Just because 1976's attempt to make a rock & roller out of Loudon Wainwright III, T Shirt, fared poorly in the marketplace, that was no reason for his record label of the time to no ask him to try it again, and 1978's Final Exam featured Wainwright once again backed by the band Slowtrain and trying to add some polish to his funny but poison-penned tunes. Thankfully, Final Exam doesn't feature anything quite as outré as the lascivious disco of T Shirt's "At Both Ends," and Wainwright's rock moves are more relaxed and easygoing, though he wails with genuine élan on the title cut and "Pen Pal Blues," and he's able to build up enough steam for the joke of "Watch Me Rock, I'm Over Thirty" to not be on Wainwright himself. The band also brings some welcome muscle to the foul weather anthem "Natural Disaster" and the bluesy jukebox tale "Two Song Set." But Wainwright inarguably sounds more comfortable at a lower volume and slower tempo, and "Mr. Guilty," "Pretty Little Martha," and "Far with Flying" are most likely to satisfy his longtime fans, with the backing subtle and Wainwright's excellent wordplay up front where it belongs. Final Exam was Wainwright's second and last album for Arista, and he would soon be recording for an indie label under less expensive but more sympathetic circumstances, but while this album is far from perfect, it strikes an agile middle ground between his folkie roots and his periodic attempts to plug in with a band.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming