Prior to 2019 my only familiarity with English group – Pink Floyd – could be found in the songs Wish You Were Here, Comfortably Numb, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 and Money. I loved all four songs and have for many years but for some reason I never went further into Floyd’s back catalogue or even the group themselves. I had never listened to an album, never bothered to delve into their history. I had heard the name, Syd Barrett, but knew nothing else of their story.
If you search for Pink Floyd on YouTube you’ll find their songs, albums, documentaries and hundreds of reaction videos. A new generation of music lovers are discovering their music and having their minds blown by what they hear. Thanks to them I have decided to begin my own journey – a Pink Floyd pilgrimage, you could say – to find out more.
What drew me towards Pink Floyd was the countless comments I had seen from other Floyd enthusiasts, the same messages and appreciation for the group. They insisted that nothing else sounds like Pink Floyd, that listening to an album in its entirety was essential, that their music could help you drift into an alternate plain and that you must, simply MUST, have headphones on when you do listen to the Floyd. It sounded cathartic and I wanted to try for myself as a form of meditation, something I’ve never been good at. I did see plenty of comments suggesting listening to Floyd while high is the way to go, well, I won’t be doing that, dear reader, you will be relieved to hear though I am sure it’s an interesting experience.
My Pink Floyd pilgrimage began earlier this year by reading two books – Mark Blake’s Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd and Martin Popoff’s Pink Floyd: Album by Album. This gave me an insight into the group’s often turbulent history as well as their extensive discography. I have also watched a few documentaries on YouTube so gained a further insight into their work. There is, however, one thing left for me to do.
Each month I will be listening to a Pink Floyd album in full and writing a reaction on this blog. I will listen multiple times – all the way through – and with headphones on. I will NOT be pausing during a David Gilmour solo and I’ll see if I can figure out which one is Pink! I will begin with The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and conclude with The Endless River (2014). In all, there are 15 studio albums to get through. By November 2020 I will have been through the early days of the band with Syd Barrett as the leader, the middle years where a close-knit quartet gradually fell apart as Roger Waters seized control, and the later years when a more democratic David Gilmour led the group in its twilight years.
One final thing, dear reader. As far as Pink Floyd are concerned, I am a novice, a mere apprentice and know very little so what I offer here are just my opinions of their music as I take it on board. I will attempt, and likely fail, to rank the albums in order of preference and try – big emphasis on try – to select the best song from each record even though I know they are to be treated as one long piece of music. If you have insights of your own to help me, or just want to share your own love and appreciation of these music legends then please throw a comment my way.
Time to grab the headphones and go on a journey…
Pink Floyd Pilgrimage #12: The Final Cut (1983)
We leave the 1970s behind on our Pink Floyd journey, a decade that had begun with the group having a loyal following before global stardom came in 1973 with The Dark Side of the Moon. Following that with Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall had cemented the Floyd’s place as one of the biggest acts in the world. Heading into the 1980s, it was all about to become even more complicated and messy.
Following the release of The Wall in 1979, Pink Floyd toured the album from 1980-81 but in the end they only carried out 31 shows ending in June 1981. Due to the complexity of the show, the amount of props including giant puppets and a full-scale cardboard wall erected during each performance and then knocked down at the end, the tour focused on smaller venues and was a costly affair. Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason now made up Pink Floyd with Richard Wright in the wings as a session musician on the tour, hoping for a return to the group if he kept his head down and out of Waters’ eyeline. It didn’t happen. In the end, Wright made money from the show but the others ended up down when it came to profits. Tensions between the band members increased with Waters isolating himself from the others to the point he wouldn’t stay in the same hotel and he donned headphones during shows, supposedly for concentration purposes but only succeeding in alienating the others even further.
While the album was in production, the intention was for a film to be made, one that would show live footage from the concerts. It was a project all members of the Floyd put money into so something had to come of it. Animator Gerald Scarfe, who’d first worked with Floyd on Wish You Were Here, had been drafted in to provide some animated segments to include in the film. Director Alan Parker came on board and the original plan was ditched in favour of an actual film adaptation of the story of The Wall. Roger Waters was originally intended to play Pink but following screen tests the role was instead given to a reluctant Bob Geldof, lead singer of The Boomtown Rats and the direction of the project changed. Waters, Parker and Scarfe locked horns numerous times during production. It even reached the point where Waters was persuaded to take a holiday and filming was near completed while he was away. Upon his return, Waters was unhappy with the direction Parker had taken and the director came close to walking out altogether. David Gilmour was forced to step in and mediate, informing Waters that the film had to be finished and that he and Nick Mason, as joint shareholders with Waters in the project would outvote him if he continued to derail it. Gilmour later stated that this would be one of the final straws between he and Waters and that working together would soon become impossible. Despite all the difficulties, The Wall eventually did premiere in May 1982.
Although Waters had not starred in the film, he did intend to work on a soundtrack to accompany it. Drawing on rejected material from The Wall and using the working title of Spare Bricks, this soundtrack would potentially explore deeper the story of Pink but it never came to be. The 10-week Falklands War which lasted from April-June 1982 rankled Waters and he set about working on new material to be used alongside four rejected songs from The Wall. David Gilmour, the only other member of Floyd now still contributing (or trying to), was critical of recycling songs intended for Spare Bricks, asking why they were using rejected songs for a new album. Waters and Gilmour once again fought one another over the issue but, unsurprisingly, Waters would get his way, much to Gilmour’s chagrin. The reality was that Gilmour wasn’t writing much material of his own whereas Waters was producing it on demand.
