Monday, 4 May 2015
Pink Floyd "The Final Cut" (1983)
The Post War Dream/Your Possible Pasts/One Of The Few/The Hero's Return/The Gunner's Dream/Paranoid Eyes//Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert/The Fletcher Memorial Home/Southampton Dock/The Final Cut/Not Now John/Two Suns In The Sunset
"A warning to anyone still in command of our possible futures - take care!...You'll have no recourse to the law anymore...Oh Maggie, what have you done?"
Dear readers, the Alan's Album Archives political campaign has wheezed into action again for election week. Not that we're standing for office or anything - no, we've got something far more important to do, pointing out to people the root cause of today's troubles that seems to get lost in amongst arguments of 'but labour broke the bank!' (yeah because you lot in opposition told them to and told them off for not spending more wildly) and 'but labour took us to war' (which they did - but that's only the latest embarrassment given what the Conservatives did with The Falklands). Yes it's that time of the decade again when we consider it our duty to remind people of the uncomfortable truths they don't want to face and spell out where we think we're going wrong. Was it only five years ago were were pitting the characters of The Kinks' 'Preservation' against each other, where 'Mr Flash Cameron' took on 'Mr Black Brown'? So much has happened since 2010 and none of it good: The Coalition has systematically broken down everything that once supported us, taken away all chance at jobs and then punished people harder than ever for not having one, taken away the level playing field and then punished the disabled for not being like everybody else and systematically destroyed our younger generation simply for the crime of not being old enough to 'matter' politically just yet. Thirteen years of labour rocked the country, but before and after The Conservatives (with a bit of a C-legg up in recent years) destroyed it, taking away the little bit of good left after last time. With the media portraying the working class as scum and posh MPs hiding their worst excesses from us (one example that nobody mentions these days but which really got to me: the last meeting to decide what to do about the homeless was paid for out of taxpayer's money and included several bottles of champagne) we've been divided and conquered. Remember Cameron himself said we could kick him out if he failed to keep his election promises the last time round - and he's failed every single one, hiding them online so that we don't remember and hold him to it (though the figures are around if you search for them).
But we don't have to take it. The Coalition will be dead and buried any week now - don't send us another one. While we'd never tell you how to vote we've spelled out our reasons why we think Miliband is the lesser of two evils (or to put it more bluntly, that David Cameron is the more evil of the two lessers) so this is one last push: being unemployed is not the fault of the unemployed, being disabled is not the fault of the disabled and the financial crisis is nobody's fault but the bankers, who have got away with everything scot free. The debt that Cameron keeps rabbiting on about is now fare worse under the Coalition than it was in 2010 where despite all the savage badly thought out cuts that fell on all the people least able to do anything about it the last five years have seen far more spending than labour managed in thirteen. What's more most of the 'message' about the cuts is a lie anyway - yes our DGP debt has gone up but only to be the worst levels we've seen in this country since...1999, just sixteen years ago. The level is minute compared to the peak in the 1930s - and we seemed to get out of that one pretty well (taken as a whole the debt has been higher every decade across the 20th century, with only the first years of the 21st century the exception). Is that enough reason to prevent people having the money to survive whilst the top 1% of the population get pay rises? No we don't either. Now we've told you time and again on our site and on our twitter feed about just what damage they've done to us in the present so we won't lecture you anymore -instead now we'd like to pass you over to our sponsored review to better tell you about the damage done to us in the past.
'The Final Cut' is a divisive album. Any album that came in the wake of the already pretty divisive 'The Wall' album was always going to be - and yet this project, originally intended as simply using a few songs that didn't make that album, is if anything even grander and more epic in scope. The general consensus, not least from David Gilmour, is that Roger Waters was simply re-using tracks that weren't good enough to make the original album, but that's a little bit unfair. Most of the unused 'Wall' songs like 'Your Possible Pasts' 'The Hero's Return' 'One Of The Few' and the title track dealt in more detail with the abusive teacher from 'The Wall' which would have changed the feel and scope of that album considerably - it's about the causes of why the rockstar character Pink feels so alienated from the world rather than what caused the causes as it were. By giving The Teacher more of a voice, revealing him to be getting revenge on children because they're enjoying the lifestyle he never received and which was promised to him as a world war two veteran, Roger makes him much more sympathetic and suddenly it all makes sense. Right up until 1983 (and arguably right up to the present day) World War Two casts a massive shadow over modern Britain, the changed attitudes to the value of human life and the atrocities on a grand scale disturbing parenting for three generations now and counting (until World War One war was something abstract that people did somewhere far away because they wanted to - only in the 20th century did politics have such significant ramifications in people's own homes; World War Two was worse in this respect if only because so many people could remember what it had been like the last time). Roger famously lost his dad to the conflict even though he bravely stood up and spoke against the war as a conscientious objector, dying as 'one of the tigers' in the Royal Fusiliers Company Z at Anzio when Roger was all of five months old, despite having spent most of his adult life fighting for peace (the album is dedicated to him, 'Eric Fletcher Waters' 1913-1944). 'The Final Cut', like 'The Wall', is littered with World War Two references - the feelings of 'the few' facing a conflict they know will claim them, the 'gunner' seeing his ordinary life flash before his eyes, trapped in an extraordinary moment in time, the survivors for whom life can never amount to anything and feel a conflict is all for nothing, 'lost in a haze of alcohol and soft middle age', the teacher still mourning his comrades and the blood of war still ringing in his ears sent to teach the kids the world war was fought to 'save' - and who he blames for everything he and the world went through, survivor's guilt writ large.
