The Final Cut Song Analysis Essays

We’re trying something new here on the Discogs Blog, and that something is ‘Digging Deeper.’ When our team is looking to highlight music that we feel is especially underrated, it’ll get filed under Digging Deeper. The hope is that this will provide a prompt for the Discogs community to check out songs, albums, artists, labels or genres that might be flying under the radar. Of course, our initial offering focuses on an album from one of the most recognizable bands in the history of rock, so who knows what kind of funny business we’re up to.

It would be great to discuss Roger Waters‘ last album with Pink Floyd, The Final Cut, without getting mired in the circumstances that created the music within. This is a record that deserves to be analyzed on its own merits. There’s a clarity of thought at work, a depth of conviction and a careful synthesis of the past, present and future, that coalesce into something that just isn’t available elsewhere in the Floyd canon.

Those details that float around the perimeter of The Final Cut are too tempting to completely avoid, though. How could you help but linger on the fact that this was the last thing that Waters did as a member of Pink Floyd? Or on the near-total disappearance of the other members of the band on the album? After all, consider that this is literally the only Pink Floyd album without a musical contribution from Rick Wright. That’s not nothing.

Just Another Brick

And then there’s The Final Cut’s immediate predecessor. Widely regarded as a conceptual tour de force, The Wall looms large above nearly every other album in the Floyd catalog. Having followed closely on the heels of that record, however, and dealing with many of the same themes, The Final Cut suffers disproportionately. If the two are inextricably linked, as the critical consensus goes, then the younger album is surely the twin that got the short end of the genetic stick.

Is it fair to think of The Final Cut as Danny DeVito to The Wall’s Schwarzenegger? Well, it’d be hard to argue against The Wall having made the bigger cultural impression. It’s a perennial contender for one of the all-time great rock concept albums, and fairly so. You’re also infinitely more likely to hear tracks like “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2),” “Mother,” “Young Lust”, “Hey You,” “Comfortably Numb” or “Run Like Hell” on the radio or on a playlist than, say, “Your Possible Pasts” or “Paranoid Eyes.”

Here’s the thing, though. Arnold might have the big bankroll, but Danny D is undoubtedly the superior talent. If you want bombast, The Wall is your record. There are big sounds, broad ideas and grand gestures. It’s musical melodrama. There’s nothing wrong with that, and the highlights (especially the tracks that were more easily extracted from the album’s narrative) are unqualified gems.

That’s not how The Final Cut works. What it lacks in name recognition it more than makes up for via quality presentation. Where The Wall relentlessly hammers its point home, The Final Cut uses finesse and subtlety to draw the listener in. Okay, okay: finesse and subtlety by Mr. Waters’ standards. I mean, we’re still talking about a record that employs a philharmonic orchestra and the sax player from “Baker Street.”

We Danced and We Sang in the Street

What, exactly, are this record’s strengths? Well, let’s start with something related to said philharmonic orchestra and sax player: the aural atmosphere that’s presented here is utterly engrossing. Waters and co-producers James Guthrie and Michael Kamen weave a sonic tapestry that is unrivaled in the Pink Floyd catalog. That’s not a minor accomplishment. The band was always several steps ahead of their peers in terms of sound quality, and records like Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here are some of the most beautifully layered in the rock world.

The Final Cut is on an entirely different level, though. It starts with the engineering, which makes every last instrument, vocal utterance and sound effect jump right out of the speakers. That’ll only get you so far if your arrangements lack inspiration, but each moment here seems specifically crafted and balanced in terms of the sounds we’re hearing and the sounds that have been left behind. It’s all brought together with mixing and mastering that present a clear and sharply defined soundstage. Just give “The Hero’s Return” a spin to see the proof in the pudding: from that arrow finding the bullseye to the vocal layering during the, uh, ‘choruses’ (?), with a hazy mix of guitars at all stops in-between, there’s a skillful hand at work in crafting a resonant and vibrant world in stereo. No shame in the game where the rest of the group’s albums are concerned, but The Final Cut is real damn easy on the ears.