Roger Waters’ concept for The Final Cut was to launch a scathing attack against Margaret Thatcher, her government and indeed all governments for their treatment of brave servicemen and servicewomen. This was a particularly sensitive issue for Waters having lost his own father in the Second World War, a man he had never known, having been only a baby at the time. Waters uses Thatcher as an example of a leader who has not lived up to the hopes and promises that followed the end of the Second World War, one that should have ushered in a need for peace and countries not wanting to so easily weigh into conflicts and risk the lives of their men and women in the army. The group worked on the album in the second half of 1982 but with Richard Wright gone, Waters needed a new avenue to vent his increasing frustrations. He and David Gilmour initially worked together but gradually they started to work separately. Bob Ezrin was not involved this time, having fallen foul of Waters’ wrath. Instead, Michael Kamen was on board as co-producer and had to mediate between Waters and Gilmour. Nick Mason, in the midst of marital problems, largely sat out of the disagreements. Gilmour, who had fought Waters hard back on Wish You Were Here and again on The Wall, now seemed to slowly give up. In the end, he and Waters had a huge row and Gilmour agreed for his name to be removed as a producer on the album. Waters and Kamen kept their names as producers, as well as James Guthrie, but they too clashed. Waters would later reflect that the album was a nightmare to make and that it was a reminder that Pink Floyd were finished. There was no unity or cohesion, just a group of bandmates who had never recovered the camaraderie that resulted in The Dark Side of the Moon. Wish You Were Here had been a cry for help from a band starting to implode but no one came forward to help them. In the end, The Final Cut became the Roger Waters Show with Gilmour now resigned to playing what he needed to do just to get the record finished.
The Final Cut was released in March 1983 and had been the result of six months of bitterness and vicious arguing between the band members. From such conflict they had managed to complete an album…somehow. The question was how would The Final Cut be received and what future remained for the Floyd beyond this point if they could not reconcile the unbearable tensions and conflict that had arisen between them?
The Post War Dream
The opening track on the album and Side One is The Post War Dream which was written by Roger Waters and lasts for around 3 minutes. This first track lays the foundations for the album, offering a summary of the issues Roger Waters wishes to address. He laments the state of England and questions if his father had to die for this. Reference is also made to the closing shipping business in Clyde, Scotland, which is blamed on the Japanese being so good in this particular industry. The song uses the derogatory term of “Nips” to describe the Japanese and mourns the idea that they have a thriving industry while those in the UK are derelict, leaving the children of workers with no hope or future and some, sadly, resorting to suicide. Waters then addresses Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the UK at this time, and refers to her as “Maggie.” He asks how England has been left to fall into oblivion as it has and then questions Thatcher about the post-war dream, that idea that having defeated Germany and its allies in the Second World War, a better future would follow, but it hasn’t come to pass.
The Post War Dream opens with the sound of a car zooming by. We then hear the channels on a car radio being switched between, similar to Wish You Were Here back on the Floyd’s album of the same name in 1975. A second car drives by at speed giving us the impression of a driver pulled over and trying to find an apt radio station for their ears. Gradually, we start to hear the sound of a harmonium coming into the song and slowly moving the sound effects into the background. This continues for a time before we can discern the clinking of either keys or coins but more than likely keys. Is the driver about to resume their journey? Nearly 1 minute is on the clock when Roger Waters first begins to sing. He sounds calm and distant, his voice accompanied only by the harmonium played by Michael Kamen, with Richard Wright having not managed to find a way back into Pink Floyd. Shame. As Waters’ voice begins to rise, the music becomes more orchestral and this too starts to increase in intensity. Around the 2 minutes mark the orchestra gathers pace and moments later Waters’ voice completely changes. Having sounded relatively serene, he suddenly begins to shout about the post war dream. At this stage an electric guitar and drums have now entered the stage and the track becomes very heavy indeed. It doesn’t last long though, maybe 30 seconds or so. After that the bulk of the music recedes with only the orchestra remaining as the track begins to fade. Towards the end we have more sound effects and what could possibly be a bicycle pulling up and a gate opening and closing.
Listening to The Post War Dream it’s immediately clear that we’re in for a very different album to The Wall. The use of an orchestra is a nod back to the previous album, while Waters’ lyrics are bereft of any ambiguity here. It’s a clear lamentation of the UK in the early 1980s and we have similar themes to what we have had before with Waters’ referencing his later father once more, and we’re also questioning the government. It’s a grim opening track to start us off but Waters has set his stall out early for what’s to come.
Your Possible Pasts
The second track on the album is Your Possible Pasts which was written by Roger Waters and lasts almost 4½ minutes. The song was originally considered for The Wall but when not making the cut it was marked for the Spare Bricks album. With that project not coming to pass, Waters reworked it for The Final Cut. As a result, some of the meaning that resonated with the story of Pink and The Wall seems to have been retained. Your Possible Pasts appears to focus on soldiers in war with the opening verse describing the title of the song as being those comrades that walk behind you with the imagery of “frightened and lost” and “bright-eyed and crazy” being particularly haunting. In the second verse Waters sings of a woman who owns a hotel greeting soldiers and asking for “the gold in their bags or the knives in their backs.” This striking imagery may be literal in that they have their knives stored maybe in backpacks but I think it is the figurative idea of soldiers being sent to war based on promises of honour and glory only to be met with the full horror of battle, hence being stabbed in the back for the good of their country. In the final verse, Waters seems to make reference to a religious upbringing, learning the difference between good and evil, but left empty and bereft of emotion in the process. Rather than pondering the future these men may have had, Waters looks back to what their pasts could have been for clearly they have not prepared them for the irreparable damage war has inflicted on them. The chorus uses the refrain of reminiscing about who we once were and asks the question, “do you think we should be closer?” This may mean in terms of safety in numbers in war or more likely it could be suggesting the cold, emotional gulf that has built up between those who have gone to war and how they relate to others, especially family and friends. Clearly they are not the people they once were and Waters despairs at the tragic impact of conflict on the individual.