However much as we'd love to blame The Coalition for World War Two, it's probably fair to say that Adolf Hitler had more than a little something to do with it. Where the conservatives some in is with what happened next during the time this record was being made - the parallels of which must have struck Waters as being eerily close to his memories. Margaret Thatcher had been in power some four years by the time 'The Final Cut' was released and Roger clearly blames her for failing to heed the 'warning to anyone still in command' when the war was over. For during the end of the conflict there was much discussion about what would come to fill its place. Liberal politician William Beveridge did more to boost morale than even Churchill with his talk of a fairer, more equal society that would have eradicated 'poverty, disease, ignorance, squalor' after the war . The welfare state was established to help protect the most vulnerable, education became free (by and large) so that everyone had a chance of progressing through the system (the fact that so many working middle and upper class people had mingled both at the front and back home had been key in reducing the British class system of the day, simply because people from different sides of the track could see for themselves that the others were 'just like them') and hospital care became cheaper and easier to access. Alas, though, this brave new world only got part of the way through before it was dismantled and like The Kinks' great work 'Arthur', the 'Teacher' of this album sounds as if he really believed it - and is furious when this bright brave future that so many people gave so much for failed to materialise.
Thatcher famously speeded up the process, destroying most of the mining and manufacturing industries that were the backbone of the British economy (Japan is Britain's direct competitor during most of the album, although they were only one of many at the time), making welfare harder and cheaper, ruining the idea of an 'equal' society and turning Waters' homeland of grudging equality into a dog-eat-dog world where no one is giving help or support. The communities that had grown up around work, the unions that helped people support one another and the last remnants of camaraderie amongst the working classes after the war were destroyed in three terms of Government, the Conservatives saved mainly because they allowed just enough of the people who vote to get rich and scaremonger them enough about how it would be taken away from them if the opposition get in first.
There was also one additional key event that occurred during the writing of this album and inspired most of the new songs: The Falklands War. Basically a war with Argentina over the control of an island that has more sheep than it does people, even most of those who fought in the conflict now question whether it was ever really necessary. The difference between WW2 (which was at least fought on ideologies like democracy versus Hitler's anti-semitic and very Thatcheresque ideals of a 'master race') and 'The Falklands' must have struck Waters as particularly 'wrong' - where millions gave their lives to save their children and grandchildren from tyranny, Thatcher had waged war over a territorial dispute leftover from the days of the 'British Empire' and which prior to 1982 no British schoolchildren would be able to point to on a map. Waters puts Thatcher central to the scene, 'bravely waving' her 'boys' off to war in a romantic pose quite unlike the slaughter that awaited them, but the truth wasn't even that glorious - those who fought in the Falklands were routinely ridiculed by the very cabinet that sent them there and ignored and vilified on their return, much as the WW2 troops affected by war were on their return. (They say that if the Conservatives get in again they're planning to spend a large chunk of what they save from the welfare budget on a Thatcher Library to mark her legacy, which must have had Roger grimly chuckling no end (as one of my twitter followers put it, why bother? The foodbanks seen today are the legacy she would have wanted anyway). Of course the ultimate irony of all this is that EMI politely asked Roger to speed up because they needed a best selling Pink Floyd record to help their end of year figures with a client they were interested in making negotiations with. That client turned out to be Thorn EMI who supplied nuclear weapons to America in a cold war and one of Britain's biggest companies' biggest contribution to this came on the back of one of the greatest anti-war diatribes in musical history. Roger must have laughed bitterly when he found this out.
As a result of all this political tension 'The Final Cut' is not for every fan. If you hate politics and don't think they belong in music then, well, good on you for getting this far down the column (although you're probably reading the wrong site to be fair...) If you only listen to Pink Floyd for the telepathy between players and David Gilmour's guitar solos then this probably isn't the album for you - its' a cheap shot to say this is a Roger Waters solo album but that's ever so nearly true: by this time Rick has left the band, Nick is only needed on about a quarter of the album (and even then is replaced by Andy Newmark on closing track 'Two Suns') and Gilmour gets one co-vocal and a bare handful of guitar solos which all tend to come in similar shades of brittle. In contrast Roger writes everything, sings everything except the overlap with David on 'Not Now John' and quite often performs alone with just an orchestral backing. That's both 'The Final Cut's greatest strength and it's biggest weakness: the record is a glorious mood-piece, perhaps the greatest extended 'suite' in the Floyd's history and whilst on paper so many similar songs shouldn't work at all Roger's use of dynamics keeps everything fresh and exciting. While some, including Roger himself, complain about Waters' vocals across this album, I put to you that this is his greatest singing masterpiece in his whole career, beating even 'The Wall' as Roger purrs, coos, berates, harangues, sarcastically remarks and taunts his characters, going from the extreme of a whisper to a passionate yell within the space of a few lines.
