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Music Review: David Gilmour – On An Island

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David Gilmour might have ended the Pink Floyd we loved, but his creative instincts made it into a different, perhaps better band. His solo career has been sparse, yet impressive, with three albums in two decades. In his most recent work, On An Island, one rediscovers much of the old magic of Pink Floyd, while uncovering new, pleasantly surprisingly aspects of the musician’s art.

The opening instrumental collage, Castellorizon could be two or more songs blended together. The layered fog-horn like beginning gives way to delicate harmonies, before a segue into numerous sample-type riffs that alternately remind one of Castelan, Hindustani and Celtic melodies, finishing off with a classic Floyd-style solo, soaring and frangent with chart-topping music today. Orchestration is provided by Zbigniew Preisner, with much classical flair, though not the Sibelius-style work he’s done for Krzysztof Kieślowski.

The next song, the title track On An Island, has become a favorite and appears often on my pseudo-random iPod playlist, perhaps because of its nostalgic lyrics, tones, memories of times lived and unlived — a malaise, one believes, of one’s third decade. The harmonies are arranged by Graham Nash and David Crosby, and lyrics supported by Gilmour’s wife, Polly Samson. The orchestration is a bit over-powering and the solo tablature could have been borrowed from Division Bell, yet it’s a bourgeois-satisfying track.

The Blue retains the leisurely mood, but the lyrics are trite enough to have been written in a teen-romantic blue period, following an AABB rhyming scheme. The solo section fits with the mood, turning into a plaintive lament for an approaching encounter with the abyss.

Take A Breath varies the tempo, and changes the mood, reminding one things can go wrong, terribly wrong. The song breaks pace in the second half, making a point, as it were, and providing an effective build-up to the instrumental perfection that follows. “When you fall from grace your eyes in blue/Your every breath becomes another world/And the far horizon’s living hell.”

Red Sky At Night features David Gilmour on the trumpet and sets up a certain feeling, but does not follow through, leaving that to the next track, the excellent This Heaven, which is almost a return to grace, after Take A Breath. The blues-acoustic rock medley is well-produced, featuring Georgie Fame, and the lyrics are rich.“I need no blessings but I’m counting mine/Life is much more than money buys/When I see the faith in my children’s eyes”

Then I Close My Eyes changes tempo again, going nowhere, but introducing Brian Eno-style sonic themes. It serves as a musical interlude, drifting in musical space.

Smile is a lo-fi heartbreak-romance-found-again piece, allowing one much musical room to luxuriate in. “Wasting days and days on this fight/Always down, and up half the night/Hopeless to reminisce through the dark hours/We’ll only sacrifice what time will allow us.”

A Pocketful Of Stones is a mystical life-is-a-spark piece, a roll of the musical dice that provides a minimalist sound-stage for David G to flex his vocals and some guitar-work.“Rivers run dry but there’s no line on his brow/Says he doesn’t care who’s saved/It’s just the dice you roll, the here and now/And he’s not guilty or afraid.”

One day he’ll slip away/Cool water flowing all around/In the river and on the ground/Leave a pocketful of stones and not believe in other lives.”

The album wraps up with the Gilmour-penned Where We Start, a personal, trenchant, memory-laden look back at walking trails through life, reminscent of Frost’s “Walking By Woods On A Snowy Evening.” This could only have been written by someone who’s lived through a lot, and learned much.“We walk ourselves weary, arm in arm/Back through the twilight/Home again.”

We waltz in the moonlight and the embers glow/So much behind us/Still far to go.”

A satisfying album that was worth the listening.

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About aacool

  • nugget

    articulate and detailed review Aaman.

    You find alot to say about an album that I find (upon first listen) to be completely boring and void of creativity. I’m sure Gilmour has lived through some painful experiences, but who hasn’t? The harmony is repetitious and as pretentious as ever. What kind of musician has to hire someone to orchestrate? It’s not that hard! Learn to read music, David!

    No offense, Aaman. I simply don’t like Gilmour or Floyd.

  • http://desicritics.org Aaman

    Not liking Floyd is a mortal sin in some circles:)

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    how the heck is harmony “pretentious”?

