Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pink Floyd - The Final Cut (1983)

Rewinding the progressive rockers last album to feature Roger Waters

On my desk sits a copy of Pink Floyd's The Final Cut, a seminal concept album I haven't cracked since high school, when it was one of my all-time favorites. Needless to say, what I love and what I hate have changed a lot since then. In light of those changes - and for the edification of you, dear reader - I will now re-listen to The Final Cut for the first time in  more than a decade, commenting as I go, devoid of prejudice, trying to see whether or not it still stands up. 

0:19 - The Final Cut, I should note, was intended as a kind of spiritual sequel to Pink Floyd's classic double-album monument to overindulgence The Wall. On the All Music Guide, the ubiquitous Stephen Thomas Erlewine has this to say about it: "The Final Cut alienates all but the dedicated listener…it's damn near impenetrable in many respects...Distinctive, to be sure, but not easy to love and, depending on your view, not even that easy to admire." Bullshit! Erlewine obviously doesn't remember what it was like to be a teenager, because, as I recall, there was no album that more perfectly captured my sense of weltschmerz and all-encompassing egoistic pain and melodrama than The Final Cut. I loved Roger Waters' wounded-child yelping! I loved the aggressive, frightening dynamics! I loved the soothing instrumental textures! I learned how to bang out almost all of the album's 12 tracks on acoustic guitar. 

2:31 - "Oh Maggie, Maggie what did we do?", sings Waters near the end of "The Post-War Dream." Wondering who "Maggie" was in my pre-political ignorance, I always assumed her to be this kind of eternal rock archetype - the Maggie of "Maggie's Farm," by Bob Dylan, of "Maggie Mae" by the Beatles, of "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart - matriarchal and sad-eyed, a source of shelter and solace for cheeseball rockers the world over. Not knowing any better, this was how I interpreted Waters' "Maggie" in The Final Cut, as a meta-Maggie of sorts, appealed to with fervent and childish earnestness. This seemed, to me, inexpressibly touching - like praying to rock and roll to save you from real life. Which is an idea to which most every teenager can relate. 

3:02 - I now know that the weird spacey effect on the rhythm guitar in "Your Possible Pasts" is called "flanging," a word (and process) invented by George Martin, who, during his long tenure as the Beatles' producer, oversaw a tape operator named Norman Smith. Smith, in turn, went on to produce Pink Floyd's first album Piper at the Gates of Dawn, an album whose Syd Barrett-helmed psychedelic madness couldn't possibly be further removed from The Final Cut's Roger Waters-dominated manic bathos. Just an aside. 

4:03 - "Do you remember me? How we used to be? Do you think we should be closer?" This line kicks off what may be the classic Final Cut sadistically dynamic explosion, and shortly after it we get the album's first Searing David Gilmour Solo, that element of Pink Floyd which forever types them as a "classic rock" band. Personally, I was never much into Gilmour's wankery, though I acknowledge that he's a more substantial and emotional wanker than most. Back in those days, as band roles go, I was always more into the soul-baring songwriter than the wanking lead guitarist, probably because I was such a damn pussy. 

14:44 - "The Gunner's Dream" was probably my favorite song on this album back then. But, for one reason or another, the surging strings, the throat-shredding screams, the pitiful lines like "no one kills the children anymore" and "take his frail hand and hold on to the dream" aren't really having any effect on me this time around. Even worse, I'd forgotten entirely that this song is deeply marred by the skronking nuisance of a Bad Saxophone Solo. Traumatized, I must have blocked it out of my memory until now. 

16:55 - Now "Paranoid Eyes," on the other hand - beautiful! Sure, the lyrics are a little bit over-the-top, but the delicate, sensitive backing is gorgeous! 