This makes the album heavy going even when you know it well, with lines you can't hear unless you have the record up loud and others that are too loud even when you have the record on quietly - hardly conducive to easy listening (not that this is an album built for easy listening). There are few tracks from this album you'd put on out of context (although 'Your Possible Pasts' and 'paranoid Eyes' are bother undervalued standalone songs) However it's also fair to say that 'The Final Cut' doesn't sound like any other Pink Floyd album and all the sound effects in the world can't make up for the loss of what the other members always brought to the band. Fans didn't have a clue what to make of it, the record receiving very mixed reviews and whilst peaking at #1 in the UK charts (something neither 'Dark Side' or 'The Wall' ever achieved) ended up selling less copies than any Floyd album since 'Obscured By Clouds' in 1972 (which, given Thorn EMI's role in the album, probably pleased rather than annoyed Roger). Overall, though, I'm one of those fans who likes 'The Final Cut': compared to, say, 'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason' it has lots to say and generally says it very well, taking a brave stance on a matter clearly very dear to Roger's heart and which needed saying (of the AAA brethren even CSN had given up making political records by 1983 - Lindisfarne's Alan Hull was about the only other battler left; his solo 'Malvinas Melody' about the Falklands would have slotted onto this album well). Yes Roger could have made this as a solo record - but it 's a point that needed to reach as many people as possible in the hope of opening the eyes of the odd fan; of course it had to come out under the Pink Floyd name.
What I love about this album most though is the very human aspect it brings to war. 'The Wall' was of course deeply personal and also touched on the same theme, but this is almost the only real war album where the ripples and consequences of world leaders are followed all the very way to the bottom where the 'little people' bear the brunt of it (I love 'Arthur' too for the same reasons). Everyone in this album seems to be doomed: the soldiers who died for nothing, those who died in prison camps for nothing, those who survived to be haunted by it and mistreated by a society who didn't quite know what to do with them, even those who were born long after peace had been declared and yet weren't always treated peacefully, with evil abusive teachers left free to let out their frustrations on the children in their care and equally evil abusive politicians desperately trying to have their 'own' war so they can look glorious and brave without having to lift a finger. Ultimately all that guilt and worry is of no help to any of us either because in the last song we all die, burning up in the rays of a disintegrating atom bomb as mankind finally loses that last shred of decency keeping his species together. 'The Final Cut' is awfully bleak , deeply depressing and relentless in its pursuit of the darker side of man's nature, it's true, but the juggling act between hating these characters and yet understanding why they do the things they do is very cleverly done and strangely humane. Only Hitler, never mentioned once by name, is the 'real' villain in this piece - not those hoodwinked into following him, not the leaders who opposed him, not the soldiers who fought for a better future that never arrived, not even the teachers who took out their frustrations on those they were put in place to protect. For all his image as a stern, taciturn figure you'd never want to cross in a million years, behind the 'wall' there's a real sympathy to Roger's writing which is at its strongest here, crying bitter tears at the same time as he damns the human race to such a grim existence of its own making. On that score alone 'The Final Cut' is a winner - and it's a tragedy that none of Roger's 'true' solo albums have quite the same scope (though the glorious 'Amused To Death' comes closest).
One key contributor to this record who often gets forgotten is Michael Kamen. Despite some promising early sessions where Roger and David worked together for the last time (allegedly playing the then-new computer game 'Donkey Kong' between takes on a machine brought into the Abbey Road canteen!) the recording sessions were hazardous and had to be done separately. Kamen was the one who oversaw it all, liaised between the warring songwriters and generally kept the record afloat. Most of the orchestral arrangements which give the album so much of its grandiose sound come from him and they're hard parts to write for, alternately mockingly cosy and suddenly stinging without warning throughout. The sound effects too, key to so many Floyd albums, are at their best since 'Dark Side' here - those really are the voices of Roger's children screaming 'daddy' as the world ends in the final track, the sound of a truck of foreign workers sounds amazingly 3D, the whispered voices intoning the war veteran to 'teach...teach' sound like the end of the world and if you didn't jump the first time an atom bomb explodes violently without warning the first time you played 'Get Your Hands Off My Desert' you're either lying or very very deaf. This record was one of the first to use a device called 'Holophonic Sound', which is kind of a 1980s date of quadrophonic sound that's very 3D and its perfectly used across this album, neither too much nor too little. 'The Final Cut' may not be the best Floyd album in terms of songs or performances but it's very well produced and both Roger and Kamen deserve the credit (alongside James Gurthie, hired by Gilmour to produce 'his' bits in a separate studio). Although that said even the latter found these sessions tough going: there's a familiar tale about this record that after spending a week with Roger recording vocal after vocal and worrying about which was better than which Kamen began scribbling something furiously on a pad. Roger asked what it was: Kamen was so sure that he was being made to suffer some awful punishment due to a misdemeanour in some past life was so desperate for relief that he was writing 'I will not fuck sheep' over and over as penance. It didn't seem to work: the 'Final Cut' sessions are some of the longest and most tortured AAA sessions of them all, the album being pieced together from sessions held at eight different studios (including Roger's home studio built in his house's 'Billiard Room') across five months in the second half of 1982 (an average of a finished song per fortnight!) - and more or less full time too, with no touring or TV commitments (though a curious 'video EP' of four of the songs were shot afterwards - the band don't appear bar Roger's jaw mouthing words in shadow and mainly follow Alex McAvoy as the 'Teacher'; 'Fletcher Memorial Home' depicting despots like Hitler Napoleon Mussolini and Thatcher is worth seeing though and one of the funniest things with the Pink Floyd name attached to it).
