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On An Island (Columbia)
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Living in a band’s shadow might be the hardest
thing for any musician to live through. For better or
worse, every solo record and side project will be
compared to the work of your former group, with at
least half your audience pestering you for a reunion.
David Gilmour has not been immune to these
occurrences. Pink Floyd’s last two albums, A
Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell,
were criticized as being solo vehicles for Gilmour
with Roger Waters out of the picture, while others
hailed them as being the true voice of Pink Floyd.
And since their last tour in 1995, Floyd reunion
rumors never stopped, with fans briefly and
brilliantly served at last year’s one-off Live 8 show.
Well, now at 60, Gilmour has navigated through any criticism and fan displeasure quite gracefully and stands in
2006 with a solid solo album in his hands, his first collection since 1984’s About Face.
One fact that's easy to look past is that Gilmour is an incredible musician with an incredible career. Through all
the drama with Pink Floyd, Gilmour has held on to his integrity and credibility while many of his British rock peers
burn through marriages, bands, money and, ultimately, their art.
Gilmour, as reflected in his playing, has always been patient. Not afraid to move, but in no hurry to move too
soon. His preference for sound and melody over notes has made him one of the greatest guitar players of the
rock era — just off the top of my head, I can think of four or five of his solos that rank as some of my all-time
It's that patience that has kept him from pumping out albums in order to live on his name. His last formal effort
was The Division Bell, an atmospheric album that was, at the time, Gilmour's defining statement as a leader.
Rich textures, soaring guitars and grand arrangements dominated the record, with themes of world peace and
human relationships swirling around the music (or vice versa).
Many of those elements are featured here, but it shouldn't be forgotten that Gilmour is 12 years older now, so the
tempo has slowed a bit. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Every song on here has a definite purpose and no
one note is wasted or misplaced. It's a cerebral record that grows on you and marks its place in your mind on
late nights and quiet moments.
The guitar, not surprisingly, dominates the soundscape. Though precise and very thought out, what makes it so
appealing is its human quality. The guitar runs here aren't so precise that they sound computer generated; in
fact, there are subtleties to Gilmour's playing that give it life. During "The Blue," for example, features as simple
as his fingers changing frets to small blips in the distortion jump out. Feeling takes priority over perfection, which
is not a trait many artists are able to tap into.
The record starts in classic Gilmour fashion — with a multilayered instrumental. Here, “Castellorizon” begins
with muted, spacey sounds that build with moments of his trademark guitar punching through the spaces. This
leads right into “On an Island,” which could’ve been one of the best songs on either of the last two Floyd albums.
Gilmour’s guitar and voice are in fine shape here, expanding his sound without aping past works.
The album has a few moments of tight, edgy rock, as in “Take a Breath,” with an opening guitar part similar to
Syd Barrett’s “Astronomy Domine,” but On An Island is dominated by what isn’t played — the slow, burning
songs that create a soothing yet unsettled mood. “Then I Close My Eyes” is a dreamy acoustic instrumental,
“Smile” recalls “A Pillow of Winds” from Floyd’s Meddle, and “Red Sky at Night” showcases Gilmour’s sax
playing, a first for him on record.
On the whole, this album has to be a triumph for Gilmour. Free from the rumours of another Pink Floyd reunion
(well, at least as free as he could ever hope to be), Gilmour takes his time and creates an album that is always
very good and sometimes thrilling.
It’s not easy to age gracefully. Here, Gilmour makes it look easy.