Not Fade Away: Pink Floyd’s ‘The Final Cut’ Turns 30

In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades — some iconic, some lesser known —  as they celebrate significant anniversaries.  First up is Pink Floyd’s 1983 album, ‘The Final Cut.’

This week, as former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters is making headlines for calling on artists to boycott Israel and his former band is celebrating the 40th anniversary of landmark album Dark Side Of The Moon, there’s another Pink Floyd anniversary. It was 30 years ago today (March 21) that Pink Floyd ended an era, marked by the release of Waters’ final album with the band, the deeply political The Final Cut.

A continuation of The Wall, the album saw Waters take over the band completely. He’d been steering the ship for years, but on The Final Cut, all the songs were written solely by Waters. Additionally, guitarist/singer David Gilmour wasn’t even credited as a co-producer, as he had been on The Wall – a choice that was apparently Gilmour’s own preference. Gilmour only sang one song, the hard rocker “Not Now, John.”

A highly personal album to Waters, The Final Cut developed The Wall‘s theme of the psychological damage he suffered by losing his father in World War II when he was just a few months old. The Final Cut wasn’t as self-centered, though; it focused on war in general and the consequences to those who suffer because of it. “Southhampton Dock” pays tribute to veterans returning home, minus their fallen colleagues, while “The Hero’s Return” looks at a vet who now works as a teacher, but can’t seem to leave the war behind (some believe that this is the same character as the teacher in “Another Brick In The Wall”).

Waters’ anger towards world leaders is most apparent in “The Fletcher Memorial Home,” where he imagines then-President Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin living out their twilight years in a “home for incurable tyrants and kings.” The song ends with the narrator asking, “Is everyone in? Are you having a nice time?” before saying, “Now the final solution can be applied.” According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “the Final Solution” referred to the Nazi plan to eliminate all Jews.

pink floyd the final cut

It’s worth noting that Waters upset the Jewish community on his recent tour for The Wall. During an animated segment used to accompany “Goodbye Blue Sky,” a scene of airplanes dropping bombs in the shape of corporate logos, dollar signs and the religious symbols of Christianity, Islam and Judaism seemed to be an attempt to criticize all organized religion equally. However, the juxtaposition of the Star of David symbol with dollar signs drew the Anti-Defamation League’s ire, and according to the Huffington Post, Waters rebuffed charges of anti-Semitism but he did change the animation’s sequence. He told England’s The Independent that he isn’t anti-Semitic. However, he disagrees with Israel’s policies regarding Palestinians. “You can attack Israeli policy without being anti-Jewish,” he said. “It’s like saying if you criticize the U.S. policy you are being anti-Christian.”

Anger at world leaders in general – and the way their decisions affect the population at large – would be an ongoing theme in Waters’ future work.  His 1987 solo album Radio K.A.O.S. imagined a WarGames-like scenario where the world was fooled into thinking that bombs in all major cities would go off, which would lead to a war that would decimate the population (it’s complicated), and everyone realizes that community is more important than fighting at the behest of politicians. Waters sings on “The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)”: “I’m not saying that the battle is won/But on Saturday night all those kids in the sun/Wrested technology’s sword from the hand of the war lords.”

In 2000, he released one of his few new songs in since the ’90s, “Each Small Candle,” in which he describes the heroism of a Serbian soldier during the Kosovo War who saw a wounded Albanian woman, left his ranks and helped her.

More recently, on his tour for The Wall, during “Mother” when he sings “Mother, should I trust the government?,” graffiti appears on the wall, responding “no f***ing way!” Originally conceived as an album documenting his own alienation from the world, the tour recast the story (without changing the songs) to be more about how war alienates people from each other. During “Another Brick In The Wall (part 2),” a group of local children would join him onstage, all wearing shirts that said “Fear Builds Walls.” During the shows, he would spend time with veterans during the intermission, and after the tour wrapped up, he performed with a band of wounded vets at the Stand Up For Heroes concert in New York City.

In the early ’70s, Waters became a prominent writer focusing on madness on albums like Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here – mostly inspired by former Pink Floyd leader Syd Barrett. But on The Final Cut, he began to turn his attention to the world outside of his own life.  Unfortunately, it was the breaking point for the band. They didn’t perform to support the album, and soon, Waters announced he was leaving… which he thought, by proxy, meant the end of the band. After Waters left the fold, Floyd went on to release two more studio albums and go on extremely successful tours for both. But without their leader and chief lyricist, their songs lacked much bite.

Conversely, Waters’ songs are often weighed down by his concepts and complex lyrics. The Final Cut marked the beginning of that phase of Waters’ writing, and while he hasn’t released a new album since 1992′s Amused To Death, he remains an outspoken artist who is deeply concerned about the effects that government actions have on regular citizens. However noble that may be perceived to some, being outspoken means offending people – a fact Waters has seemed to accept more and more through the years. Us and them, indeed.

— Brian Ives,


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