In the end 'The Final Cut' did what it needed to do. It isn't pretty (though 'Paranoid Eyes' is as lovely a song as any in Roger's catalogue), it isn't always thought through ('The Gunner's Dream' only really makes sense if you know the B side version with the extra verse) and some of the tracks don't live up to the overall power of the album ('Get Your Hands...' is a sound effect not a song, 'Southampton Dock' is a cheap 90 second laugh in an album that's a multi-act tragedy and seem out of place, while 'Two Suns In The Sunset' is strangely weak as a closing song designed to tie everything up together; the entire record would be better had period and rather personal single 'When The Tigers Broke Free' about the night Eric Waters died been included - thankfully it's on the CD, curiously as track four rather than at the end). There's also too little for David and Nick to do even given the difficulties of the sessions. However 'The Final Cut' is a powerful, much misunderstood album from an era that desperately needed brave men like Roger to come out and speak out about it. Would that our current era had a songwriter a millionth this brave this powerful and this spot-on with his attacks, then we might be in with a chance. Roger's last album with the band (before he unsuccessfully tried to dissolve the band in a court of law - they said that the band could only end when everyone agreed it should) is ironically the one where he proves that he doesn't need them anymore and couldn't be less like the 'surface' album 'Momentary Lapse' that's up next (though 'Division Bell' is more like it). Only the album cover is something of a let-down: this album needs something tough and edgy and starkly monochromatic; instead we get the close-up of some medals and half a Veteran poppy, plus the all too literal picture on the back of a soldier stabbed in the back (and carrying film cans - an in-joke because the soldier looked like Alan Parker, the director of 'The Wall' film who spent most of the project at war with Roger). Hipgnosis were reportedly prevented from doing their usual magic because Roger wanted to do the idea himself - it's the one time across this record that he badly over-stretches himself.
Our strange tale opens with 'The Post War Dream', the closest song here to 'The Final Cut's subtitle 'A Requiem' and starts off with what sounds like a colliery band sadly marching past the speakers in slow motion. A three minute ballad has Roger asking why Jesus was sacrificed and why his daddy died just for this - a broken England where all the dockyard work has been replaced by cheaper competition from Japan. Many commentators pick up on Roger's use of the racist term 'Nips' here and poking fun at 'all their kids committing suicide', but in the context of the whole album it sounds more to me as if Roger is anxious that both countries are losing out - that British workers were already pushed to maximum and outside importers undercutting them are paying for it with pressure and suicide (of course the fact that Japan was fighting Britain in the war - and is now doing better than the side that 'won' - is one of the album's delicious ironies. Roger then imagines the looks of the world war dead looking on accusingly with what he and his generation have chosen to do with their hard-won freedom: watch a lot of TV (he'll return to this theme on 'Amused To Death'). He then turns his sights squarely on the pantomime dame of the whole album, asking Thatcher 'Maggie what have we done?' Despite some very Floydian sound effects (as a soldier in armour clanks past a burbling TV set) and a haunting melody, this very wordy one-verse song isn't all that memorable and must have been a huge shock to fans after a sequel to 'The Wall'. Only a slight burst of spiky Gilmour guitar puts it anywhere close and even that part (credited to him) sounds suspiciously like 'Fake Floyd' Snowy White to me.
'Your Possible Pasts' though is an album highlight. In a turbulent song that sums up the album in a nutshell, Roger whispers his concerns over a stop-start melody that goes from icy calm to towering emotion in sudden bursts of exhilarating adrenalin. Roger's poetic lyrics are his best on the album, imagining alternate futures where all the bits of our respective 'walls' were never put into place 'fluttering behind you' while our parallel world selves have 'the ghost of a smile'. Far from believing that the war was done and dusted when Hitler shot himself in his bunker, Roger is keen that we remember our past as a 'warning to anyone in command - to take care' (yes this means you David Cameron!) In Roger's imagination he sees a 'cattletruck' (used to transport prisoners to work-camps like Auschwitz and eerily heard over the opening few bars) where 'the poppies entwine', the symbol of fallen soldiers simply shunted to the back seat of politics. Roger's view of the cattletrucks merely waiting in a siding for the next deranged politician to revive them is perhaps the most chilling image of a chilling album. A second verse then turns on Thatcher, again, comparing her to a work-camp attendant who knows exactly what suffering she is causing but doing it anyway, immune to the consequences, 'her cold eyes imploring...for the gold in their bags'. A third verse then sees Roger in the first person as an evacuee 'taken in hand' by 'the cold and religious' (many homes given over to evacuees were churchgoers in small English villages), a long way away from home as their 'old' life never to be found again lies behind them 'in tatters and rags'. Throughout it all that chorus keeps exploding into Roger's thoughts, an angry snarl of 'do you remember me, how it used to be, do you think we should be closer?' He might mean the band or he might mean all of us, wasting the love that ought to be ours that was denied to the WW2 generation. An astonishing song that makes full use of the fact that not much happens and leaves us as tongue tied and terrified as the evacuees as we wait for each last snarling burst of noise to blow the sweet melody lines on the verses away. Interestingly Bob Geldof reads out a few lines of this song during 'The Wall' film - it is one of the earliest pieces written for 'The Final Cut'.
