Floyd record as John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band is a Beatles record.
So you can imagine Waters in the studio bringing his lyrics to the group and the group being none too happy with the results. Existentialist angst, memories of childhood, a love letter to a dead father, an indictment of the English governments methods and aims- all the familiar Waters obsessions seem to be in effect here. But it’s not crafted into a concept like The Wall or Animals, and there aren’t any ostensible weak links on the album. The melodramatic interludes of The Wall and the ultra extended jam tendencies of Animals are nowhere to be found. And its not because Waters didn’t want them- some of what people might call bloatedness is here- but because he didn’t want to mold the lyrics or music to a single concept. Because this is an album not about single-minded paranoia as The Wall was. It’s about schizophrenia. It’s an intensely quiet schizophrenia with minor outbursts. The great thing about these outbursts, and one of the indefinable things that makes this record so amazingly vital, is that you can feel the yearning beneath the screams. It is these yells of longing that linger after the sarcasm and wit has been washed away by the somberness of the final track. It is much deeper than anything on The Wall. Deeper than the psychological angst driving The Wall? Yes. Here’s why.
Witness track eight, “The Fletcher Memorial Home” where Waters calls out world leaders for their tactics. It’s completely overblown in its sarcastic tone and absurd depiction of retiree world leaders congregating in one place to live out their last days. Up until this point the music has been all about texture, mood music punctuated by slight and slippery shifts. This overblown take and absurd lyric, though, meets its eventual end in the rock equivalent of a world leader speaking about important issues to the populace. A guitar solo. An over the top “Comfortably Numb” guitar solo that screams “pay attention to me! I’m important” When in fact, it’s the guitar, Waters, and the world leader screaming out all at once, “Look at me! I’m impotent!” It’s this sort of deconstruction of the elements that popularized Pink Floyd in the first place that makes this record so perfect.
Speaking of putting wry twists on the elements that made them popular, take a listen to the second to last track. It’s the “single”. Sample lyric? “Fuck all that we gotta get over these/ we gotta compete with the wily Japanese” As you might guess this particular song didn’t go over too well anywhere. But what better way to demystify the unintended anthem of “Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2”? Waters, no doubt, intended this as a test of what could be labeled pop song and what was acceptable, intending for kids everywhere to be singing along to the jingoistic paranoid choruses without thinking about what it all meant (a kind of futilely fierce political statement that was shown to be as pertinent as ever in Rage Against the Machine’s recorded output). The militaristic drumming and anthemic (gospel singers using the word “fuck”, brilliant!) chorus seem to be Waters’ worst nightmare for a song, judging by the scenes of Bob Geldof in The Wall, but it tweaks the formula ever so slightly to take it apart, leaving record execs to shake their heads ruefully. Isn’t it beautiful when a major label act can release something so defiantly non-commercial and get away with it? This is why Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut is as important of a release as Radiohead’s Kid A, Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, and Neil Young’s Trans. It’s about pursuing something greater even when you have all the money that you could ever want. And either failing or succeeding brilliantly. It’s up to you decide whether this record is a success or a failure, but I’d go with the former every time.