The track opens with what sounds like a car coming to a halt and then a strong, eerie breeze. A faint guitar comes in followed soon after by Roger Waters on the vocals. The melody here is quiet, it’s all about Waters’ voice, but we do get a brief piece of heavy drumming before calm is restored. On the 1 minute mark the song cranks up with the chorus including heavy guitar and drums from David Gilmour and Nick Mason, while Waters’ voice increases to near shouting. This chorus section lasts around 30 seconds before the second verse begins and the music returns to the tranquility of before. The music remains slow and faint but we have what sounds like an organ accompaniment now alongside the guitar. At one stage Waters’ voice rises again before receding. The chorus returns past the 2 minutes mark and the music is loud, as is Waters’ vocals. Just after 2½ minutes we are privileged by a Gilmour guitar solo which carries the song along for a minute or so. Approaching 3½ minutes the track calms once more and we now have a piano accompaniment as Waters takes us through the third and final verse. 4 minutes are on the clock when we are taken back to the chorus but it is briefer than the previous two phases and when Waters’ sings the line, “Do you think we should be closer?” we have a fade out repetition of the word “closer” before the track concludes with the sound of ticking clocks.
It took me a few listens to get to grips with Your Possible Pasts but once I did I could appreciate it more. It’s a cold yet emotive take on the severity of war and the lives of the soldiers being destroyed by the impact. The imagery here is very powerful and you can picture these brave souls facing unimaginable horrors and naturally being scared of what they are seeing. While The Post War Dream laments the sorry state of England through Waters’ eyes, Your Possible Pasts is a reminder of the lessons we have not learned in sending our loyal men and women off to fight in wars that their governments want and not they. Two tracks in and the subject matter on The Final Cut is grim to say the least but I am intrigued to hear what Waters has to say next.
One of the Few
The third track on the album is One of the Few which was written by Roger Waters and lasts just under 1½ minutes. The track was another rejected from The Wall so links with the theme of that record and this one are still clear. There is some ambiguity here but the song appears to be about a war veteran with the “few” of the title suggesting they may have been a pilot in the Battle of Britain, one of the few that Winston Churchill said the nation owed a great debt to for their brave defence against German fighter planes. The song seems to ask the question of what a veteran does when the war is over. In this case they become a teacher. Here the song takes on a potentially sinister tone. It talks of the control a teacher has over their students and how they can ultimately shape the children into a way they see fit. They simply have to choose what path they want the children to take. In the end the teacher talks of the children laughing, crying and how he can make them “lie down and die.” This could be in the respect of childish games at school or maybe it’s something far worse, that the teacher is steering their students towards the same route they took that saw them fight in a war. As a rejected song from The Wall, I have read suggestions that this is from the perspective of one of the teachers that made Pink’s school days so horrible and that their own experience of war has left them bitter and twisted, something they take out on the children.
The track begins with the ticking clock that ended Your Possible Pasts and we also have the sound of a car whooshing by or possibly a strong breeze. The Post War Dream began with a car driving by at speed so it could be the same effect here. Roger Waters is mainly on his own with this track. After the initial sound effects, we hear an emotive piece of acoustic guitar before Waters’ first vocals come in around 30 seconds in. The melody remains the same throughout and the ticking clock can be heard for the duration of the song. Around 50 seconds in we can hear some faint backing vocals to accompany Waters. This is soon followed by the sound of children playing outside, presumably at school, but the evocation here is one of innocence. Around one minute in we hear a brief snigger as the teacher talks of all the things he can ask the children to do. It’s reminiscent of the sort of manic laughter we heard in The Wall and back on The Dark Side of the Moon with the song, Brain Damage. As soon as Waters has sung the final lyrics, the track begins to recede with the music and the ticking clock fading as we move into the next song.
One of the Few is an intriguing little song with the ambiguity leaving its full meaning open to debate. It does seem to be a lamentation of war veterans coming home and their difficulty slotting back into society. The song is less than 1½ minutes which is a shame and what’s there is poignant and absorbing. You just wish there was a little bit more.
The Hero’s Return
The fourth track on the album is The Hero’s Return which was written by Roger Waters and lasts just under 3 minutes. This was another song rejected for The Wall album and was rewritten to fit The Final Cut. Continuing on from One of the Few, this is focused on the soldier who has survived the war, come home, and is now a teacher. Presumably, the idea in The Wall was one of Pink’s abusive teachers was physically and mentally scarred by being in the war and takes out their pain on the schoolchildren. In The Hero’s Return, the teacher bemoans the ignorance of their students given what they went through as a child and since as a soldier. We hear mention of the bombing of Dresden 1944-45 and the teacher relates that they use sarcasm in the classroom as a clever mask to hide their “desperate memories.” “No dark sarcasm in the classroom” teacher if you will. In the second verse the teacher appears to be at home and in bed with their wife. She is asleep and he speaks to her knowing she can’t hear, revealing the brutal truth that he is not okay, that he is haunted by a memory he cannot bring himself to talk about. In the third verse we hear of this memory, of how the soldier came home to the patriotic crowds dancing in the streets with the Union Jack flying proudly but this was of no comfort. The soldier cannot revel in the celebrations for they remember the voice of a gunner on an intercom and this leads us into the next song.
The Hero’s Return begins with a guitar intro and early on it has a haunting, ethereal feel to it. Roger Waters’ vocals begin around 30 seconds in but they are distant and quite chilling. Not all words are easy to discern but in conjunction with the eerie music they convey a deeply troubled man. After a minute or so we begin to hear a piano melody and with its arrival, Waters’ voice grows ever more distant and quieter. The song picks up on the two minutes mark with the arrival of Nick Mason on drums but Waters remains distant from us. A guitar piece soon comes back to accompany the last of Waters’ vocals. When he has sung the final line the music begins to recede and we can then hear muffled dialogue, presumably the sound of the gunner on the intercom that the teacher cannot shake from their memory.