The 90 second linking piece 'One Of The Few' is one of the album's lesser moments. The track starts off with the relentless ticking clocks of 'Dark Side Of The Moon' and the flamenco flourish of 'The Wall', which is a neat metaphor for where this track lies: the ex-soldier who has become a teacher against his will, haunted by the 'bricks' in the wall of his past and aware that life, which now seems so precious, is just ticking away. Roger describes him as 'one of the few to land on your feet' and he wonders how to make ends meet while a voice intones 'teach...teach' ion the background. There are again many possible futures that can be followed and not every war veteran turned teacher was bad or neglectful - but Roger's sarcastic delivery suggests he knows where this chap is going as he 'makes them mad, makes them sad, makes them add two and two'. Alas the song doesn't really have much of a chance to get going before suddenly and violently erupting into...
'The Hero's Return' - Part One (with Part Two added to the end when this song was released as the B-side to 'When The Tigers Broke Free') is another angry turbulent song, driven by some grungy Gilmour guitar. The 'hero' who gave his all has now become a villain, ranting about 'trying to clout these little ingrates into shape' and comparing the 'easyness' of the modern world with his own harsh memories of how 'when I was their age all the lights went out'. The middle eight slides uncomfortably deeper into the range of minor keys as Roger's teacher admits that his behaviour is because he's still haunted by his memories of battle, that 'behind my sarcasm desperate memories lie'. He tries to talk 'a memory too powerful to withstand the light of day' to his wife - but can only bear to when she's asleep. Instead he turns to us, the listener, relating his gunner friend's 'dying moments' played to him over an intercom going round and round on a loop with the thought 'that could have been me. Why wasn't that me?' Throughout this deranged song sudden drumbeats from an on-form Nick Mason (or despite the credits is it as claimed fill in percussionist Ray Cooper? It's probably a little of both) fly across this song as if the teacher is personally caning each member of the class for having the audacity to be alive when those he cared about no longer are. Listen out for the last verse which appears to acknowledge how low Pink Floyd's respect has fallen since 'The Wall' when 'banners and flags hung on everyone's door' (yes I know the booklet says 'war' but that's not how it's sung here and this makes much more sense). In case you were wondering part two is more of the same but set much further back in the past as the same horror angry-to-depressed cycle takes place all over again with the opening cry 'Jesus Christ I might as well be dead!' and how he's training human cogs for the machine' that sent his friends off to die. This is another hard-hitting song but it's a shame that it appears so soon after 'Your Possible Pasts' given that it basically repeats the same trick of spinning further out of control and then softening the blow so that you never quite know when the next spasm of emotion is about to hit. Another 'Wall' refugee, this song was demoed for that album under the name 'Teacher Teacher' before Roger decided to concentrate more on the pupils instead.
Instead of part two of the return though, which would helped develop the song a lot more, we're off to the hazy surreal world of 'The Gunner's Dream'. This time Roger is inhabiting the thoughts of the gunner who died, perhaps through the eyes of the teacher wondering what his last moments would have been like. The gunner is in purgatory, caught halfway between 'the heavens and some corner of some foreign field', watching his own funeral unfold miles away as he waves goodbye to Max (perhaps out mascot The Singing Dog) and his own ma and watches them walk away holding up the false dream that his death was somehow worth it: that life will get better. The post-war dream comprises 'a place to stay, enough to eat, somewhere where old heroes shuffle slowly down the street, where you can speak out loud about your doubts and fears...where everyone has recourse to the law and no one kills the children anymore'. None of this came true, in 1983 or now, with childhood poverty on the rise (another of Cameron's broken manifesto promises), shunned war veterans tucked away where the world can't see them or be reminded of them, where homelessness and hunger are rife and where censorship is key even though we aren't at war anymore...Roger is horrified at what the WW2 dead would make of their present modern world and turns in one of his truly great vocals on this track. After toying with us for some 4:15 the song suddenly crackles into life as the teacher returns, telling us that this dream has 'gone round and round my brain' and ending up with the most extraordinary scream on the line 'it's driving me insaaaaaaaaaaane!' which carries on for several seconds as it overlaps with his imagined gunner's last moments, the dead and the living locked in a curious duet where neither has what they want. Another excellent song.
