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Playing God
Pink Floyd: The Wall/The Final Cut

here are few things that could do without editing. Roger Waters’ masterpieces, one generally believed to be so and one personally believed to be so, could also do with the treatment. Both The Wall and The Final Cut contain material that is musically and lyrically suspect. Many of The Wall’s canonical moments of Classic Rock radio fare are turgid rock monuments to an era gone by—bloated guitar solos abound. The Final Cut, on the other hand, suffers from serious lyrical flaws. The dependence on actual historical figures trivializes the personal demons that Waters undergoes throughout.

Luckily, Waters has a one-track mind—the two albums cover much of the same material. As such, I’ve taken the liberty of putting three discs into one fifty-five minute juggernaut of personal redemption…or hatred…or…well…you decide what it is. I’ll describe it.

The Thin Ice

My version of The Wall begins a bit more atmospherically than the original, taking away the bombastic epic nature of “In the Flesh” for the pastoral piano-led “The Thin Ice”. Sure, near the end we have the guitar histrionics, but it’s generally more constrained and leads perfectly into the next track—the equally taut “Another Brick in the Wall (Part I)”.

Another Brick in the Wall (Part I)

Not that one. That one is only hinted at within the airy and light guitar licks of this version. We have all the intimations, but none of the regimented march tempo that makes the second portion so unbearable to listen to. That’s the one that launched a thousand high school drop-outs. But it’s also the song that made this album an unmitigated success, turning Roger Waters’ rage outward before the inevitable move towards his own demons in the latter half of The Wall and nearly all of The Final Cut. This portion of the song, instead, talks about Waters’ father leaving the family and flying across the ocean—a central concern in The Final Cut. Unfortunately, this song leads directly into the next. Let’s hope that some creative editing is allowed and we’ll change this version to merely a fade-out.


One last glimmer of hope before the dark cloud of depression sets in; “Mother” is the ultimate Oedipal love song. Waters begins the song asking questions of his Mother and, then, takes her voice, singing the words that he needs to hear. Right before the guitar solo we hear the double-edged sword: “Of course, Mama’s going to help build the wall”. Even the glimmers of hope have their subversion in Waters’ lyrical world.

Goodbye Blue Sky

This, being the follow-up song to “Mother” on the album, is an easy choice. The fact that it doesn’t contain an overlong guitar solo in the middle also helps, admittedly. We also have the premonitions of Final Cut material again as Waters speaks of “did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter when the promise of a brave new world fell beneath a clear blue sky?” It helps to push my private narrative and further helps to take the rock, but not rocks, out of The Wall.

One of My Turns

With “Young Lust” being taken out, we only get the aftermath—the introduction to our groupie in the form of an amazed monologue, fawning over Pink’s hotel room. It’s also got one of the nicest rhymes on the disc: “razor blade” and “tourniquet”.

Don’t Leave Me Now/Another Brick in the Wall (Part III)/Goodbye Cruel World

What starts as a plea for the groupie, ends as a plea for anyone at all. “Don’t Leave Me Now” and the next two songs are Pink’s descent into the abyss. Stifling masterpieces of atmosphere, you can feel him sinking sinking sinking sinking further into it.

Is There Anybody Out There?/Nobody Home

And how to come back from the blinding depression of “Goodbye Cruel World”? Let’s not and push further. This suite of songs, instead of “Comfortably Numb”, constitute the core of my Wall experience. Some of the most impossibly sweet guitar work that Floyd had ever produced, “Is There Anybody Out There?” leads perfectly into the indirect answer to Waters’ question. “Is There Anybody Out There?” …does it matter when “Nobody (is) Home”?

Vera/Bring the Boys Back Home

A lot of people find these two songs to be mere incidental music before the main event. What they really are, however, are the major summations of Waters’ argument in The Wall. Lost love—both from mothering women and his long-lost father. That “Comfortably Numb” follows “Bring the Boys Back Home” is obvious—it’s the reward for sitting through Waters’ complex neuroses, as is much of the rest of the album. That’s why, in my version, we go straight into Final Cut material from here.