One of the Few and The Hero’s Return back to back give us the feel of the concept album from Roger Waters, a story fusing across two tracks. It’s interesting that Waters may have originally intended the teacher in The Wall to be more sympathetic with their experience of the war and potential indications of PTSD. Here, the narrative has been rewritten slightly and we have a more sympathetic individual than the teacher in The Wall. It’s not the fault of the children that they don’t understand war and its impact but the teacher is still angry at their lack of concern for those who died, presumably many of his friends. The song is reflective of hundreds and thousands of men and women who return from conflict and require some form of medical treatment being it physical or mental to try and come to terms with what they have experienced. While the teacher clearly has his problems, he is also consumed by guilt at having survived. Closing the song with mention of the gunner, a source of guilt, but also the next step on our journey can’t help but leave you feeling intrigued.
The Gunner’s Dream
The fifth track on the album is The Gunner’s Dream which was written by Roger Waters and lasts just under 5½ minutes. Leading on from The Hero’s Return we now hear the story of the gunner that so haunted the soldier who had survived the war and come home. In the song, the gunner is airborne but his plane has gotten into difficult and he has parachuted to the ground. As he descends, the gunner takes in the skies around him and a plethora of thoughts go through his mind before ultimately leading to his dream. We hear images of his family members at church in what sounds like the gunner’s funeral. He hasn’t survived the war. He beseeches those that mourn to “hold on to the dream” but what does the gunner dream of? It’s quite simple. He dreams of peace, a time where there is no war. In his dream we hear of such delights as being able to speak one’s thoughts without fear, where veterans are safe and, perhaps most importantly, children are not destined to one day go into the madness of war themselves. In the closing segment of the song the perspective seems to change back to the soldier in The Hero’s Return. He is tormented by the dream of the gunner, presumably because it seems unattainable. He laments that the gunner lies in some foreign field, yet another victim of a truly terrible war. The soldier still has hope though. He doesn’t want the gunner’s death to be in vain. He wants everyone to aspire to achieve the dream the gunner could not.
The song opens with the muffled voice on an intercom that ended The Hero’s Return. We also hear the sound of a plane which appears to be in distress before this gives way to the breeze. This is presumably the gunner abandoning his plane and drifting down through the skies all alone. Around 20 seconds into the track a piano melody comes in, an air of poignancy about it. Roger Waters’ first vocals appear around the 45 seconds mark as he regales us with the tale of the gunner. He is accompanied only by the piano at this point, his voice carrying an air of fragility with it. As we pass the first minute an orchestral harmony comes in and the music builds. Waters continues to sing before the music quietens briefly around 2 minutes in. Moments later Waters’ voice increases as he beseeches us to “hold on to the dream.” We have a delightful piece of saxophone now joining the ensemble, blending nicely with the accompanying piano. This continues for a time, livening up the mood of the track. After passing 3 minutes the song quietens once more. We can discern voices in the background, on the intercom perhaps. It’s now back to Roger Waters’ voice and the piano again though Nick Mason’s drums very briefly kick in around 3½ minutes in. After more than 4 minutes Waters’ voice rises once more and we have various instruments now coming in to support him. We’re past 4½ minutes when the music eases again and Waters takes us through the final lines, lamenting the death of the gunner. After 5 minutes both Waters’ vocals and the music begin to fade out. We can hear faint footsteps as the track concludes and shifts into the next song.
The Gunner’s Dream is another powerful anti-war song from Roger Waters. The imagery here is spectacular with the vision of the gunner at peace as he descends from the skies to the war-torn land below. For that brief moment we can imagine him calm and at ease before having to worry about what fate awaits him below. The dream of the gunner is a shared one of millions across the globe, to imagine a time and a reality where there is no war or conflict. I have always attested that as long as human beings exist we will never have peace sadly. Sharing is not in our nature unfortunately and for all of those that are content with what they have, there are millions who always want more. Waters still calls on us to cling to that hope of a better world, certainly a superior one to what we currently have. The dream of the gunner seems an impossible one but that doesn’t mean we should stop hoping for it.
The sixth track on the album and the closing number on Side One is Paranoid Eyes which was written by Roger Waters and lasts just over 3½ minutes. The song appears to build on the character of the soldier who has come home and become a teacher. In the previous track we learned of the gunner and their dream that haunted the former soldier. In Paranoid Eyes we look through a window into their day to day life and it is not pleasant viewing. The soldier is home, the war is over and they are safe. The problem is the war is still very much with them. The song describes how the soldier must maintain a clever masquerade as he goes about his life. He engages with people, puts on a smile and a cheery disposition but behind his eyes there is fear and trauma, the physical and mental scars he has brought back from the war. Why doesn’t he talk about this? He can’t. A soldier can’t let the mask slip. Those around him want only to hear stories of brave heroes that fought valiantly and came home to victorious cheers. They don’t want to be burdened with anecdotes about soldiers coming home minus limbs or struggling with PTSD. Those aren’t the heroes they imagine. Paranoid Eyes describes a man who is barely functioning in a peaceful world back home. War changes people and who they were before they left to fight can never be reclaimed. Our soldier here sounds like he wants to talk and share what he is feeling but fear and paranoia are holding him back. Instead, the local pub is a place of solace and you imagine a lot of alcohol is consumed.
The song opens with marching footsteps that signalled the conclusion of The Gunner’s Dream. We soon have a piano melody open the track with Roger Waters’ first vocals beginning around 15 seconds in. The footsteps remain discernible in the background, presumably this is the soldier we are focusing on going about his daily business. Around 30 seconds in we have an orchestra join the piano accompaniment and one can perceive a brass section in there. Waters continues to sing with a series of sound effects in the background. We hear the sound of a car 1 minute into the song as the soldier crosses the road and heads to a nearby bar. Shortly after we hear muffled voices which must be the crowd of people enjoying a few drinks in the pub as the soldier joins them. 1½ minutes in we can hear laughter and more talking. You can just picture the soldier sitting there, pint in one hand, subdued and withdrawn while revelry goes on around him. A brief musical interlude comes in 2 minutes into the song before we hear more laughter and crowds. Waters’ voice and the piano are dominant once more as the track continues. After 3 minutes we once again hear the crowd laughing and chattering away before the song begins to fade. As the last seconds play out we hear a voice shout “Oi!” before the song concludes.