It should go without saying that the performances that are captured in such rich fidelity and sorted so expertly are of the highest quality. David Gilmour‘s guitar solos, in particular, are just about as dazzling as anything he ever recorded. More on that in a bit. Kamen and organist Andy Bown tickle the ivories in all the right ways, highlighted on cuts like “Your Possible Pasts” and “The Gunner’s Dream.” That’s especially admirable considering Wright’s absence coupled with the strong influence he exerted on the Floyd sound we’ve all come to know and love. If it doesn’t sound exactly the way Richard would play it, it’s a pretty fair forgery.

If I Open My Heart To You

The Final Cut’s secret all-star, though, is Waters himself, as he turns in some of the finest vocal performances of his career. The album’s lyrical content calls for a wide variety of emotions: thinly-veiled sarcasm one minute, plaintive ballads the next, roiling anger when Roger takes on the geopolitical villains of the world and a nearly gleeful lack of restraint when he reaches the tail end of “Not Now John.” This is especially impressive given that many of the tracks (“One Of The Few,” “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert,” “The Fletcher Memorial Home,” “Southampton Dock”) are so instrumentally spare that they offer the vocals little opportunity to hide. It’s all handled with aplomb, and Waters uses his voice to help humanize what might otherwise register as a detached collection of protest songs.

Of course, a fine set of vocal performances won’t necessarily amount to much without the lyrical heft to back ’em up, and The Final Cut contains what I’d argue is the strongest set of lyrics that Waters ever put to paper. At every turn on this album, there’s an arresting humanity that draws the listener in. There’s also a specificity to Waters’ words that stands in stark contrast to lyrics from previous albums.

Before I catch too much flak, let me just say that I’m not trying to cut down the lyrical content of the classic era Floyd recordings. There’s a sort of deliberate vagueness on Meddle or Dark Side that enables listeners to draw their own connections and interpretations, and that’s part of the reason that they’re still culturally relevant decades after they were first released.

However, Waters is less open-ended about things on The Final Cut. The imagery is much more precise, a necessity when you’re struggling with themes of war, fascism, nuclear holocaust and boating. Those issues get a real chance to percolate in the listener’s subconscious when they’re surrounded by concrete struggles and character sketches like you find in “The Hero’s Return,” “The Gunner’s Dream” or “Paranoid Eyes.” And even though the lyrics are more indebted to their time and place than you see elsewhere in Waters’ catalog (what with the repeated references to the Falklands War and a less-than-sunny appraisal of Thatcherite England), I’d argue that they’re still just as captivating as anything on previous Pink Floyd records or in Roger’s solo career. Plus, these ‘current’ events seem properly contextualized when interspersed with historical references to World War II and anti-leftist military actions in post-war Central and South America. Waters is connecting a lot of dots, but he’s not doing so haphazardly. Also: no singing dogs or odes to playground equipment. That’s a bit of a plus, then.

As a side note, it’s probably worth admitting that the version of this album I’ve become accustomed to is the one that places “When The Tigers Broke Free” smack dab in the middle of side one. I see how it breaks the flow a bit, interrupting the transition from “One Of The Few” into “The Hero’s Return.” I see it and I don’t care. Know that I get some kinda chills every time I hear this song. If this record is Waters’ lyrical peak, “When The Tigers Broke Free” must surely be the precise moment where he reaches his apex. Emotionally charged with a drop-dead gorgeous arrangement, there’s no convincing me that the track deserved to be left behind in the editing room.

Pie in the Sky

I know that The Final Cut is not a perfect album. There are definite issues here. After a careful listen, you may notice some really expert uses of musical themes over the course of the album; for example, the “What have we done/ Maggie what have we done/ What have we done to England” melody from “The Post War Dream” that is wordlessly repeated several times helps to tie the start of the record with the second half. Reusing themes within an album is definitely cool! Themes that sound like they’ve been recycled from another record? Considerably less cool. That’s the exact problem I have with most of the strummy acoustic bits that come across as retreads from The Wall.