However 'Paranoid Eyes' is the closest the album has to a lost classic. Roger is another war veteran, perhaps the teacher in his younger days, readjusting to life in a modern world that doesn't want or need him. Roger's eye for detail is spot on in this well observed song where his nervous laugh is just that little bit overdone, where he hides from the persecuting questions about his war days behind 'paranoid eyes' and he hides behind 'alcohol and soft middle age', unable to reveal who he really is or all the memories that still haunt him long after armistice day. The teacher then slips 'over the road for a job', perhaps trying to fit in with all the younger eager teachers but only really pretending to share their dreams and morals. Throughout the song we hear jovial banter at the bar coming from a distance, but the path is blocked by an epic orchestra of such longing and melancholy it's enough to bring you to tears even without the words. 'The pie in the sky turned out to be miles too high' is Roger's sighing realisation that, very much like Ray Davies' uncle 'Arthur', the post war dream was never going to be worth the sacrifice and was too fragile to withstand the real world, a false dream to keep soldiers and their families going. Listen out for a false ending where the song seems to get stuck on the riff, a neat mimic of the narrator trapped in the anxiety and confusion of covering up a question, while those at the bar laugh during the painful silence before the song gets going again. All in all one of the best Waters compositions in years, with an excellent lyric and a melody that's as haunting as the narrator's memories.
Onto side two and perhaps the most confusing song on the album the 77 second 'Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert', a song arguably truer today than it was on first release. The second half of 'The Final Cut' is much more about the 1980s than the 1940s although both are inextricably linked and after starting with some quiet and barely heard sound effects all mayhem is let loose when the loudest sound effect in musical history sees a bomb explode overhead. Contrasting the old days with the new, Roger tells how 'Brezhnev took Afghanistan' (second in command to Stalin, the Communist Party leader's last political move was to invade Afghanistan to prop up a Soviet-friendly regime in 1982 - America were so outraged that they, erm, did the same a few years later), 'Begin took Beirut' (the Israeli prime minister invaded Beirut in 1982) and 'Galtieri took the Union Jack' (probably a reference to the Falklands - he was prime minister of Argentina at the time). However Thatcher on the one hand ignores the earlier two bigger problems in favour of defending a small island and on the other is so convinced of her God-like powers that she thinks she can clear up centuries of conflict, decades of misery and endless clashes by simply taking the leader out to tea and threatening him with a 'cruiser with all hands' (what the media of the day - our media anyway - never said was that a peace treaty was within hours of being signed before Thatcher's trigger finger saw her give orders to shoot down an Argentinean vessel in neutral waters - oh the bravery of being out of range!) Yeah, like that's going to work - the sarcastic way Roger sings 'apparently' as if to cover himself legally is delicious though. These are all places where the teenage Roger visited whilst hitch-hiking by the way a time post-war when, so he recalled in the song 'Leaving Beirut', he was hailed as a 'hero' simply for being English and for being part of a nation that had supposedly fought bravely but that 'now an Englishman abroad is just a US stooge). Very short and a little one-sided this is another of the album's weaker songs - although calling anything this short a ;'song' is being rather generous!
Another great song on this album is 'The Fletcher Memorial Home' in which Roger ponders what to do with all the nasty power-grabbing human beings in the world. His solution is that, as they're obviously crazy, to lock them up and let them antagonise each other for a change and pointedly name the home for his dad ('Fletcher' being his middle name). In his hilarious lyrics Roger refers to these famous world leaders as mere 'overgrown children', imagining them playing cowboys and indians and spouting speeches to each other on 'closed circuit TV' where they can pretend they're important and 'make sure they're still real'. Roger adds that this is the closest any of them come to having feelings What's interesting is the choices Roger makes from all corners of the globe: Reagan, Haig, Begin, Thatcher ('come on Maggie!'), Paisley, Brezhnev, 'the ghost of McCarthy' and 'the memories of Nixon' (plus in the memorable video Napoleon chasing an overgrown snail and a very mischievous Hitler and Mussolini double act). It seems likely that if Roger had written the song today Cameron, Clegg, Osbourne and Ian Duncan Smith would be in there too - perhaps IDS can make everybody sit the ATOS tests over and over and then Osbourne can charge everyone for the privilege? Gilmour suddenly appears for the first time in a while turns in easily his best solo on the album, with a guitar part caught somewhere between a snarl and a laugh. An excellent song where 'the colonial wasters of life and limb' are stripped of all self-respect and treated like a joke, the way that evil tyrants and wicked leaders should always be brought down to Earth. Roger's chilling words of applying 'the final solution' might still be going a tad far - though to be far they all in their own way tried to apply it to 'us' somewhere down the line.
We're back to Thatcher for the brief ballad 'Southampton Dock', a Mills and Boon style version of The Falklands that sounds so much like something the tabloid press would have said at the time. There stands Thatcher, with her handkerchief and her summer frock, bravely waving goodbye to soldiers she doesn't get to know in person, sending them off to fight not for some ideological reason but because there's an election coming up and she wants to look 'tough' (the line 'her knuckles white upon the slippery reins' generally had the words '...of state' added at the end to make the point even clearer). This sits in stark contrast to the last ship that returned to Britain in World War Two, an experience now forgotten: that time 'no one spoke and no one smiled - there were too many spaces in the line, even the politicians so shocked at the scale of the bloodlust that they all agree to 'sheathe the sacrificial knives'. In the last verse the war veteran can still remember, can still feel the 'dark stain' of blood from the time when he and his generation were stabbed in the back. Roger's view of what happened to Germany's economy is wittily described here: 'when the fight was over we spent what they had made' but that wasn't enough to escape the scourge if 'the final cut'. Like many a song on the album this is good but really needs to be longer, with more of a contrast between the then and the 'now'. Full marks for bravery though - it's a wonder Roger wasn't deported after this!
