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Gilmour - On An Island
Review No: 268
Monday 6th March 2006 was a milestone day in the life of Rock ‘n’ Roll. It was David Gilmour’s 60th birthday, the day he chose to release his third album under his own name ‘On An Island’. His first solo album for eighteen years, and his first significant studio recording since he recorded with his old band ‘Pink Floyd’ their swansong album ‘The Division Bell’ in 1994.
The results are staggering, easily the best solo album
to be recorded by a Pink Floyd member as a solo artist including his own
two solo efforts ‘David Gilmour’ (1978) and ‘About Face’
(1984). There was also a live DVD and video put out.
Pink Floyd solo albums have never really caught the public’s imagination until now. Pink Floyd’s first leader, songwriter and guitarist Syd Barrett left the band in some mental disarray in 1968. He released two solo albums, ‘The Madcap Laughs’ and ‘Syd Barrett’, both in 1970, which are best summed up by the title of the first album. It would be kinder not to mention drummer Nick Mason’s forays into solo work.
Richard Wright has released three solo albums, the first
released just after Roger Waters had kicked the founding member and keyboard
player out of his own band, ‘Wet Dream’ (1978), which while
it has its musical moments is an understandably bitter album. In 1984
Richard Wright released ‘Zee-Identity’ in collaboration with
Dave Harris. Then in 1996 we were presented with ‘Broken China’,
a much happier affair. Roger Waters’ albums are all a matter of
opinion. ‘The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking’ (1986), ‘Radio
K.A.O.S’ (1987) and ‘Amused To Death’ (1992) and this
year we have been supplied with an album of opera music under the Waters
banner of ‘Ca Ira’. Whatever you think of any of the solo
Floyd albums, none of them have exactly set the charts alight, until now.
David Gilmour joined ‘Pink Floyd’ in 1968 when Syd Barrett was becoming just a little too spaced out to work with. Since then he has worked on eleven (if you count the studio half of Ummagumma) studio albums by the band, although his contributions to ‘The Final Cut’ (1983) were minimal, as well as two magnificent soundtrack albums.
The first six albums were all group collaborations (after the first album without Gilmour was definitely a Barrett effort), including the classics ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ (1973) and ‘Wish You were Here’ (1975). By the following album, ‘Animals’ (1977), Roger Waters had rather taken over the band, and although ‘Animals’ is a fine album with some excellent guitar from David Gilmour, the themes were all Roger Waters. By the time of ‘The Wall’ in 1980 Roger Waters was the complete leader of the band dictating every move including the removal of Richard Wright, who was kept on for the Wall tour as a session musician. Mind you the best two songs on the album were co-written by David Gilmour, ‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘Run Like Hell’, which featured some of David Gilmour’s finest guitar work and vocals. ‘The Final Cut’ was recorded under the ‘Pink Floyd’ banner but was a Roger Waters solo album in all but name. David Gilmour played the guitar he was told to, Nick Mason did not even play all the drums, and Richard Wright had long gone.
In 1985 Roger Waters declared the demise of Pink Floyd and the commencement of his solo career, it never occurring to him that the others might carry on without him. But after a quick breather that’s exactly what they did. Gilmour and Mason quickly recalled Wright, and now with Gilmour firmly at the helm of the good ship Pink Floyd, the greatest Space Rock band in history started off on another journey where no man has gone before under its third captain.
Of course there were then many tedious court battles as to whether Pink Floyd could continue without Roger Waters and who owned what, far too many to go into here, but suffice to say that the Gilmour led Pink Floyd released two studio albums, ‘A Momentary Lapse Of Reason’ (1987) and ‘Division Bell’ (1994), both of which topped the charts all over the world whilst the tours sold out all across the face of the planet, and any other planet that would have them. Two double CD live albums were released to celebrate each tour, ‘Delicate Sound Of Thunder’ (1998) and ‘Pulse’ (1994), which also went number one across the oceans, finally ending up triple platinum sales, and will only be officially released as an extended DVD this year twelve years after the event. Meanwhile, Roger Waters career went slowly down a black hole, with ever decreasing crowd attendances at concerts and dwindling album sales.
Hatchets did get buried long enough for Pink Floyd to reunite (without Syd) for an appearance at Live 8 last year to play 4 songs (you cannot count ‘Speak To Me’). But any thought of a complete reunion tour or new Pink Floyd recordings are the mere pipe dreams of the fanciful.
But here we have ten tracks from David Gilmour that could be in all but name the follow up to ‘The Division Bell’. David Gilmour has surrounded himself with some of his musical friends and come up with an absolute corker of an album. The album has gone straight into the international charts at number one and long may it stay there.
Track by Track, the album opens up with an instrumental, ‘Castellorizon’ (“what else” as Basil Fawlty would say), which drifts in with ambient sounds, leading us into a beautiful languid David Gilmour guitar, where the notes pour out like liquid gold; pure magic.
The title track features the gentle harmonies of David Crosby and Graham Nash, before a big guitar finish. ‘The Blue’ rather sets the tone for the album leading us away from Pink Floyd and into the blues. ‘Take a Breath’ is a fully fledged rock song with the whole band wigging out over the riff with Gilmour’s guitar excelling. ‘Red Sky At Night’ is a heavily orchestrated instrumental with a lot of the credit going to the orchestration skills of Zbigniew Preisner and the production work of Chris Thomas and Phil Manzanera. It is also the first track that David Gilmour has ever played Saxophone on.
‘This Heaven’ is almost touching rhythm and blues territory, with the band giving David Gilmour plenty of space to show off what a great blues guitarist he is. There is also a stunning cameo organ solo from sixties star Georgie Fame. ‘Then I Close My Eyes’ leads us back into slightly more familiar Floydish material, part of its charm comes from David Gilmour playing a cumbus, a six stringed Turkish instrument resembling a banjo.
For ‘Smile’ the mood stays quiet but uplifting, and for someone who likes Pink Floyd music this could put a smile on your face. ‘A Pocketful Of Stones’ is the album’s central piece around which the album is built and could come straight from ‘The Divisional Bell’ itself; another great guitar work out number.
‘Where We Start’ in the cyclical nature of this set piece of an album is borne out by the title of this album closer. David Gilmour wrote all the lyrics, and plays all the instruments apart from the drums, very apt.
On six of the songs, as in ‘The Division Bell’, David Gilmour is helped in the lyrical flow by his partner Polly Samson who gives the lyrics a very poetic feel. ‘On An Island’ is given an extra Pink Floyd touch by Richard Wright appearing on some of the tracks. There are many other star musicians and friends on the album including B.J. Cole, Chris Stainton, Willie Weekes, Robert Wyatt, Jools Holland, and Andy Newmark, but all in all this is a David Gilmour album, and what’s more David Gilmour at his very best. ‘On An Island’ must finally put David Gilmour up there with his peers Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck as one of the greatest rock guitarists on the planet.
The David Gilmour Band has already started the European
leg of their tour from March 10th through to some North American dates
finishing on May 31st. Wisely leaving behind blow up pigs and dancing
laser shows, and concentrating on the music instead, naturally there will
be a lot of songs from ‘On An Island’ played but leaving room
for plenty of old favourites. But if you have not already got a ticket,
you’re too late as all the shows are sold out.