Monday, February 5, 2007

David Gilmour - 'On An Island'

Rating - 6/C

This is probably all for the best. On the last two Pink Floyd albums (with any luck, the last ever), Gilmour came across as a little desperate. A good singer and guitar player, but not the most creative or brilliant songwriter around, he now had to take on the lion's share of writing and composing albums to be released under the name of one of the most legendarily pompous, meaningful and exploratory bands. To be fair, he chose this path - hence that legendary law suit where he, Wright and Mason won the rights to the Floyd name. In any case, Gilmour was only intermittently up to the task, often sounding like he was unconsciously parodying his own band on Momentary Lapse Of Reason, and calling in an army of song-doctors to make Division Bell more unified and musically even, if rather tending to buckle under its own weight.

It was an uncomfortable act, and one that not only took some of the shine off the Floyd legacy but also obscured Gilmour's real talents in favour of turning out Dark Side-derived arena-oriented product. These real talents, in my considered and very valuable opinion are:

-He plays the guitar pretty well and has a good ear for creating pleasing musical arrangements in general

-He's got a very good singing voice

-He's a real pro who is able to ensure a high degree of musical class and studio polish on whatever he does

All of which are sterling virtues, but weren't the values on which Pink Floyd were built. It's a lot better for everyone concerned that Floyd appears to be on permanent hiatus and Gilmour can make his music without having to try very hard to make it sound like PF product.

Having said that, this album isn't a huge diversion from the Floyd sound - it's just more stripped-down and varied, with most of the songs going for a sort of personal, mellow vibe rather than sifting through the remains of Waters' megalomania and neuroses (the Barrett vibe is of course long gone). 'This Heaven' and 'Smile' are probably the two least Floydian tracks here. The former is an engaging shuffle with jaunty acoustic lines and Gilmour in fine voice singing about his perfect little secular heaven on earth (the man's a celeb atheist, of course, remember the Douglas Adams connection). 'Smile' weaves acoustic and slide guitars to create a pretty little pop tune that's romantic in the essentially domestic and cozy vein that dominates much of this album.

The opening intro, 'Castellorizon', tries to channel some of that psych-pomp, meandering around in a sound collage haze until, with a minute to go, Gilmour launches into one of his trademark arena-ready solos. It's followed by 'On An Island', which uses Floydian approaches but is basically a warm, nostalgic and comfortable sort of song. Messieurs David Crosby and Graham Nash provide harmonies here, but are somewhat overwhelmed by the huge production. 'Take A Breath' tries for an edgier sound, with slightly uneasy chords, but it sounds like an outtake from Momentary Lapse Of Reason, not the happiest association to conjure up. There's more arena-oriented guitar heroics as well, but Gilmour has never been very convincing when he tries to just rock out. Those trademark solos can be a bit of a liability as well because they often simply conjure up memories of some of the worst excesses of late-career Floyd, in studio and live. Still, he never hits a bum note.

There's a couple of instrumentals too. Neither is a tour de force. 'Red Sky At Night' shows that Gilmour has been taking sax lessons, but it isn't all that compelling, more of a vanity piece if you ask me. 'Then I Close My Eyes' on the other hand is fresh and pretty with banjos and things being used.

Before long though, that mellow, lush and easy-going feel starts to dwindle into boredom. 'Pocketful Of Stones' moves between very ballady piano-dominated verses and all manner of orchestration, but by this point I for one felt too sedated to really stand up and notice. An earlier track on the album, 'The Blue' also tends to drift away in a similar ambient haze. The album closer, 'Where We Begin', is more intimate, mid-tempo mellow melody and calmness.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: Calmness. That's the keynote of this album. What we have here is the sound of a calm, content elderly gent crafting some mellow tunes with a few friends. The fact that he used to be a vital part of a legendary band shouldn't obscure the fact that is just a very personal, mellow, somewhat solipsistic album by a well-settled old guy. He sings beautifully, plays his guitar rather well, barely overstays his welcome and fails to really rock the boat. Play back-to-back with Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music for full effect.


100hands said...

A beautiful album indeed.
I love the solo on "The Blue". Its like falling from a 100-storey building and never touching the ground. :)

100hands said...

Hey Jayps, I'd like to read your review on Neon Ballroom and Tripod. :)
I will remember those red-light nights in Domlur listening to Emotion Sickness.