“Tell me, sonny, what d’you want fer yer birthday"”
“I want to release a solo album and then go on a bitch
“You crazy boy, don’t let me catch you talking like that again or you’ll get a smack upside d’head!”
Little did Grandpa Gilmour know, that “sonny” would get to release an album on his birthday- his 60th that is. Little did he also know that he is British and shouldn’t be talking like a southern African-American. Yes, March 6th marks On an Island
’s [UK] release and Gilmour’s date of birth. It’ll probably never happen again, Gilmour has released only three solo albums in a span of twenty-nine years, what he did to keep himself busy in between the solo albums, I can‘t imagine...
Like his consistency with solo works, On an Island
is laid back. The type of album one would put on and let flow to play some golf, slug back a couple of brews, or go fishing, preferably with the solitude of an island. But unlike the cover suggests, no man is an island. David got a lot of help for his project, and from all the right places- the old folks’ home. The most noticeable being David Crosby and Graham Nash’s harmonies with Gilmour’s adding a textural airiness leading the heavily orchestrated arrays of instruments, but still as relaxing and minimal as the rest of the album, as in the title track and The Blue
. The songs are enriched greatly with upcoming tour mate Richard Wright’s Hammond organ and the serene arrangements of Zbigniew Preisner, adding an epical backing sound to the contemplative trio. The songs could easily fall flat as boring, rather than mesmerising. The instrumentals Castellorizon
and Red Sky at Night
also incorporate grandiose, yet ambient, orchestrations, but in a formless way, reminiscent of the spacey introductions of Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond
. Damn it! I promised myself I would not make Floyd comparisons!
Also like Shine On...
, even in the album’s most pompously orchestrated moments, there is still room for a trademark Gilmour Solo. But even if it the David Gilmour, his solos fall flat on occasion in the album, some of them going nowhere and sounding like the guitar version of a senile old man telling a tedious story that goes nowhere. Sometimes the songs themselves sound like this too. Other times, his signature Stratocaster tone takes the tune soaring to new heights. And unlike new Santana albums, Gilmour doesn’t just stand around playing little guitar fills then the obligatory solo, Big Dave stretches his fingers in other styles too. On an Island
is roughly split between the big fancy pants songs mentioned, and more stripped down songs, where Dave dominates with the guitar, and the orchestrations are more restrained, and subtle. These songs are also more interesting, and with stronger, more assertive melodies, from the raunchy R&B stylized This Heaven
, to the blues rocker Take a Breath
. The latter combines the polished orchestra sound and raw bluesy distortion in a gripping way in the outro, the both assimilating in a tense way to make an over-the-top coda. Despite the blues influence, David keeps his voice smooth and calm in the song, and throughout the whole album, not using the gruffness heard in songs like Money
and Young Lust
On an Island
, though I may have given the impression that it is by describing the orchestration, is not a extravagant album. It’s soothing, introspective, and plays it safe the whole way, but isn‘t boring. It’s not ambitious, but it’s sophisticated enough to avoid being like the poppy rock trash of his second album, About Face
. Where his former band mate Roger Waters usually strives for pretentious, self-indulgent albums, Gilmour is on the other side of the spectrum- just sticking to what he‘s always done, in a modest way. And this time, David Gilmour pulled it off very well, possibly the best thing he’s done in a very long time. No one should expect something big, or groundbreaking, but rather an intelligently crafted, placid album featuring one (and on occasions, two) of the best musical forces of the 70s.