On An Island – David Gilmour
Not meaning to be such a contrarian but I received more and lasting pleasures from the first two David Gilmour solo releases than the last two Pink Floyd albums with Roger Waters in tow. And yes, that includes The Wall, which deserved praise for its ambitiousness yet, like many concept albums, its storyline diluted the songs. (Maybe some of this attitude results from my unending frustration at the lack of interest in Floyd’s Animals. The musical line from that album can be found in Gimour’s solo work.)Gilmour's self-titled debut was imbued with mystery, intimacy and a sense of suffocation that resulted from rising tensions within Floyd. It still is a fantastic grey day record; something to warm up next to while outside it's cold and raining. In better spirits and ready to stretch, his next release, About Face, had a more energetic feel. And despite the moniker, the final two Floyd studio releases, A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell, had the aura of Gilmour’s solo work with the occasional grandiose element thrown in to give an arena-filling art rock superstar act some drama (i.e. the opening of "Signs of Life" on Momentary). Now, after 12 years since his last notes played in the studio as a member of Floyd and 22 years since he released an album under his name, Gilmour has put out On An Island. Over the span of 10 tracks, he creates something that should satisfy Floyd fans, particularly those who bought the band’s last two albums, while carving out enough of a musical shape that he’s able to mark much of the material with a solo personality. The album’s weakest moments come when it’s most reminiscent of the final days of Floyd. With several instrumental snippets and Gilmour’s distinctive guitar work, "Castellorizon" acts like an overture but there’s nothing so vital about it that would be lost if the listener skipped on to the lush and beautiful title track.
With backing vocals from David Crosby and Graham Nash, "On An Island" has the presence heard on David Gilmour except in 2006 he seems much more content with his place in the world. Another strong track, "The Blue," follows this standout. The acoustic "Smile" and "Where We Start" also find Gilmour reveling in a comfortable life brought about by a loving family, creating music at a leisurely pace and not having to be responsible for the musical behemoth of Pink Floyd. (On a side note, wouldn’t it be interesting if after Roger Waters plays his Dark Side of the Moon shows this summer he wants to record and tour under the Pink Floyd moniker? Would another court battle ensue or…?)
More Floyd-like sounds emerge on "Take A Breath" and "Red Sky At Night." On the former, Gilmour's guitar playing is given extra room to shine, while the latter allows him to show off his skills on saxophone, an indulgence that's allowed since after all it is his solo album. That same attitude runs through "Then I Close My Eyes," which finds the instrumental traveling without a sense of purpose 'til you realize that, like the waves heard at the beginning of the track, it's meant to move at a casual, reflective pace.
Finds like this are why I enjoy Gilmour's solo work. It's not a perfect record but it's the only David Gilmour sounding one you're going to get this year, and that's a justifiable endorsement of its lazy, hazy and worthwhile gifts.