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Well written review, Aaman. I do like Floyd a lot but have found their post-Waters material to be inconsistent. I have a feeling I would react the same to Gilmour’s new album. He can sing and he can play. I think lyrics have been troublesome for him over the years.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    the problem with Gilmour’s solo stuff is that his first one was just sooo good that the others just don’t measure up as well.

    i think that record is being reissued soon too.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    If they re-issue I am buying it. I haven’t heard the whole thing but I’d force myself to buy it if they put out a fancy re-mastered version.

  • Guppusmaximus

    Sure… The first one was amazing but look at the time in between. Come on, give the guy a break! Metallica took less time between a real album”And Justice…” & a crappy album”Black..” and didn’t get this much shit for it…

    Anyways, This album is one of the best fusion albums I have heard in a long time.
    Thank you David!!

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    No one will accuse Gilmour of being prolific, Guppus. That is very true.

  • Earl

    Floyd was Waters and Gilmour!

    There is no getting around that.

  • Alain

    “Floyd was Waters and Gilmour! There is no getting around that.”

    Eearl, sorry but i completely disagree. Dave is an excellent guitarist. PERIOD.

    Waters was the real artist behind Pink Floyd creativity.

    Can you see any conceptualization, dreamscapes, lyricism etc in Division Bell or AMLOR the way you see them in Wish you Were Here, Animals and the Wall? No!

    Let’s not fool ourselves; music like everything else is about art and Rogers was the best act.

    Thanks and regards

  • Juuso Uusimäki

    “Can you see any conceptualization, dreamscapes, lyricism etc in Division Bell or AMLOR the way you see them in Wish you Were Here, Animals and the Wall? No!”

    Floyd’s true strenght was its beautiful music written mainly by Gilmour and Wright and filtered through Roger’s great lyrics. However Rog’s stuff would’ve been nothing without David’s music. Many of the Floyd’s best songs – Comfortably Numb and Wish You Were Here as best examples featured beautiful melodies and music by Gilmour flawlessly cojointed with Roger’s stunning lyrics. Floyd’s best work was created by both of them collaborating but they can still create great stuff all on their own. For example Rog’s Amused To Death and Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell + Dave’s this album.

    Many Floyd classics are defined by his guitarwork and melodies. On Animals album – my personal favourite – there’s uncredited writing by Gilmour on both Pigs as on Sheep (for example Sheep has some great riffs from Dave in addition to synth fades etc. but similar to Money it was credited solely to Waters even though song wasn’t made by him alone)

    Saying David can’t do fine on his own is ridiculous. Post-Waters Floyd has some superb tracks such as On The Turning Away (music by Dave and lyrics penned by Anthony Moore), Sorrow (all Dave, magnificent song), Coming Back To Life (all Dave again and it is absolutely STUNNING song on par with Floyd’s very best) and High Hopes (their newest classic, music by Gilmour and lyrics by David and his wife Polly).

    Roger too has done some good solo stuff but post-Waters Floyd blows his doodlings out the water (apart from Amused To Death) easily.

    On An Island was absolute masterpiece for me. It is best album with Floyd member since The Wall, easily defeading The Final Cut and post-Waters Floyd as well as Roger’s solo albums (Amused To Death doesn’t lose much for this though)

    5/5 stars from me

  • armstrong stevy

    Some people still don’t get it. Just like David Gilmour, they are spreading this falacity about Gilmour being a better musician than Waters and some people sadly are happy to believe in it. It is utterly non-sense. Here are some basic proofs; The best work from Floyd was done under Waters with Gilmour/Right/Mason and it is certainly not under Gilmour with Right/Mason. Waters produced an opera ‘Ca Ira’ which is considered as a very decent work. When is Gilmour going to produce an Opera? Or produce something like the ‘Wall’? ‘On an Island’ is, at best, an average album.
    Gilmour is a fantastic guitar player and there is no doubt that he is one of the best out there in this field. However when it comes to real work, art, concept, musicianship, space, timing etc i think it is stupid to even think about making a comparaison. God bless!