While Bob Geldof was convincing David Gilmour to regroup with the rest of Pink Floyd for Live 8, the guitarist played him the music he was working on. Geldof’s typically blunt response: take some speed, man.
Now, just about a year later, some of those songs appear on ‘On An Island’, an album as tranquil as the title — and Geldof’s appraisal — suggest. But like those classic blues albums that make ideal Sunday morning listening, this 10-track collection is anything but bland, forgettable background muzak. Being quieter and more personal than anything in the Pink Floyd canon only makes it more arresting than such mass consumption bombast as ‘Another Brick In The Wall’.
Where ‘A Momentary Lapse Of Reason’ was the sound of a faceless group, overpowered by lasers and giant inflatable pigs, trying to reach your seat in the back row of some giant stadium, ‘On An Island’ is the equivalent of that band’s frontman playing in your lounge. In this setting the voice, guitar and faintly familiar riffs are all that’s needed, the grand concepts checked at the door, the politics left to Roger Waters.
So the title track is an ode to forgotten friends, led by an Hawaiian slide guitar and a beat so relaxed it could be keeping time for waves lapping on a deserted beach. ‘This Heaven’ is a bluesy romp that reveals his domestic bliss, and ‘Smile’ is an unadorned slice of folk in the tradition of ‘Atom Heart Mother’s’ ‘Fat Old Sun’, a simple love song that’s touching rather than tacky.
As its title suggests, ‘The Blue’ is an equally languid but melancholy dirge that’s momentarily lifted by a Hammond organ, the backing vocals of Floyd’s Richard Wright and — as on most of the tracks — a soulful guitar solo. Gilmour has, after all, always preferred to express himself through his Fender, so while the lyrics by his wife Polly Sampson are always in touch with the haunting quality of the melodies, they sometimes seem secondary to the instrumental flourishes.
But ‘A Pocketful Of Stones’ and ‘Where We Start’, which end the disc on a peak, get the balance between music and words just right. The former brims with tension as Gilmour croons along to a single piano, resisting the urge to hide behind his guitar until the song’s nearly over — and even then it’s a somber, restrained solo so unlike his soaring signature pieces.
And the equally moody album closer also finds Gilmour the guitarist holding back to serve the song rather than his Strat, with a soulful rather than technically perfect instrumental breakout.
Actually self-indulgence only really gets a look in on the instrumental ‘Red Sky At Night’ which heralds the Pink Floyd axeman’s debut on saxophone. Thankfully the excursion is short lived, and, like Geldof’s throwaway comment, soon forgotten amid all the other wonders that Gilmour’s ‘Island’ offers.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.