March 8, 2006

David Gilmour: On An Island

gilmour.island.jpgIím a guitarist. That means Iím super-critical of other guitarists and hard to impress. Guitarists with recording contracts who can do what I can do? Not impressive. But there are some guitarists who have incredibly unique sounds and techniques. Among those, David Gilmour has to be my favorite.

Recorded on the Astoria, the guitaristís houseboat-slash-recording studio, Gilmour gathers a host of stunningly able musicians yet fails to produce an album worthy of such a long wait. Itís been 22 years since his last solo release, and 12 years since his last studio work with Pink Floyd saw the light of day. Maybe itís because of the anticipation but Iíve got to say, Iím a little disappointed.

The album opens on a promising note, with the instrumental Castellorizon. Orchestral noise and effects eventually yield something more cohesive out of which a sensational guitar solo blooms. The solo represents almost everything Gilmour stands for musically. The title track is up next. I first heard it a few weeks back and wasn't all that impressed. Now I'm convinced it's one of the better offerings on the disc. I'm not sure whether that says something good about the song or something bad about the album. On An Island is a fairly mellow song, reminiscent of something Pink Floyd would have released somewhere around 1975 with hints of his work on The Wall. Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright's contribution to the song probably has something to do with this. Underutilized here are David Crosby and Graham Nash who contribute backing vocals. I say "underutilized" because I wouldn't have known it was them had I not read the liner notes. Gilmourís Fender Strat isn't underutilized. His solo is nothing short of brilliant.

The Blue provides the soundtrack to a breezy summer Sunday. Know what I mean? It's quiet and dreamy with lush vocals, a little keyboard and piano thrown in for good measure. The song structure is odd which wouldn't be a problem if it was powerful in the right places. It's not. Instead it's merely strident until the signature guitar solo which kicks in around the three minute mark. I don't have any problem with the solo. The rest of the song? Not all that exciting. Take A Breath follows, the title of which is ominously muttered over and over punctuated by layering of coarse, crunchy guitars. As with The Blue, there's something missing, an edge. Without it, the song just fails to connect. The guitar work is great, layered thick with fantastic soloing similar to that on High Hopes, one of the oft-overlooked Floyd masterpieces.

While Take A Breath might sounds familiar, Red Sky At Night is quite different. On it, Gilmour makes his saxophone debut. Not half bad. The short instrumental would sound at home in a 50's black and white noir film. It sounds okay here too. This Heaven takes a different tack, exposing a bluesier side of Gilmour. A very raw sounding acoustic guitar provides the rhythm and a rough, distorted electric shows off Gilmour's soloing abilities once again. That said, it's not a very interesting song and the orchestral arrangement behind it seems a little out of place. The instrumental Then I Close My Eyes opens in much the same way as This Heaven - with an unprocessed acoustic bit. A glass harmonica and piano back more guitars as they enter the mix and the whole thing settles into another one of those warm, lazy Sunday numbers.

Smile is a short, acoustic number that, again, fits well with the whole laid back, mellow thing Gilmour has going. It is, perhaps, one of the nicest songs he's ever written. There's nothing especially brilliant or flashy about it. It's just, well, nice. A Pocketfull of Stones follows. It contains some of the best lyrics on the album (most of which were penned by longtime collaborator and wife, Polly Samson) but it's not a very interesting song. Think Pink Floyd on Valium. It's only partially redeemed by the standard issue Gilmour solo. Where We Start closes the album. With its clean electric guitars and backing acoustics, it sums up the album nicely. It doesn't go out in a blaze of electric guitar soloing glory. Instead, the clean guitars and pianos fade nicely away.

On An Island is an odd album, primarily because it didn't thrill me but I was happy to get my hands on any new Gilmour material so I don't feel entirely shortchanged. It's also odd because, while the music didn't hold my interest, the guitar work is excellent and will, no doubt, prompt repeated listens. The album does nothing to change my mind about Gilmour - he's talented as hell and is one of the greatest guitarists to walk the earth.

Should you buy it? If you're a Floyd fan, definitely (I noticed my mind drifting to the rarely talked-about 1972 Floyd release Obscured By Clouds; these two albums, despite being released so far apart, have a very similar feel). I'd also recommend it if you're a fan of Gilmour or good guitarists in general. If you want a solid, mellow album, this is for you as well.

In many respects this is a perfect David Gilmour album. Instead of making a sad attempt to recapture his rock-star glory, he's made an album that's solid and, according to recent reviews, he feels very comfortable with. As a musician, he's aging with grace and dignity. Sure, I wish it was a little more interesting but, well, it's what he gave us so I'll just have to be content with that.

Posted by Chris at March 8, 2006 8:05 PM

I know exactly what you mean about a sound that reminds you of a breezy summer Sunday. Well put.

Posted by: wordgirl at March 8, 2006 8:14 PM

I find that I'm far more critical of female vocalists than men, for some reason. But, all ego aside, I can sing far better than many of the pop vocalists out there, and it's annoying.

Posted by: Heather at March 8, 2006 9:39 PM

Oooh, part of me wanted to read this review and part of me didn't. You know I love Dave Gilmour and I think I'll like this album just because it's him. As always, it's a well-thought-out review and I'll have to get back to you after we have the CD!! (And I forwarded this post to Beaux, of course!)

Posted by: samantha at March 9, 2006 8:21 AM

I dowloaded his album, of course without paying, and liked the sound but thought it was a bit boring. Perhaps that's the wrong word but I found the album full of nice sounds but not very exciting. Maybe I just need to listen to it a few more times?

Nice weekend


Posted by: AdventureDad at March 10, 2006 10:31 AM