- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

On an Island

David Gilmour


At least one person should be tickled pink with the new David Gilmour solo album: Roger Waters. “On an Island” lends a measure of credibility to Mr. Waters’ view that his estranged Pink Floyd band mate is an empty suit when left to his own devices — all frosting, no cake.

Until now, this wasn’t true, as Mr. Gilmour delivered the goods on two very impressive Waters-less Pink Floyd studio albums.

This time out, Mr. Gilmour seems content to trot around the track on a tired horse indeed. It’s almost as if, relieved of supporting the weighty Pink Floyd marquee, Mr. Gilmour relaxed a bit too much.

Those patented, soaring lead licks Mr. Gilmour squeezes out of his Stratocaster and the lush production he favors can only shoulder so much of the burden. The songwriting has to carry its end of the load, but too much of it falls flat on this tiny atoll. There’s no one else to blame, as Mr. Gilmour composed all of the music, while his wife, Polly Samson, contributed most of the lyrics.

One almost yearns for one of Mr. Waters’ lyrical tizzy fits about cruel schoolteachers or the untimely death of his father to enliven things a bit. And hey, this is British progressive rock, so could we please have a little bombast?

“Island” feels like intermission music for a Pink Floyd show: It’s pleasant enough driving music, in its understated way. However, there’s nothing to make you sit up and take notice, let alone set the controls for the heart of the sun.

Things get off to a promising start with “Castellorizon,” one of three instrumental soundscapes on the album. It begins with sinister, “Jaws”-like violin bursts before Mr. Gilmour’s guitar glides in and takes command. The orchestra — conducted by Robert Ziegler with arrangements by Zbigniew Preisner — is also used to good effect near the album’s end, on “Pocketful of Stones,” where it adds an eerie tonal quality, providing a welcome dose of mystery.

The title track, bolstered by the gorgeous backing vocals of Graham Nash and David Crosby, is the album’s highlight. With Floyd band mate Richard Wright pumping the Hammond organ, “On an Island” is the best-crafted song in the collection. It has a strong melody, wonderful vocal interplay and some of Mr. Gilmour’s best guitar work, and the lyrics are as close to intriguing as they get in this affair.

“Red Sky at Night” is another of those sax-driven instrumentals so characteristic of “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here.” Surprisingly, it’s Mr. Gilmour putting his lip to the brass — and acquitting himself rather well.

Otherwise, there isn’t much here to bring you back for repeat spins. Certainly nothing holds a candle to “There’s No Way Out of Here” from Mr. Gilmour’s self-titled solo debut in 1978 or “Murder” from 1984’s “About Face,” his only other solo album until now.

Hopefully, creative retailers and on-line music purveyors will use the release of “On an Island” as an opportunity to bring renewed attention to Mr. Gilmour’s back catalog of overlooked solo gems.

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