Bargepole on The Final Cut forty years on
With all the glare of publicity being focussed on the 50th anniversary of Dark Side of the Moon, it seems to have been forgotten that this week also marked the 40th anniversary of the last Floyd album to feature Roger Waters, an occasion that seems to have passed without any fanfare at all, let alone any sort of deluxe reissue. It was also the first Floyd release not to feature the keyboards of Rick Wright, whose post Wall exclusion from the band only became common knowledge when the album sleeve listed just three band members. The solemn sleeve hinted at the contents of the album. Missing in action was the inventive imagery of Hipgnosis. Gone were the satirical Scarfe sketches. Instead we have a sombre close up of an ex-serviceman’s jacket on Remembrance Day, while poppies feature prominently on the back cover.
It was certainly a divisive record for both fans and band. Originally intended as an off shoot of The Wall film, a quasi soundtrack titled Spare Bricks, it morphed into a hybrid of that concept, being supplemented with new material inspired by the Falklands conflict and Thatcher’s Britain. David Gilmour was unhappy at using songs deemed not good enough for The Wall, but had no alternative new material to offer. As Waters put it ‘The fact was I was making this album and Dave didn’t like it, and said so.’ In the end, Gilmour had his name removed as co-producer, although he apparently didn’t relinquish he associated royalties. Meanwhile Nick Mason, in the midst of a messy divorce, visited the studio only when absolutely necessary, preferring to spend his time racing cars.
The album begins with the old Floydian trick of a radio being tuned across news bulletins on various stations, each snippet relating to the state of Britain as, in ‘The Post War Dream,’ Waters questions whether the sacrifices of servicemen in World War Two were worth it or had ultimately been betrayed – indeed the album is subtitled ‘A Requiem For The Post War Dream’, and the song’s refrain of ‘Maggie, what have you done to England’ certainly resonated with me and no doubt countless others.
The first ‘proper’ song, ‘Your Possible Pasts’, is the start of the material left over from The Wall when it was cut down from the originally planned triple album to a mere double. Bob Geldof can be heard reciting an early draft of the lyrics in the film, the song being loosely based on a 1968 Waters composition ‘Incarceration of a Flower Child’, a song that the band never recorded, although a cover version can be heard on Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Vagabond Ways’ album. It’s one of the best songs on the album, featuring a blistering solo by Gilmour, as Waters muses on the paths the narrator’s life might have taken. The original lyrics printed on the sleeve featured four unsung lines, although these were removed from later reissues.
Another short interlude, ‘One of the Few’, follows, then we are into another Wall offcut. This is where the 2004 reissue differs from the original album with the inclusion of ‘When The Tigers Broke Free’, a song that recounts the death of Waters father at Anzio in 1944. The other band members vetoed its inclusion on The Wall, fearing it was too closely linked to Waters own life and would thus lack universal appeal. The version here differs slightly from the original 1982 single release and from the version used on the ‘Echoes’ best of set.
Next up is more Wall material, ‘The Heroes Return’. An early version titled ‘Teacher Teacher’ can be found on The Wall Immersion set. It deals with an ex serviceman who has taken a new career in teaching after the war, and his disappointments and fears as he struggles to adapt to his new unfulfilling life/ Surprisingly, when ‘Tigers’ was included on the reissued album the powers that be chose not to also update it to include part 2 of this song, basically an extra verse, and the only official release of this is still as the B side of 1983’s ‘Not Now John’ single.
Now to what is for me the album’s key track, ‘The Gunner’s Dream’. An airman from a downed plane falls through the sky, images of his past and a future he will never see flashing through his mind. A fantastic sax solo from Raphael Ravenscroft illuminates this moving piece as Waters wrings the emotion out of the lyrics.
‘Paranoid Eyes’ returns to our disillusioned despondent teacher, seeking solace in a pub, while mulling over the let down his life and career have proved to be, bitter disappointment replacing his once dearly held hopes and aspirations for a better world for the new generation.
Another short interlude in Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert, featuring the holophonically recorded sound of an exploding shell, before we enter The Fletcher Memorial Home. The lyrics date the song somewhat with its references to Breshnev and Reagan, but Waters barely controlled fury is perfectly mirrored by a cutting Gilmour solo, perhaps his best on the album.
Another key song, Southampton Dock, reflects on the futility of yet another war, this time in the South Atlantic. The second part of the song utilises a snatch of the melody of another Wall outtake included on the Immersion set, ‘It’s Never Too Late’.
The title track follows, as a man (possibly Pink from The Wall) contemplates suicide but is distracted at the crucial moment when the phone begins to ring. The ending of the line ‘and if I’m in I’ll tell you…’is obscured by a gunshot, but the fact that the lost words are ‘what’s behind the wall’ again suggest this was a song destined originally for that album.
Perhaps the best known song here is ‘Not Now John’. Gilmour and Waters play characters at the opposite end of the spectrum in lyrics that comment on society’s apathy and ignorance towards the major economic and political issues of the day A real stand out after the lower key songs that precede it.
The album concludes with Two Suns in the Sunset, as the fear of impending nuclear Armageddon overshadows the lives of the population, threatening to obliterate all that was fought for forty years previously. As with ‘Mother’ on The Wall, Nick Mason does not play on this, having been unable to master its deceptively complex time signatures. The song is currently being performed once more by Waters on his This Is Not A Drill tour, its message seemingly as pertinent now as it was when it was originally recorded.
As the band was effectively over, there were no live shows supporting the album. Indeed, Pink Floyd have never played any of this album’s songs live, although Waters has repeatedly returned to it over the years for his own shows. It was certainly a long way musically, stylistically and conceptually from DSOTM and Wish You Were Here.
I don’t suppose this album will ever receive the deluxe reissue treatment. As stated above, there is no live material, the early versions of some songs have already been used on The Wall box set, and it was very noticeable how little space was afforded this album at the ‘Their Mortal Remains’ exhibition at the V&A. Who knows, perhaps Waters has more material lurking in his archive, and I guess he would be the only person interested in putting some kind of expanded version together. In the meantime I suppose we’ll have to make do with the very low-fi demos that have been circulating on the internet for a number of years now. A great shame as this superb record must surely rank as the most underrated, under appreciated and misunderstood album of the Pink Floyd canon.