Review Summary: Let's do pugilism.
There's really no other sport like professional boxing, is there? I mean, what other sport makes seriously injuring the other athlete the ultimate goal? In an age where civility is lauded and tolerance is promoted, boxing (and other forms of professional fighting, for that matter) seems like a true anachronism. But even without begging the question, one can easily understand the sport's allure: it somehow speaks to us. The sanctioning of the modern pugilist allows us imperfect beings to discretely frequent a certain dark corner tucked away inside our hearts. It reminds us of the barbarians that we became the instant our cave-dwelling forefathers considered busting ass to be a perfectly kosher way of settling the dispute over the only woman this side of the river. Fact is, we like displays of violence. No doubt it is a rather unsettling part of the human condition, yet it does go some way towards justifying why we behave the way we do.
In fact, it also explains why David Gilmour's self-titled release is such a captivating listen. This comes as a bit of a surprise, I'll wager, but at the very core of David Gilmour
lies the epic tale of man vs machine, with the Floyd guitarist essentially picking up the eternal struggle between musician and instrument. From a match promoter's perspective, it is a fixture made in heaven: the quintessential prog rock guitarist takes on the electric juggernaut. Thunder vs lightning. Curtain raiser "Mihalis" provides a shimmering and tense atmosphere to proceedings, with its winding instrumental style cutting no corners and suggesting that this fixture will have no holds barred. Despite this initial reproach, Gilmour manages to remain calm - and why not, for this is actually to his advantage. Our guitarist has always been more of an out-fighter: the classic boxer or stylist who seeks to maintain a distance between him and his opponent, gradually wearing the enemy down by pure skill and finesse. In the background, the electric guitar reminds us - with a deep rumble - that it is the exact anti-thesis of Gilmour's approach. Although thoroughly lacking in guile and poise, it roars through rounds on the back of its sheer punching power alone. It is a graceless brawler, and it's never a stretch to imagine the six-string as an alley slugger who has somehow found itself in the ring, and has neither respect nor regard for the Rules of the Marquess of Queensbury.
The realization that this is a duel to the death comes quickly to our guitarist. "There's no way out of here/When you come in you're in for good," he admits at the beginning of "There's No Way Out Of Here". This briefly suggests an air of desperation, but Gilmour quickly takes it on his chin, producing shifting chords that belie his desperation. As he pends his next move, the track coalesces together like a unified whole, comfortable in its niche as the boxer's second. The guitar's response to this comes in "Cry From The Street", where it takes great liberties in administering blistering punishment to its opponent. The song's riffing sound has a punishment scheme not unlike the application of industrial-grade sand paper to skin. But the sense is that Gilmour has somehow managed to come out on top; on "No Way" he loudly exclaims, "There's no way I'm going to let go/There's no way - because it's my show", forcefully proclaiming his intent.
Despite his coming across as a promising prize fighter, backing Gilmour can be a rather arduous task, particularly as some of his movements feel dreadfully uninspired. The instrumental number "Raise My Rent" is a case in point. Although it screams, the number rarely blisters, and Gilmour is seemingly content with creating a number that panders around aimlessly and hardly gets anywhere. Then there are the pieces whose decencies were violated the instant they were resurrected on later Floyd songs: for instance, on "Short and Sweet" there is a dead-ringer preview of what appears to be a few notes off "Run Like Hell" (from The Wall
). It is as if Ali himself foreshadowed the Rope-A-Dope a full year before it was ultimately released to critical acclaim. To be fair, Gilmour has established such a signature guitar style that it is somewhat inevitable that any release of his would occasionally sound like a Floyd side project. Ultimately, this is a knife that cuts both ways, and resolving whether it represents a lack of artistic merit or is simply due to honest happenstance is beyond the scope of this piece.
At the end of the day, the line between victor and loser ends up being rather thinly drawn. What is clear though, is the fact that Gilmour's battle has left him totally exhausted and disoriented. "I can't breathe anymore/Why that is I'm not sure/I've got my feet on the floor/In fact I'm flat on the floor," he admits on album closer "I Can't Breathe Anymore." The guitarist's fragility and weaknesses are ultimately laid bare for all to see, and they are truly symptomatic of his plight - Gilmour has never been the consummate warrior or innovator (a point which is further proven by the dire lack of imagination displayed on his subsequent solo releases). However, he does have a superhuman resilience and a great deal of heart; thankfully, his debut release manages to come with spades of both, and this ultimately redeems it from lapsing into shameful mediocrity.
And as for the guitar, well, it's always up for a rematch.