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.