It was a cold, gray morning in May. The QE2, stripped of her finery, helipads bolted to her sundeck, disembarks from Southampton dock with 3000 troops aboard; course: the Falkland Islands and war. It was 1982. Margaret Thatcher sent the boys to take back a small archipelago in the far South Atlantic. The remnants of a dying empire blustering with a South American dictatorship, destined to be the last “real” war of the twentieth century.
Empires rarely end cleanly. The long, slow slog of dissolution often renders an entire generation inert, holding on to the “rusting wire” that keeps the rotting ribcage of a nation together. When that wire snaps, the viscera pour out: as violence, as great depression, as last-gasp orgasmic nuclear war. The British Empire of 1982 is a dismal zombie, propped up by Tories and popular culture.
Pink Floyd, led almost entirely by Roger Waters, contributed to this zeitgeist The Final Cut. This album has long been a controversial entry into their catalog of spacy, psychedelic Prog rock. Highly introverted, the album is to me their masterpiece. David Gilmore and Water’s working relationship deteriorated significantly with this project, Gilmore frequently unable to provide material for the album, especially in light of Water’s success with his preceding The Wall in 1979. The Final Cut would turn out to be the final nail in the coffin of a unified Pink Floyd, securing its place as their last album as a full band.
The album is dark. It is morose. It is unflinching in its criticism of capitalism, of the military-industrial complex, and the failure of Britain’s post-war leadership in securing material wealth and psychosocial cohesion after the fall of the Liberal government in 1979.
In each song we hear a steady movement of downward progression, from the opening “The Post War Dream,” where we hear a car radio being tuned past bleak news: nuclear fallout shelters, rampant South American drug wars, and the loss of the Atlantic Conveyer, a British ship sunk during the Falkland’s war. The ship was to be replaced — not by local shipbuilders — but by their former enemies, the Japanese. We learn of possible pasts dominated by angst, as most of Water’s work seems to be (if he were born in the 80s, one wonders if he would have been an Emo artist).
The stage is set for a heartbreaking consolidation of threads woven during The Wall, that of a society not just devolving, but one that is actively working to destroy itself. Self-immolation of preceding generations by misdirected guilt, waste, and apathy; it is no surprise that the most vitriol is saved for world leaders. Thatcher, Menachem Begin, Nixon, Reagan, and Brezhnev are placed in the Fletcher Memorial Home, where Water’s longs for a final solution to these “colonial wasters of life and limb.” This is conceptually echoed in “When the Tigers Broke Free,” a paean to Water’s father’s death at the hands of the Nazis in Italy during the Battle of Anzio. The death of Water’s father is considered senseless. All that was achieved was a modern world of pollution, continuous small scale conflict (all deadly), and the always looming threat of total war.
As the record moves to looks through the eyes of its imaginary protagonist, we see life as both father and son, paradoxically being progenitor and offspring. “Not Now John” sees him/us broken down, his/our job sold off to low-wage foreigners, his/our hopes and dreams dashed for dollars. He, and we, eventually arrive at the end point of the Cold War: a world kept constantly on the brink of total nuclear annihilation.
Sitting, as we were in the beginning, listening to a car radio; the hum and chatter of announcers giving way to a quiet buzz, in the sky now blooms a second sun. Infinitely bright for a fraction of a second, erasing all doubt and all fear. Converting flesh and stone to ash, absolving us of our sins though intercession, no need to ever feel longing or love again because the “human race is won.”
And all is silence.