Some things to consider if you’re coming to this new:
Well, it’s not a Pink Floyd album, is it?
Also, if you are coming to this new, don’t start here.
So what had been happening to our heroes in the nearly four years since ‘The Wall’ came out? Well, there were the thirty-odd stage shows, which lost a lot of money (Rick did alright out of it; he was on salary), and there was the film, which took up a lot of Roger’s time, and cost a lot of money – although that at least was gradually earned back over the years.
To help claw back some of the money which was being drained , EMI released a compilation / Greatest Hits album, entitled ‘A Collection of Great Dance Songs’. This features some butchered versions of the longer songs, and a completely re-recorded version of ‘Money’ thanks to original US label Capitol refusing to license it for inclusion on the US version. There are stories that Gilmour pretty much did all the work on ‘Money’, save some drumming from Mason which producer James Guthrie was somewhat scathing about. This version is here:
It’s a bit weird, pretty much a cover version. The whole album seems to be a pointless cash-in, but I’m sure it gave the bank balances a much needed boost. Incidentally, the cover was designed by TCP, which was basically Hipgnosis – one wonders if this was done to throw Roger off the scent.
Then there was the film of ‘The Wall’, as detailed above. The whole enterprise – making the film, then promoting it – seemed to finally kill off whatever fellow feeling there remained between the three of them, and work began on ‘The Final Cut’ with Roger in total control, and the other two dipping in from time to time to do what they were told.
It’s probably pointless to speculate on what might have happened if Waters had said “look, lads, let’s take a break; I’ll release this as a solo album, and we should all take time off to consider what we do next as a band”. Instead, he showed up with a bunch of songs he wanted to do with Michael Kamen (he had, with tedious inevitability, fallen out with ‘The Wall’ producer Bob Ezrin). Kamen provided keyboards and orchestral sounds for the album, various drum parts were recorded by people other than Nick Mason (although Mason is on some of the tracks); Gilmour essentially only contributed the solos (and sang on ‘Not Now John’), and the situation can be summed up by the fact that the cover was designed by one Roger Waters, and photographed by his brother-in-law.
The full title of the album is ‘The Final Cut: A Requiem for the Post-war Dream by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd’, although ‘performed by what used to be Pink Floyd’ would be more accurate. The fact of Wright’s departure from the band is made public by the fact that Pink Floyd is credited as consisting of Waters. Gilmour and Mason; there had been no announcement of any kind before this.
Mason tells the tale of how he spent days recording many of the sound effects for the songs, drawing on connections he had in the armed forces, only to be told in no uncertain terms that he would not be getting a credit or a cut of production royalties, as everything he did was considered to be drumming…
There was a single, released at the point when it still seemed likely that ‘The Final Cut’ would be called ‘Spare Bricks’ and consist of out-takes and leftovers from the previous album, plus some bits from the film. ‘When The Tigers Broke Free’ is the definitive ‘Roger lost his old man in the war’ song; and concludes with a line which you wouldn’t have got away with in a primary school essay:
This eventually found its way onto ‘The Final Cut’, after it became a CD, but wasn’t on the original album. It, therefore, remains the only Pink Floyd single I ever bought.
Over the months after the film was released, Waters reworked his ideas for the album into a set of songs which were generally anti-war, anti-Thatcher, and anti-nuclear weapons, all of which seem fair enough for the time. But however you dress it up, it’s still not a Pink Floyd album.
So, is it any good?
Surprisingly, I still like it a lot. It’s well short of the standards set in the seventies, but as a collection of songs, I think it still more or less stands up today. Several songs are much better than their reputation might suggest – ‘One of the Few’ and ‘The Hero’s Return’ are the counterpoint to ‘The Happiest Days of our Lives?’, and rather brilliantly reverses your opinion of the teacher figure, and ‘The Gunner’s Dream’ paints a vivid picture of a grieving family, then hits you with an emotional gut punch of a line leading into the sax solo.
It is concerned with the Falklands conflict, and that might seem long ago and far away to many of you, but our government really did send soldiers and sailors into harm’s way for the sake of something which could have been resolved diplomatically; we really did sink an Argentinian ship with little or no justification, and the government found itself returned with an increased majority shortly afterwards, and it wasn’t just Roger who felt a bit cynical about all of that.
Permit me a flight of fancy; in the middle of ‘The Fletcher Memorial Home’ I have always heard Mason and Gilmour tear into their parts, and I can just about see them both looking up when they were done and saying “there you go, you bastard – happy now?”
I love the title track for its bleakness – although you could equally paint it as a painful lack of self-awareness – and ‘Two Suns in the Sunset’ rounds it of on a suitably hopeless note; in 1983, I think we all felt we were, in the words of another song on a similar subject, “living between the wars, in our time”. Without the baggage which surrounds it, I think this would be regarded as Waters’ best work. Apart, perhaps, from ‘Not Now John’, which does nothing for me.
But it’s still not a Pink Floyd album.