Paranoid Eyes continues the album’s theme of war and the negative impact it has on individuals. At no point has Roger Waters subscribed to the idea of soldiers going off to war for honour, love and country. Instead, he assures us that they are being sent into the depths of a kind of hell, either to their deaths or to return as shadows of their former selves. It’s hard to relate and fully understand or appreciate what soldiers have been through. Only the men and women that serve in the military can comprehend what it is like. My late grandfather fought in the Second World War but rarely spoke a word about it unless asked and, even then, his accounts were brief. Paranoid Eyes is an effective addition to The Final Cut but it is notable by the absence of David Gilmour and Nick Mason with neither required for the recording. In fact, two of the opening six tracks on Side One have featured Roger Waters only from Pink Floyd with other musicians used to complete those songs. As good as the tracks have been thus far, it’s clear to see that the album is dominated by Waters completely with all song writing credits being his alone and all vocal duties led by him.
Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert
The seventh track on the album and the opening song on Side Two is Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert which was written by Roger Waters and lasts under 1½ minutes. This short introductory segment to Side Two sees Waters name checking political leaders and the wars they became involved in. He begins with Leonid Brezhnev, who was one of the most powerful men in the Soviet Union, and supported the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (1979-1989) and which Waters references here. Next up is Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel (1977-1983) and in the song Waters describes how he took Beirut in Lebanon during the 1982 Lebanon War, with the target being the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). Waters then switches focus to the Falklands War (1982) and to Argentine President, Leopoldo Galtieri, whose forces occupied the British-held Falklands Islands. Waters then sardonically refers to Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister of the UK, and laments how she decided over lunch to send some ships to take back the Falklands, almost as if it was a miscellaneous task on her to-do list.
The track opens with some dialogue as someone shouts, “Get your filthy hands off my desert.” We soon hear a plane flying overhead and then an explosion signalling that either the plane has crashed or perhaps a bomb has been dropped? The music follows soon after with a faint orchestral accompaniment. We’re around 30 seconds into the track when Roger Waters starts his first vocals. The music remains very much in the background as Waters pours scorn on various political leaders and the conflicts they dragged their respective countries into. After a minute or so, Waters’ vocals are over and the track begins to fade, with some cheerful humming along the way. As the final seconds play out we once again hear a distant plane.
Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert changes tact somewhat compared to the previous tracks. While retaining the essence of being an anti-war song, this track has the greater potential of being deemed controversial. Being more direct in its references means that a lot of its potential power will be lost on some listeners. I’m aware of Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War but know little about the Russians in Afghanistan (1979-1989) or the 1982 Lebanon War. It’s a brief but interesting introduction to Side Two which makes me wonder how the rest of the songs will play out.
The Fletcher Memorial Home
The eighth track on the album is The Fletcher Memorial Home which was written by Roger Waters and lasts just over four minutes. Continuing on from Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert, Waters continues his focus on political leaders. Waters imagines the “Fletcher Memorial Home” of the title for “overgrown infants”, the “kings” and “tyrants” who are to be sent to a sort of retirement home where they can be shut away and forgotten about. The home is named in honour of Waters’ father, Eric Fletcher Waters, who was killed in the Second World War when Roger was a baby, a key moment that shaped his entire life and informed his music career as we have seen with The Wall and with The Final Cut. Waters names the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Menachem Begin and Leonid Brezhnev as just some of the individuals he would like to see sent to this home. Waters asks why anyone would respect them for their leadership with the men and women that have died due to wars they instigated. Once safely in the home, Waters refers to the residents as “colonial wasters of life and limb” and takes the song in a very dark and controversial direction. Assured the residents are safely tucked away and happy, the song calls for the “final solution” to be applied. This is harrowing stuff indeed. The words “final solution” were used to refer to the so-called “Jewish problem” in Nazi Germany and thus the Holocaust began, one of the most horrific and shameful acts in all of human history. Here Roger Waters’ anger is laid bare for what he feels are the needless deaths of thousands of soldiers, not just his father, but for the many service men and women that have fought in distant lands for causes they did not choose to begin. He wants political leaders to pay the price for the sacrifice others made for them.
The song opens immediately with Roger Waters on vocals as he regales us with details of the Fletcher Memorial Home. An orchestra can be heard faintly in the background along with a piano melody. Around 40 seconds in the piano becomes more pronounced as Waters’ vocals continue. After more than 1 minute, Waters switches to spoken dialogue as he lists the political leaders who you will find in this imagined home to be tucked away from all of society. After more than 1½ minutes, Waters resumes singing and briefly sounds louder and angrier before his voice recedes and his vocals become quieter. The piano melody remains here for a time as well. We’re more than two minutes into the song when we hear Nick Mason come in on drums followed by David Gilmour who gives us a rousing guitar solo, the kind that feels much missed on this album thus far. It lasts around a minute before Waters comes back in on vocals to sing the fourth and final verse. The final lines are sung around 4 minutes in and as the song begins to fade out we can hear the sound of seagulls, signifying a change of scene from the memorial home to being at the coast.
