I am writing this node partly as an an attempt to answer the question that jaubertmoniker posed in his excellent writeup of Pink Floyd's final album in which Roger Waters was involved with, The Final Cut. He lamented that the album is not well known, except among many of Pink Floyd's fans. I would like to do this by putting it in the context of the times in which it was released.
In 1983 when The Final Cut was released, the only song that got any real airplay on the Album Oriented Rock stations at the time was the cut Not Now John, which only got airplay for a couple of weeks before being shelved by most program directors and disk jockeys. Not Now John was a song which was a almost a total counterpoint to the theme from the rest of the album. Its message describes the narrarator's feelings about selling out and acquiescing to the Machine, whose only imperative is is to "compete with the wily Japanese" and make large stacks of money. The message was not lost on the recording industy's powers that be, and the album got little favorable press and even less airplay, despite its brilliance. The album itself is one of the most brilliant and compelling, yet one of the saddest and most depressing pieces of music ever recorded. Unlike The Wall where there is ultimately hope for the protagonist in a sort of rebirth after the wall is torn down and his feelings exposed, there are no such rays of hope in The Final Cut, only sadness, disappointment, bitterness, and doom.
I like to compare The Final Cut to The Day After, a made for TV movie which took a look at brutally realistic look at the destruction of a nuclear war on the town of Lawrence, Kansas. In the movie, one of the saddest commentaries isn't the immediate death and destruction, but the theme that there is no hope left. All of the contingency plans of the government are hopelessly unrealistic, all of the great cities destroyed, and even religious leaders have lost faith. All that is left are dwindling pockets of survivors trying to make a go of it in a poisoned and ruined world.
The listener is introduced to this world of gloom and despair by posing the question in the song The Postwar Dream: After all of our forebears' sacrifices, and even Jesus Christ's crucifixion is this what we have to show for it? The album starts to expand on the theme first by giving a warning the Holocaust could happen again with the line in the song your possible pasts, "In derelict sidings the poppies entwine -- with cattle trucks lying in wait for the next time". The listener is then forced to confront the sacrifices of the past by proposing that he switches places with those who lived the past and made the sacrifices. Waters is saying to the listener "This, dear listener, is how it would have been for you, if you had lived during WWII."
In The Hero's Return and The Gunner's Dream, the cost of those sacrifices to the survivors of the conflict is detailed in the nightmares of those who survived the fight, and the pain and lost dreams to those left behind by the dead. Fast forwarding to today, we are reintroduced to the survivors decades later of a war the young only know about in history books in Paranoid Eyes. These survivors are old enough to remember the horror, but young enough to have to make it in a world that hadn't turned out like they had hoped. They handle the disappointment in true British style, by stoicly keeping quiet and drowning their sorrows at the local pub, and resist attempts by others to probe their true feelings by "hiding behind paranoid eyes".
Side two of the album details the experience of the current generation of survivors. It starts with the sound of an airstrike in one of the more modern conflicts, and then Waters catalogues the instigators of the current wars, labeling all of them "overgrown infants". He proposes to solve the problem by locking them away in an asylum where they can "polish their medals, sharpen their smiles, and abuse themselves playing games for a while", in the songs Get your Filthy Hands off my Desert, and The Fletcher Memorial Home. The specter of the Holocaust happening again is brought to the young as the women "bravely wave the boys goodbye again", interleaved with the images of spreading bloodstains in Southampton Dock. The young cope with the nightmare by surrounding themselves with walls and delusions of their own to hide their despair in The Final Cut, or immerse themselves in an orgy of work, conspicuous consumption or selling themselves out in Not now John.
The last rays of hope were extinguished in the nightmare of our protagonist as he drives home with his back to the sun and faces the nuclear fire in Two Suns in the Sunset. The only consolation offered the protagonist in his final moments is that death makes us all equal in the end, both ashes and diamonds, foe and friend as the music fades away.
In 1983 when the album was released, particularly in Great Britan and many parts of the American rust belt, the grim reality was a collapsed smokestack economy and widespread unemployment, from which both countries were just starting to recover. This was also coupled with the sense that the USSR and the USA, which after nearly 40 years of cold war seemed to be headed for a Nuclear Showdown, which would be triggered by some senseless conflict in one of the world's seething hotspots. In a nutshell, things in 1983 were much like they were in 1948, the slow process of rebuilding the economy was really just starting, while in the background there lurked the knowledge that it could all happen again in an even more horrific way. Great Britan and the USA were sort of like a person who had been diagnosed with cancer, and after months or years of debilitating chemotherapy receives news that the cancer was in remission. The news is good, but is tempered by the terrible knowledge that the illness could recur. The person can go on with their life, and most people try to put the horrible knowledge out of their mind, but it never really goes away.
Under the circumstances of the time, the album hit a raw nerve at a time when most people just wanted to forget. The Wall came out several years earlier, and I think people sort of looked to The Wall to try to figure out why things were spiraling out of control for them. The Wall spoke to people on a personal level, while The Final Cut tried to do the same thing for society as a whole, and its message was just too disturbing and upsetting to revisit often.