'The Final Cut' is perhaps the weakest of the full-length songs. Not that it's bad - it just sounds like lots of other bits from the album stuck together in one long medley without anything much extra to add with all these points having largely been made already. A song about suicide, using the filming metaphor of a 'final cut' meaning a 'final edit', this depressing song has the teacher trying to escape the hauntingness by ending it all - but finds that now he knows how precious life is he can't do it. Roger perhaps chose the film metaphor deliberately, having originally submitted this song to the 'Wall' film soundtrack (ie Bob Geldof would have sung it)and having had some very bad experiences himself making it. However the narrative jumps - and not in a natural forwards and backwards way in time like most of the album. The first verse is surreal enough to be about anything, the second is clearly the teacher (who for his own safety hides his 'real' self behind 'the minefield in the drive, dogs, CCTV cameras, a 'shotgun in the hall', a hidden priest hole and a combination lock) and that's clearly him at the end again, interrupted from his debate whether to finally go ahead and end it all by the phone ringing (next time the phone rings in a Roger Waters song it will be doing the opposite job, announcing the end of the world - although sadly unlike 'Amused To Death' nobody bursts into a few bars of 'Goodnight, Nellie!') There are two takes on what happens during the end of the song when a pistol shot rings out (smothering the end of the line 'and if I'm in I'll tell you...what's behind the wall'): either the narrator really has killed himself or someone has tried to get through his 'wall' of defences and after navigating the mine the dogs and the camera fell prey to the 'shotgun' left for the narrator to defend himself from getting too 'close' to anyone. A curious verse then follows though, with the narrator 'making love to girls in magazines' in his mind's eye before we get to the crux of the song which sounds remarkably like a message to the rest of the band: Roger wonders what would happen if he shows his 'dark side' and asks 'would you sell my story to Rolling Stone - or leave me alone?!', admitting more paranoia that his children are about to be taken from him. The lyrics about bearing 'my naked feelings' only to find nobody cares will be mirrored by Gilmour in his 'reply' song 'Lost For Words' from 'The Division Bell'. However the lyrics and especially the music to this song are the point where 'The Final Cut' really does just sound like a pale copy of 'The Wall' - we have the same shimmering keyboard parts heard on 'Comfortably Numb' to the letter a similar story about a 'kid with a big hallucination' who was really just learning what it was like to grow up cold and emotionless.
'Not Now John' is even more peculiar and a song I've never quite been sure of. Gilmour's lone vocal on the album, performed with the same aggression as 'Young Lust' his cameo from 'The Wall', seems to sit outside the album somehow perhaps because it's so different to the Roger-sung ballads here. The mentality too is different though: Gilmour plays the part of an annoyed factory worker who keeps having to tell his lazy co-worker to stop bothering him because they have to 'compete with the wily Japanese' before Roger takes over in the middle eight and the last demented screaming verse. Waters clearly sides with the hard worker but his complaint that English workers are lazy seem at odds with the 'togetherness' of the rest of the album and his desire to make Gilmour seem as foolish as possible results in a curious lyrics where he can't decide whether David's part is the joke or his own. What could have been a great song, with a nicely dangerous and raw guitar lead from Gilmour after an album full of ballads, turns into an uneasy comedy song with Roger pleading to know where the bar is in all sorts of different languages. Some of all this is indeed funny - Pink Floyd were always better at comedy than their critics ever made out - with the long list of rhyming words that keep on coming ('break down need fix big six clickety click hold on oh no!') one of Roger's best use of his beloved list formats while his 'second' self who screams along dementedly over the finale is great, referencing the 'just boys getting pissed larks' of 'The Wall' right wing racist politics that far from being fun and a laugh is deeply scary for the people on the receiving end of it, even referencing the 'hammers' of 'The Wall and ending with one last sarcastic cheer for Thatcher and her war-mongering kind ('Nanananana...What?!...Hammerhammerhammer!...Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves...Go on Maggie!') Roger's very good at these sort of songs that capture everything that's gone just a little too far to be a joke anymore and this loutish song probably says more about the difference between the 1940s and 1980s than any mount of his poetic lyrics. Of course this sort of thing isn't for everyone and the track flopped badly when released as the only single actually taken from this album (the de facto sequel to blockbuster 'Another Brick In The Wall' four years on in fact) and had to be heavily censored, leading to the ridiculous scenario where Gilmour retreated back to the studio just to sing the word 'stuff' instead of 'fuck' over the chorus to mask it. The track also seems strangely ill-fitting for the end of this album too - had the factory worker been introduced as one of the pupils the teacher harrangued so that we see the ripples of the war falling further through the decades it might have been something, but a comedy a song between a song about suicide and another about a nuclear holocaust understandably leaves few fans in the mood to laugh.