The Fletcher Memorial Home is one of the darkest tracks I have heard from Pink Floyd on this journey thus far. A lot of what Waters is saying here does make sense, in the respect that political leaders do and can make these decisions to engage their countries in war, safe in the knowledge that they personally will not have to take up arms and fight. They know that for men and women in the military, a soldier’s duty is to serve their country. The idea that the military often fight in conflicts they may not fully understand is a terrifying notion but such is their honour and loyalty that they will go to war willingly, no matter what the cost. Waters is raging against the unnecessary wars that these leaders have dragged their countries into and to the many lives their decisions have ultimately cost, not that they seem to show an ounce of concern. The closing section about the “final solution” is very controversial and goes too far in my opinion. Political leaders should be held accountable for mistakes and needless wars that require unnecessary sacrifice but the idea of them being gathered together and terminated isn’t an idea I can subscribe to. The structure of The Final Cut is now becoming clearer with Side One focused on the soldiers who obey orders and the impact war has on them, whereas Side Two is about the political leaders that issue the orders and are undiminished or unchanged as a result. Dark this track may be, it is certainly thought-provoking.
The ninth track on the album is Southampton Dock which was written by Roger Waters and clocks in at just over two minutes. The song’s setting at Southampton Dock is crucial as this was one of the places soldiers embarked to take ships to Europe and fight in the Second World War. Waters observes how the men left in 1945 and after the war when the crowds gather to pay homage to all service men and women at the cenotaph, a solemn promise is made for this dreadful loss of life never to happen again. Waters goes on to lament that history is repeating itself for in 1982 a woman stands at Southampton Dock and waves off the soldiers taking ships to fight in the Falkland Islands. The subject here links back to The Post War Dream, that belief that with the end of the Second World War, the UK would not go to war again and see its sons and daughters killed by the thousand. Waters despairs at the Falklands War once more and how the government has broken its word and betrayed the people. The closing line refers to feeling “the final cut” in our hearts which is the album’s title and also the name of the next track. What this “final cut” is is open to debate but I’m assuming the next track may offer more clarity.
The song opens with the sound of seagulls which concluded the previous track. Both an acoustic guitar and Roger Waters’ vocals come in soon after. The acoustic guitar is largely the only music we hear though an orchestral arrangement lingers in the background. After a minute or so, Waters briefly hums and this is followed by a striking piano melody, played by Michael Kamen. The orchestra is still there though ever fainter now. Kamen’s piano and Waters’ vocals continue to dominate the piece and play out the remaining seconds before the fade out kicks in after we pass the 2 minutes mark.
Southampton Dock blends the themes on the album of the soldiers’ experience and also the cataclysmic decisions of governments in joining or starting needless wars. The lyrics here are particularly moving, poetic even, especially the sodden image of a woman once again playing out the cycle of waving goodbye to loved ones and hoping they make it home safely. The mourning at the cenotaph is a reminder that mankind rarely learns from its own history and will continually make the same mistakes over and over. This is another song notable by the absence of David Gilmour and Nick Mason. Only Roger Waters and Michael Kamen feature here. The debate whether The Final Cut is really a Pink Floyd album or a Roger Waters’ solo album is beginning to make more sense.
The Final Cut
The tenth track on the album is The Final Cut which was written by Roger Waters and lasts just under 5 minutes. This is another track that was considered for The Wall but ultimately rejected to be reworked for this album. As it is, the song still sounds like it could fit on The Wall and you could easily imagine that we are talking about Pink. Instead, Waters describes an individual who is struggling to connect with society and the people around them. This individual conveys how they are shut away from the world and that finding a path to them is perilous. The words “behind the wall” are included in the lyrics but they are overwhelmed by the sound of a shotgun. The second verse explores sexual desire in the form of this person fantasising about women in magazines. Perhaps they are unable to connect physically and emotionally with women closer to home or has this individual seen their relationship with their wife or girlfriend grow cold, just as Pink’s did with his wife in The Wall. In the third verse the narrator seems to want to connect with someone, making themselves vulnerable in the process but they are wary of being hurt or being used. The verse is a series of questions ranging from first meeting someone to imagining a life with them and children, all concerns about being treated badly. Maybe it is safer for them to stay secluded. In the final verse, the narrator seemingly reaches the end as they clutch a blade and prepare to commit suicide. Then the phone rings and the sound breaks their train of thought. The song closes with this individual telling us they could not bring themselves to make “the final cut.” So, now we know what that line is in reference to and as with the bulk of the album the subject matter is grim.
The Final Cut begins quickly with Michael Kamen’s piano accompanying Roger Waters’ vocals. An orchestral arrangement can be heard in the background of the track as well. After 30 seconds or so the music picks up with Nick Mason’s drums discernible. We even have dogs barking in the background though not as prominently as they were back on the Animals album. Nearing the conclusion of verse 1 after the first minute, the music begins to ease with the orchestra remaining the most prominent. At the end of the verse we hear the sound of a shotgun before the music picks up once more and Mason returns. We are soon into the second verse and Roger Waters’ voice is louder now. When the second verse concludes we have a brief musical interlude around 2 minutes in of orchestra and drums but Waters is soon back with the third verse. His voice is quieter and gentle in this section as the narrator’s vulnerability is evident. The serene moment doesn’t last though as the music intensifies once more as we pass 2½ minutes and Waters’ singing picks up. The see-saw effect in the song continues with the music lessening after more than 3 minutes for just a short time before the tempo ups again and leads us into a very welcome David Gilmour solo around 3½ minutes into the song. It’s only a brief solo, sadly, but it’s certainly a glorious one before Roger Waters returns on the 4 minutes mark. His voice is loud for a short time, drums and orchestra accompanying him but then it begins to calm. As Waters delivers the last line of the song the music begins to fade out slowly. We can discern a voice near the conclusion, akin to a radio transmission and there is laughter as well before the song ends.