The Post War Dream

The sadness of not being able to bring the boys back home continues in “The Post War Dream”. It starts softly, unlike “Comfortably Numb”, giving time for the emotional weight of the previous song to accumulate, before the trend of television channel changing continues unabated. The climax, because of the extreme build-up, is that much more potent here. It’s, perhaps, just as heroic guitar-wise as “Comfortably Numb”, but it’s pushed way back in the mix, giving primacy to Waters’ voice.

The Hero’s Return/The Gunner’s Dream

From here we jump straight into what was the less-commercial, but far more interesting analogue to “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)”. This time, however, it’s not a teacher, it’s the war hero—hiding his memories through a veneer of sarcasm and hatred for the way things turned out back home. It answers the question of “Bring the Boys Back Home” in a harrowing fashion. If the boys came home, they’d still be changed beyond belief. In fact, there was no chance at all from the beginning. “The Gunner’s Dream” furthers this idea—a painful memorial to what they were actually fighting for. “You take her frail hand and hold on to the dream”.

Paranoid Eyes

“Paranoid Eyes” is the doubling back of Waters’ lyrical conceits. A “if you weren’t sure, this is what I mean” type of track, but it has a gentle swing that can’t be denied. “Laughing too loud” is the tip-off. The war hero is back, but he is certainly not the same man he once was. It leads us into the final movement of the album, taking away all the hope that you might have gathered from its stately instrumentation and construction.

Southampton Dock

We make our final descent by starting at the beginning of where war began. The woman stands at the dock, waving once again, wondering whether things will ever change. It’s a simple ballad, full of false hope and mute resignation.

The Final Cut

It’s the final everything, really. The final shout into darkness. The final chance at redemption. The final possibility for vulnerability. But it’s all gone in a haze of cynicism, swirling strings and, to my ears, the saddest guitar solo of all time. It’s all fucked. All of it.

Or is it? Turns out Roger never had the nerve to make the final cut. Instead, in the original version of The Final Cut, Waters took the easy way out and blamed the government, imagining a final answer in the dropping of the big one in “Two Suns in the Sunset”. Waters could never truly divorce himself from what he wanted. He always thought it was possible to find some semblance of love or connection. That’s part of the reason we never found Waters dead of a suicide somewhere. That’s part of the reason he ended it in such a contrived way. We’ll end it in a contrived way, as well. There’s hope in the end of “The Final Cut”. He never had the nerve to make it. Why? “Because just then the phone rang”. Who is it? Waters never answers. Real life, unfortunately, isn’t so neat and tidy. Neither are albums.

By: Todd Burns

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Posted 02/10/2004 - 10:21:33 AM by naiveteenidol:
 Todd Burns spending this much time contemplating Floyd's Inner Meaning? My... Truth be told, I don't think I could have guffawed louder upon seeing this at first. But Mr. Burns has really taken a nice stab at capturing the essence of these records, which I've always suspected had more merit than my patience warranted me discovering. And though his particular reading on the inextricable link between TFC and the Wall has never occurred to me as such—particularly with respect to the song choice—it actually is quite sensible. Especially bold is the excision of a lot of the fascist imagery ("Waiting For the Worms," etc); even more interesting is his focus on the MOST self-pitying material, which I'd always believed to be the real weakness of the records. In actuality, as Burns points out, it's not the war or even his father's death, but rather how they damaged Waters' ego that is really at the core of both records. Nice.
Posted 02/10/2004 - 10:38:29 AM by AUnterberger:
 I'd love to hear this. The idea of focusing on all the restrained, non-single material on The Wall is an intriguing one, and would probably make for a fascinating alternate perspective, especially when mixed with the extremely divisive material of The Final Cut.
Posted 02/10/2004 - 10:43:21 AM by naiveteenidol:
 Agreed. I think Chris Dahlen's already cueing this up on Rhapsody as we speak...
Posted 02/10/2004 - 07:24:06 PM by btwillig:
 Good article. I thought my Pink Floyd days were long behind me but this article has made me want revisit them. Much has been made about what a flop The Final Cut was but the songs you list above, imo, are some of the best Waters has ever written.
Posted 02/11/2004 - 06:47:58 PM by Noel_Diddy:
 Before this article, I thought Todd Burns was perfect. After this article, I know it. It's like . . . Gilmore, then Waters, then Burns.
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