The album also kinda loses steam toward the end. The title track starts out promising but seems a little out of place once the rock and roll references kick in (and, yeah, speaking of The Wall retreads…). “Not Now John” is a great concept on paper, but the final result when you add up the industrial noises and the backup singers is even more kitschy than could’ve possibly been intended. Plus, it contains the most cringe-worthy moment on the whole record with that cute little rap breakdown. What, was Billy Joel not available for the sessions? Good lord. “Two Suns In The Sunset” is a captivating lyric, but it’s about 40% too long. Hey, my favorite Pink Floyd record is Animals so you KNOW I have patience for a track that’s not in a hurry to call it a day. And this record is too good to go out on a smooth saxophone solo, Rog.

Additionally, I know I’ve already said that the arrangements here are expertly managed, but there’s a part of me desperately wishing that Gilmour weren’t relegated to a bit part. Just to make the stakes clear: what we’ve got is possibly the greatest guitar soloist in the history of rock and roll, damn near the top of his game, and he gets to sneak in a few times for some bursts of lead work? The man had just cut “Comfortably Numb”! There’s raw power to be had in them fingers! Every time he goes into solo magician mode on The Final Cut, you can practically hear the sweat beading off of his Big Muff. If there’s anything that saves the end of the record, it’s Gilmour spitting hot fire over “The Final Cut”  and “Not Now John.” “Your Possible Pasts” and “The Fletcher Memorial Home” unquestionably benefit from his tasty fretwork. And…that’s pretty much it? Now, I’m not expecting every track to be a guitarfest. Oh, wait. Yes I am. But even if I weren’t, I’d still want to hear more. And before you think this is just about guitars (even though it definitely is): only one Gilmour vocal? Again, Waters does some magnificent vocal work on the album. But there was always something special about the Gilmour/Waters vocal dynamic that elevated the most powerful of the Floydian epics.

In My Rear View Mirror

Accounting for the highs and lows of The Final Cut, then, how does it stack up against the rest of the Pink Floyd catalog? Well, that’s entirely subjective, of course. Plus, whatever happened to looking at it based on its own merits or whatever the hell? Oh, where’s the fun in that? Ahem. Anyway, the album is not generally despised or reviled so much as it just seems to be an afterthought. Indeed, when the Discogs blog ranked the Top 10 Floyd albums, The Final Cut snuck in right at #10. Hey, itcouldhavebeenworse, y’know? And while I might rearrange the order a bit, let’s be real: that list’s top four does contain the legit four best Pink Floyd albums. No sense trying to pretend otherwise.

Now, for my money, The Final Cut is a superior record to The Wall. Controversial stance number one! That’s right, Danny D, you’ve finally beaten the Governator. I’ll let you in on a really juicy secret, though: I think I’d put The Final Cut pretty firmly at #5 on that list. Controversial stance number two! Seriously, would I rather listen to this record or anything pre-Meddle? Those albums have all got their moments, to be sure, but none are as consistent as The Final Cut. None are as lyrically artful. And while there’s an anarchic (and collaborative) instrumental spirit that The Final Cut can’t recapture, that can just as easily be a pro as it can a con (cough cough “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”).

Consider those cons canned, then, because the lads just didn’t pull their business together until Meddle. Well, I mean, at least not enough for my taste, and at least not enough to rise above a really good record that they’d make later. Er, that all but the keyboardist would make later. And, anyway: if it’s Floyd it’s still worth a spin, isn’t it? You’re damn skippy. Well, as long as there are some guitar solos. Just thank your lucky stars for the guitar solos.

Almost all of the Pink Floyd album covers were created by Storm Thorgerson, a founder member of graphic art group Hipgnosis until Roger Waters had a falling out with him before “The Wall” album.  When their 12th studio album “The Final Cut” was released on March 21, 1983, Waters created the not so impressive album cover himself.

Upon looking at the artwork my first thought was, what does it mean???

The Final Cut” was an anti-war concept album so the cover is all about War, a favorite topic of Pink Floyd (Waters in particular).

The top left of the front cover shows a portion of a Remembrance poppy that has been used since 1920 to commemorate soldiers who have died in war.

The strips of fabric are four World War II medal ribbons laid out on a black fabric background. From left to right the medals are the 1939–45 Star, the Africa Star, theDefence Medal, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.  Here’s a breakdown of the ribbons…

Waters also dedicated the album that was provisionally titled “Requiem for a Post-War Dream” to his father, Eric Fletcher Waters who died in World War II.

Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here” Cover Photo Location And Stuntmen


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