Although The Final Cut was reworked from a track originally intended for The Wall it could easily have slotted into that album’s narrative almost as it is. I found myself imagining Pink as the narrator here. It’s another dark and deeply troubling song from Roger Waters, but certainly a song more in line with the late 1970s Pink Floyd. Having Nick Mason and David Gilmour present is a bonus for sure. In terms of the concept, Side Two doesn’t feel as consistent as the first Side in its subject matter. We began with the abhorrence of political leaders but with Southampton Dock and now The Final Cut we have switched back to the victims of war, to the soldiers that come home from conflicts broken beyond repair. The themes are switching around rather than staying consistent.
Not Now John
The eleventh track on the album is Not Now John which was written by Roger Waters and is around 5 minutes in length. Waters changes direction again with this song, his focus this time being on power hungry nations competing in trade wars and commerce. His targets seem to be the US, UK and Japan who were emerging as a strong nation at the time in terms of commerce. The opening verse is from the perspective of a businessman or government official and uses the refrain of “not now John” dismissing some unnamed individual as they are busy competing against the “wily Japanese”. The use of John is British slang to refer to a random individual and has no connection to a figure that Roger Waters was targeting with The Final Cut. Clearly the “John” here is so insignificant their name isn’t even worth mentioning. A later verse sees John once again dismissed as a film is being worked on, Hollywood beckons, but no one cares about the content as long as it makes a lot of money. The death of art has come at the hands of greed and money, it seems. Further along we hear about the need to get on with some work though the person doesn’t know what it is they’re doing, they do know it will be lucrative and profitable so it’s well worth their time. Fair argument! In the closing verse we hear about competing with the Japanese again and the need to not worry about Vietnam which is referred to as “Vietnapeace”. There is also global trade and politics in play as the song talks first of defeating the Russian Bear but then hesitates and thinks maybe the Swedes should be defeated instead. Tread carefully with those Russians clearly! The track links back to elements of The Final Cut with the line, “We showed Argentina, now let’s go and show these.” Waters perceives the UK as arrogant for its victory in the Falklands War and believes this game of trade and one upmanship would make Margaret Thatcher both happy and proud in equal measure. In the closing segment of the song we hear the eerie chant of “Rule Britannia” which makes me shudder and we end with an additional bellowing of “hammer” which links back to The Wall when Pink imagined himself leading a fascist rally.
Not Now John leads on from The Final Cut. We hear some laughter before the song kicks straight into life. David Gilmour takes the vocals here initially, giving us a hard rock effort akin to Young Lust. The number is heavier than other tracks on the album and Gilmour is well supported by backing vocalists, Doreen and Irene Chanter. After the powerful opening, the vocals switch to Roger Waters 30 seconds in, whose singing is fast-paced, backing the Chanters before he slows things down approaching the first minute. We have effective interplay between Waters and Gilmour with the latter resuming vocals soon after with the backing singers in tow. Past 1½ minutes, Gilmour completes this latest section before launching into a guitar solo, another one to savour on an album where they have been few and far between. During the solo the backing harmonies return before Gilmour launches into the next verse 2½ minutes in, his refrain of “fuck all that” being almost virulent. We’re 3 minutes into the song when Roger Waters returns with some slow vocals. At this point the song takes a strange turn. We expect Gilmour to come back on singing duties, sticking to the structure we have had thus far but instead it is Waters that takes his place and sings out the remainder of the song. I’m not sure why. The backing vocals gradually come to the fore as Roger Waters’ voice becomes harder to discern in the background. On 4½ minutes the music begins to fade and as it recedes we hear what sounds like a car sweeping by as we have had on previous tracks. That leads us into the final song on the album.
After ten songs dominated by Roger Waters, we finally have a track on the album where David Gilmour has the chance to shine beyond his exquisite guitar solos. Not Now John is another example of how well the Waters/Gilmour collaboration works, just as it did with the likes of Wish You Were Here, Dogs, Hey You and Comfortably Numb. Gilmour really throws himself into this one and you can’t help but imagine that the phrase “fuck all that” was delivered with some passion given the turbulent recording sessions that took place for The Final Cut. This is one of the album’s highlights, still exploring an important concern for Roger Waters with the power hungry nations looking to subvert one another’s influence in the global markets, but the song is delivered with real drive and energy. It’s a shame Gilmour is substituted at the end but given the sorry state of his relationship with Waters at this time, I’m amazed he managed to squeeze one vocal onto the album at all. It’s certainly a memorable contribution.
Two Suns in the Sunset
The twelfth and final track on the album is Two Suns in the Sunset which was written by Roger Waters and lasts just over 5 minutes. In this closing song to The Final Cut Roger Waters imagines England in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust that has ravaged the land and pretty much all life before it. The narrator is sitting in their car, musing over many things in life including many of their regrets. They talk of the “two suns” of the title. One ultimately settles in the west but another remains in the east as night falls. This isn’t the sun but the bright glow of a nuclear bomb exploding on the horizon and bringing death, destruction and ruin as far as it can reach. The narrator experiences moments of clarity and near epiphany as the explosion envelops their car and melts it. The driver perishes with the realisation that all humans are equal in death, all differences are now irrelevant as everyone perishes in this devastation mankind has brought upon itself. The song acts as a warning of sorts for a nuclear armageddon is something we have, thus far, avoided despite the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and even the disasters at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011. One of the great fears is that an all encompassing global war will one day result in the use of nuclear weapons to wipe out nations. Waters hopes that we won’t come to that, that this album will at least open our eyes to the reality of where England and the rest of the world is heading.