17:42 - Oops. Said gorgeous backing was just compromised more than a little by a rattling vibraslap excessively panned - Foghat style - from the corner of one ear to the other and back again. I'm starting to realize that one problem with Pink Floyd in the twilight years of their Waters period is that the lush, effects-intensive "wet" sound they'd developed on Dark Side of the Moon and perfected on parts of The Wall soon devolved to the point where every single tearjerking line Waters uttered was accompanied by a wacky sound effect. He'd sing "phone" and a distant phone would ring; he'd sing "TV" and a distant 50's TV voice would chime in; he'd sing "half-empty bottle of Yoo-Hoo falling off a three-story Manhattan balcony onto the back of an ant walking south-west in mid-winter" and…you get the picture. The bad part of this is that, after awhile, it gets hard to tell the difference between latter-day Pink Floyd and classic-era Spike Jones. 

20:55 - Aah, "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert," with its infamous exploding bomb sound-effect - still deafening after all these years. What's more interesting to these contemporary ears is Waters' little litany: "Brezhnev took Afghanistan, Begin took Beirut, Galtieri took the Union Jack," which segues into more talk of the doings of Eternal Rock Music Maggie. Just goes to show the past isn't past, as the sentiment "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert" is still alive and well as I write this, and, come to think of it, Waters' bomb sound effect wasn't all that funny during this most recent hearing. 

21:48 - "The Fletcher Memorial Home" is the only song from The Final Cut that Capitol Records saw fit to include on Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd, whose assemblers had the unenviable task of trying to make the band that recorded both the playful and wacked-out "Bike" and the bland and radio-ready "Learning to Fly" seem somehow coherent. I wonder if they chose "The Fletcher Memorial Home" because of its Searing David Gilmour Solo, its relatively normal dynamics, or some other factor, because I can think of far better Final cuts to include on a best-of.
"Southhampton Dock," for example, is one of the most enduring and powerful songs on this record: simple, epigrammatic, and heartbreaking. Far from the crushing obviousness of this album at its worst, this gem contains wonderfully oblique and evocative lines like "no one spoke and no one smiled; there were too many spaces in the line" and "still the dark stain spreads between their shoulderblades." Lovely.

Meanwhile, the album's title track is a dead-ringer for an outtake from The Wall; the song overshoots all the strictures of taste and discretion and sails into the sun, incandescent and majestically melodramatic, ecstatically high on its own surging wave of world-obliterating pain. Any critical "distance" I could have from this admittedly bathetic song is wiped out by its force and its urgency. Let somebody else criticize it - I don't have the heart.

32:53 - I was never quite sure if "Not Now John" - which shamelessly comes on to disco where The Wall's "Another Brick in the Wall" just shyly flirted with it - is good or not. With its black-girl chorus that intersperses "ooh-laa"s and "shoop shoop"s with cries of "fuck all that!", it seemed like, whether the song succeeded or failed, you still had to hand it to Rogers. Listening to the requisite Searing Gilmour Solo (the album's third) this time around, I'm less inclined to be charitable and I think it's just kind of silly. Especially when it falls apart into distant and chaotic Waters yelping. 

40:24 - In the end, though, you've got to give Waters credit for the consistency of his vision. He concludes this album with the conclusion of the world; the breezy soft-rock account of nuclear holocaust that is "Two Suns in the Sunset" makes a brilliant, horrifically downbeat ending to this horrifically downbeat record. As an added bonus, we get some more beautifully grim Rogers imagery - "like the moment when the brakes lock…you stretch the frozen moments with your fear." 

40:30 - But, on the down side, Rogers has to go and mar this unassuming song with some more studio-recorded sound effects, this time of children screaming. Oh, yeah, and then there's another Bad Saxophone Solo. Yuck. 

43:01 - In the end, though, as that solo fades out, I'm realizing that The Final Cut is both better and worse than I remembered it. It's dated. I'm different. It's kind of ridiculous, just like I was kind of ridiculous. Still, though, it has managed, in 43 minutes and 10 seconds, to reach back through time and into my chest, find those dusty old heartstrings and, for old time's sake, give them a good hard tug. Will Robinson Sheff


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...