On an Island
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2006, Volume 13, #4
Written by John Metzger
David Gilmour and Roger Waters have spent so much time sniping at one another about the status of Pink Floyd that they essentially have divided the band’s fans into warring factions that a temporary truce for last year’s Live 8 benefit won’t fix. It’s a shame, really, because Gilmour’s third solo outing On an Island ought to bring the two sides together. After all, Gilmour’s camp can tout how effectively their leader expanded upon and brightened the sonic textures that were the bread and butter of Pink Floyd’s legacy, and Waters’ followers can point out how much better the set might have been if their man had been involved in the project. Truth be told, both views are correct, hence the effort’s unifying power.
There’s no question that each of On an Island’s 10 tracks begins and ends with the music of Pink Floyd. Shades of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here drift throughout the affair, though it’s the moody explorations of Meddle that weigh most heavily upon the endeavor. Naturally, the collection contains its share of sluggish tempos, which mirror the lifelong struggles of the working man, and through it all, Gilmour’s blues-y guitar slices with razor-sharp precision, stinging even as it soothes. Still, there’s more to the outing than a mere visitation of familiar refrains. Smile, for example, recalls a meshing of John Lennon’s Love with Paul McCartney’s Junk, and although they appear only on the title track, David Crosby and Graham Nash lend to the set a communal air that is drawn straight from Crosby’s overlooked gem If I Could Only Remember My Name.
Lyrically, On an Island is, at first glance, simply about the ebb and flow of relationships, and considering that Gilmour and his wife Polly Samson penned all of the material, it appears to tell the story of their own union. The title track is a reflection upon their initial encounter, and the concluding Where We Start finds them contentedly growing old together, while everything in between outlines the ups and downs of their marriage. Although there is an attempt to transform the duo’s personal ruminations into a larger statement about worldly affairs and the human condition, it’s here where On an Island unravels, however slightly. Within the opening instrumental overture, the ensuing musical collage encircles the globe; an anti-materialism message peeks around the familial satisfaction of This Heaven; and A Pocketful of Stones could be interpreted as a veiled political statement regarding the U.S. government’s unilateral posturing.
Taken in total, On an Island’s songs strive to make the case that neither man nor country truly can stand alone and that, in spite of the challenges, working in unison can achieve a better outcome for all. While too much specificity would have been equally detrimental to the set, the bigger picture painted by the collection’s thematic arc sketchily reaches for something that isn’t quite there. This unequivocally is where Waters’ attention to detail could have provided further focus for the album’s narrative. Regardless, On an Island still stands as the best thing that David Gilmour has crafted (with or without Pink Floyd) in several decades. ˝
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box