This is an installment of a series of blogs where I revisit some classic albums that I love, used to love or has made an impact on pop culture whether I am familiar with it or not. You can also make suggestions on a classic album, and I may give a whirl and review it.
Next month, Pink Floyd’s final album “The Endless River” will be released. Made up of leftovers from the “Division Bell” sessions, it will be the last proper album they put out. It will also be the third album they have made after founding member Roger Waters left the band in the early ’80s after years of bitter in-fighting. This was followed by a decade of more bitter fighting, lawsuits and the pettiest behavior one could ever imagine full-grown adults could act out on.
I thought about which Floyd album I should revisit. The obvious choices would have been the big four: “Dark Side Of The Moon,” “Wish You Where Here,” “Animals” and “The Wall.” I could have gone with my favorite Floyd album, “The Piper At the Gates Of Dawn,” too. But “The Final Cut” shares something in common with “Endless River.” Both are Floyd albums that started from leftover material. This was going to be a companion album to “The Wall.”
Originally titled “Spare Bricks,” it was going to be an album of leftover material and songs that were re-recorded for the film version from “The Wall.” Waters rewrote some of that material, added some new songs and “The Final Cut” became a beast of its own. It became a dark, politically driven anti-war album — though this is not the first time lyricist Waters penned a politically charged Floyd album. “Animals” was the first politically driven album from Floyd. After Waters (a very vocal political activist) left, the Gilmour-led albums shied away from politics all together for the most part. (“Dogs Of War” from “Momentary Lapse of Reason” is so horrible, I just don’t recognize it as a thing)
Waters’ final album with Floyd was also the band’s angriest. “The Final Cut” was Pink Floyd’s darkest album as well.
Pink Floyd made their living out of the concept album. They were also known for their long instrumental and atmospheric music. With “The Wall,” they clearly went in a different direction than their previous work, but it succeeded because it was a coherent story and it included some beautiful pieces of music. Mostly the Gilmour co-writes of “Young Lust,” “Comfortably Numb” and “Run Like Hell.”
“The Final Cut” is the barest bones Floyd album ever made. It is mostly Waters’ singing over pretty sparse music. The only thing that remotely tried to sound like a rock song was “Not Now, John” and it is the worst song on the album. It’s also the only track with David Gilmour on vocals. Which is truly a shame, because he is by far a more superior singer than Waters is. Gilmour’s guitar and vocals will be as synonymous with Floyd as Waters’ lyrics. He handled the bulk of the vocals on “Dark Side,” and the vocals after were pretty much on him and Waters. Keyboardist Richard Wright (who does not appear on this album because he was fired during “The Wall” before it) wouldn’t take lead vocals on a Floyd album after “Dark Side” until the “Division Bell” almost two decades later. Which was also a shame, because he was a good singer too.
What “The Final Cut” lacks in musicality is almost made up by some on Waters’ strongest lyrics. The song “The Final Cut” is one of my favorite Floyd songs, with Waters’ most passionate vocals. It’s brutally honest and confessional and if anything, is probably the last Floyd song (or even Waters song in general) to have such a lyrical impact.
What is also odd is that the melodies for these songs are actually decent. The potential was there, but ego trumped that. It seems like Waters desire to control all aspects of this was also its undoing. I mean, the album states “‘The Final Cut’ written by Roger Waters. Performed by Pink Floyd.” Which lead to many critics to call it a Waters solo album. There is some legitimacy to that, but it is a canon Floyd album. It’s been included in their box set as a proper Floyd album and some tracks appear on their hits collections.
What is problematic is it’s the only album by Floyd were the lyrics are time stamped to the era in which they were written (“The Wall” also has a little of this). The reference to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher not only date the album, but go a bit too far in politicking. There is some of that on “Animals,” but they don’t take away from the songs too much.
Does it still stand up after all these years. Some of it does, some doesn’t. It is an interesting album, for the most part, but it is far from Floyd’s strongest material. This is an album from a band whose leader’s ego whittled the overall product down to suit his own vision. Gilmour was so unhappy with it, he took his name off the production credits on the album.
It’s also good that this wasn’t the final Floyd album. As important Waters was to the golden years, his attitude and conflicts got the best of him and crippled the band. Simply put, “The Final Cut” is decent enough for what it is, but it was not good enough for the band’s farewell. Same thing if they would have stopped with “Momentary Lapse of Reason,” because that is the only album by Floyd I hate front-to-back. “Division Bell” was prime for their farewell. Ending on “High Hopes,” that was something. Me and a lot of other Floyd fans thought the same.
Let’s hope they don’t undo that with “Endless River.”