'The Final Cut' badly needs a strong closer to finish, but sadly 'Two Suns In The Sunset' isn't quite it despite some more keenly observed details from Roger. Still a few years away from writing the score for the most grown-up cartoon ever ('When The Wind Blows'), this is an early song about what the cold war turning hot might mean and the devestation left in its trail. The narrator is, for some reason, in a truck heading home when he sees the blast in his rear view mirror and sighs over all the 'good things left undone' and that the human race will never get to prove how 'civilised' it can really be. Using the metaphor of the brakes on a truck failing Roger pulls on our heart strings one last time as he cried for the fact that he will never see his children again or comfort them when the end comes (those really are Roger's children Harry and India screaming 'daddy daddy!' in the background, just to rub the point in), sighing that at last the teacher knows what his comrades must have gone through and that 'we were all equal in the end'. Some of the lines, such as the windshield melting away and the narrator feeling his 'tears evaporate', are deeply powerful, but alas not everything on this track works as well as it might. Alas Roger's other sound effect (a loud comedy 'oh no!') is not one of his better ideas - this is another subject which needs to be told as a tragedy, not a comedy. Unable to think of anything to play, Nick was replaced by session musician Andy Newmark, a fact made very pointed on the sleeve, although Newmark's facsimile of Mason's clod-hopping drums isn't as strong as Nick's own playing; this means that the last song with Roger in the band probably features no other member beside himself - a measure of just how much Roger has come to dominate the band. This song in particular sounds like it belongs on 'Amused To Death', his solo tale of an alien race discovering human remains on Earth and wondering how they were stupid enough to blow themselves up, leaving a few clues behind in case they appear. However cold war songs were to a penny in 1983 - this isn't one of the best sadly despite the few shocks along the way and the melody is perhaps the most forgettable on the album.
Despite going slightly downhill across the second half of side two, however, there's no denying that 'The Final Cut' is a powerful and moving album, a grand statement that while being noticeably less accessible than 'The Wall' still deserved to make a bigger splash than this. The straggly lines connecting the past and the then-present are cleverly drawn, the outrage and passion comes over in full force despite the cold and distant way with which much of the albums is sung and if you could pick any album to describe the crazy mixed up period of the early 1980s it might as well be this one, which has the arrogance and yet the confusion in spades. Roger's always at his best when having some big grand statement to make and they don't come much bigger than this one. No, the individual songs pale against 'Dark Side', yes there's more filler here than even 'The Wall' (which ran for twice as long) and there's no one great song for fans to latch on to once the album has finished playing, although 'Your Possible Pasts' 'Paranoid Eyes' and 'The Fletcher Memorial Home' are all first-class material. But as a concept album, which follows the same story more or less throughout and which was released despite knowing full well that fans would be confused and upset by the endless politics and wall references, 'The Final Cut' is still up there with Roger's very best works. If nothing else it makes the pantomime villainous teacher of 'The Wall' almost likeable again - an achievement that no one who sat through the film the album or the concert tours would ever have expected. A far more likeable, rounded work than many people would give it credit for being - although unlike Roger I'm rather glad that the Floyd story didn't end here, with 'The Division Bell' a far more natural and Floydian conclusion; this record is a one-off and its uniqueness is what makes it so special - it couldn't have born the weight of being the Floyd's last will and testament too.
Meanwhile, back in 'our' world, the threat of nuclear war may be gone (not entirely though: what the hell are we doing with missiles still pointed at Russia? Most of them probably bought with the proceeds of this album!) but other threats to our safety remain. The second world war may be a fading memory now, a caricature relegated to the History channel every single bleeding hour, but it's legacy still rolls on. Or at the very least it ought to: all those things we learnt can't just be thrown away - we owe it to our past generations not to let their sacrifices be in vein, to maintain our welfare state and NHS hospitals and equality for the poor and disabled. Thatcher was a monster but with power that even she didn't have to wield Cameron has been acting like the devil himself, destroying everything that was put in place to help us help ourselves (did we mention the fact that Britain have broken the rules of the European Court of Human Rights six times already?! You won't get it from our news but the last five years Britain has become a laughing stock across the world, legendary for it's cruelty towards the disabled, the unemployed and immigrants - and for everybody's docile re-action to all of this). We cannot just right off this final scene, dear readers, while we still have that tiny bit left of the post-war dream. But will we have the strength to make the final cut? Will we see David Cameron consigned to the Fletcher Memorial Home for wicked world leaders? Will George Osbourne be told to go back to college and re-take his Maths GCSE (which the chancellor failed, remember). Will Ian Duncan Smith be so depressed from his axing that he winds up on his own benefit schemes and finds out how heartlessly people can be treated? Will Nick Clegg ever be able to look himself i the mirror again? Will the last five years just seem like some bad dream? (And why is it five years? Can't we go back to having four? Even though Cameron shouts about only serving two terms in office two terms at five years is more like 2 and a half under the old four years system!) Or will there be more suffering, more chaos and more needless destruction of the few things left from the post-war dream that now hang by a thread? The answer is in our hands (if you're a British reader anyway - sorry the rest of the world we'll get back to our normal universal selves next week!) Will we fall for the lies all over again? Or will we have the nerve to make the final cut? Go on Maggie....