Two decades since his last solo outing and 12 years since Pink Floyd‘s final studio album The Division Bell, David Gilmour sounds like he’s having a wonderful time. On An Island features an assortment of Gilmour’s friends and admirers and could be the soundtrack to a blissed-out tropical holiday.
Along the way to kicking back and chilling, Gilmour displays an undimmed love of week-long emotive guitar solos in amongst orchestral and blues-tinged moments. The record’s writing credits are split between Gilmour and his wife Polly Samson, a collaborator on The Division Bell. Between them they have crafted an album that speaks of a shared contentment. While it has its grand moments, it also plays on an intimate level.
Amongst Gilmour’s other assorted attendants are Zbigniew Preisner, here the orchestral arranger, whose previous canon as a composer includes Le Double Vie de Veronique OST. Robert Wyatt shuffles up to play cornet, David Crosby and Graham Nash are amongst the backing vocalists and Jools Holland contributes piano (what else). The Floyd’s Richard Wright guests with Hammond organ, but there’s no sight of Roger Waters amongst the credits.
What Gilmour and his associates create is far removed from the Floyd’s early psychedelic days. Castellorizon, an art-rock intro that feels like several introductions stuck together, is the nearest we get. The balance of the record is then given up to ecstatic fret work and a languid, contented pace. The title track is one of the stand-outs, blending Gilmour’s unmistakable voice with one of those epic guitar solos.
The Blue is about as blissed out as it’s possible to be – the soundtrack to floating on a placid sea and soaking up the sunshine as a harmonica drifts in and out of earshot. Its counterweight is Red Sky At Night, with Gilmour brandishing a sax to fine effect over strings and the sound of children playing in the background. This is peace on a higher level.
Hints of heavier soundscapes only really come to the fore with Take A Breath, with its marching rhythm and off-kilter key, and the bluesy This Heaven, replete with Hammond organ and, of all things, a drum sample pilfered from Jack Johnson. Further on, Pocketful of Stone begins with a swelling strings bass, sounding like it could develop into something sinister, but then becomes a piano-led, echo-laden ballad, with Gilmour’s voice in good form. Gently lapping breaking waves underpinning the maudlin Then I Close My Eyes ensure tranquility is set firmly centre stage. The reflective Where We Start closes the record.
On An Island is a positive, affirming work. There’s nothing dramatic to set the pulse quickening, but with a title like On An Island such moodswings could scarcely be contemplated. Instead, this is the sound of a man enjoying life who has nothing to prove and no-one to answer to. As David Gilmour is well on the way to being declared a national treasure, it rings true. Unchallenging then, but a diverting listen.