The song begins with a car speeding by which has been a continual theme throughout the album, as if someone has been contemplating all the ideas in The Final Cut while parked up in their car. Soon after an acoustic guitar begins to play. The sound of the car continues in the background and we hear it for large parts of the song as it progresses. We soon have the drums join the music but they are not played by Nick Mason. Mason was unable to get to grips with the time signature for the song so session musician, Andy Newmark, stepped in to record on Mason’s behalf. We’re 30 seconds into the track when Waters sings his first vocals. His voice is relatively calm but gathers urgency after 1½ minutes of the song with the music also picking up pace. There is a brief musical interlude 2 minutes in with a piano accompaniment from Michael Kamen before David Gilmour is discernible on the electric guitar, making the song heavier with Waters’ vocals responding in turn. In this section we hear screams of children, one child calling for its father as Waters’ imagines scenarios of people facing their deaths in sudden and unexpected circumstances. The music starts to ease approaching 3 minutes and although Roger Waters’ singing does intensify again it soon settles as we near 3½ minutes of the track. Moments later a piano interlude takes charge of the song, followed soon after by a delightful saxophone from Raphael Ravenscroft. He’s no Dick Parry but it’s still great. The piano and saxophone play out the remainder of the track and as the music starts to fade we can hear background voices. Soon it feels like only the saxophone remains, gently playing out the remaining seconds of The Final Cut.
Two Suns in the Sunset is a pretty bleak and haunting conclusion to the album with Roger Waters warning us of what kind of future may possibly await mankind. Waters clearly feels we have not learned from our mistakes and The Falklands War is another example of the endless cycle of human conflict that has plagued mankind’s long history. In the end, Waters is suggesting that we either address our need for fighting one another and find a peaceful path forward together, or we allow this hatred to consume all of us. There is hope in the song, the chance to stop and think it over but you suspect Waters is not convinced at the time of writing this song that anything will change.
I would challenge any group to successfully follow up Meddle, The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall with another outstanding masterpiece. The odds would have been against anyone but for a Pink Floyd who were now minus Richard Wright and self-imploding it was always going to be a big ask to recreate the glory of the last decade. That is not to say The Final Cut is a bad album. There are still some great moments on here. Side One in particular packs a real punch with some beautifully written and emotional lamentations of the battle hardened but scarred soldiers who return from war zones and are never the same people again. Where the album excels are in the generalisations of war, a more universal message that I think many can relate to. Waters is not wrong in recognising the need for our brave men and women who risk their lives for their countries to be able to come home and be treated better than they often are.
I did find The Final Cut a challenging album and not as accessible as many Pink Floyd records I have explored thus far. It took me a good few listens before I could really appreciate the album and only in burrowing down into individual tracks and analysing them closely could I yield the merit they deserve. This is clearly a failing on my own part in garnering meaning but I suspect I won’t be the only one that finds this album difficult. While the generalisations of war are memorable, the direct attacks on Margaret Thatcher and the likes of Reagan will not resonate with all listeners. Some of the issues here are of that period in the early 1980s, something hard for a new generation who were not alive then to relate to. I myself was only a baby when The Final Cut was released so it’s hard to fully relate to everything here. The other issue is that this does feel increasingly like a Roger Waters solo album. At least ⅓ of the songs don’t feature David Gilmour or Nick Mason at all. You only feel Gilmour’s presence with the guitar solos but those aside he feels coldly absent from the music which is a great shame as Gilmour was one of the key architects of Floyd’s sound in the 1970s, as was Richard Wright especially with the more ambient pieces. From the background it’s clear that Gilmour had fought Waters hard while recording The Wall but when it came to The Final Cut he had little fight left in him. Even Waters himself has reflected in later years that this was a tough time for all involved with Pink Floyd and The Final Cut is a reflection of that. Side One is the superior of the two with Side Two changing its focus around too often and it feels a little muddled in places. In conclusion, this album is one of Floyd’s inferior works but considering the five albums that preceded it, coupled with the band members barely speaking to one another, you can’t be too surprised that this happened.
Not Now John is one of the highlights of the album and certainly the best song on Side Two in my opinion. It’s another memorable collaboration between David Gilmour and Roger Waters. You can’t help but feel sad that both men couldn’t find a way through the bitterness and arguments that were now tearing the group apart. When focused on the same objective, Gilmour and Waters always produced the goods. Side One is the superior half of The Final Cut and from there The Gunner’s Dream is a strong contender, a truly haunting piece with a universal message. However, for me, I have to go with Your Possible Pasts. It’s the song that moved me the most in its observations of soldiers in combat. I was particularly touched by the recognition that although soldiers are perceived as strong and brave, which they certainly are, they are also human and when faced with the full horror of war they can be scared, damaged and irrevocable; they are vulnerable. Waters humanises soldiers, doesn’t subscribe to the notion that they are numbers following orders. Your Possible Pasts is an outpouring of grief for what we do to our brave men and women by sending them off to fight in wars.
The Final Cut received mixed reviews upon release but being the follow-up to The Wall, it was inevitable that the record would sell well. Not Now John was released as a single but did not trouble the higher echelons of the UK charts. Unlike previous Pink Floyd albums, no touring was arranged for The Final Cut so Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason went their separate ways upon the album’s conclusion. Some space from one another was clearly much-needed.
The Wall had been a difficult album to record but the members of Pink Floyd had risen to the challenge, save Richard Wright whose lack of contribution led to him resigning from the group though still playing on the tour. Wright did not return for The Final Cut and although Roger Waters had even greater control over this new album it seemed his anger and frustration would simply not abate. David Gilmour had fought Waters as hard as he could but in the end he had thrown the towel in where the latest album was concerned and would look back with sadness at a record he would not deem worthy of being a Floyd work. With no live shows to worry about, the remaining members of Pink Floyd had time to think about the future, enjoy a break from one another and come back together in the future when contemplating the next album. The question was, how would a new Pink Floyd album unfold?
Pink Floyd Roll of Honour
1) Wish You Were Here (1975)
2) The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
3) The Wall (1979)
4) Animals (1977)
5) Meddle (1971)
6) The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
7) A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
8) Atom Heart Mother (1970)
9) The Final Cut (1983)
10) Obscured by Clouds (1972)
11) More (1969)
12) Ummagumma (1969)