David Gilmour: On an Island

John Bergstrom

Third official solo album finds the Pink Floyd guitarist/vocalist mostly free of the weight of that band's legacy. Hence the album is content and effortless, maybe too much so.

David Gilmour

On an Island

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2006-03-07
UK Release Date: 2006-03-06
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate

As a solo album by a member of a band that hasn't released new material in 12 years, On an Island has been stunningly successful. It topped the charts in Gilmour's native England, made the American Top 10 on first-week sales of nearly 100,000, and has made a similar impact throughout Europe. You can put this down to both the timeless popularity of parts of the Pink Floyd catalog, and the still-reverberating buzz generated by the reunion of the original Floyd lineup at Live 8 in 2005. Sensing that Floyd is a done deal, the fans want something, anything new to grasp, and they've said as much in "user reviews" for On an Island. Is the record any more than that, a stand-in for a grand Floyd Comeback Album and Tour?

To be fair, On an Island sounds exactly like an album by a 60-year-old, semi-retried, Upper Class British multimillionaire guitar legend, recorded with his famous friends -- and the wife -- on his floating houseboat studio anchored on the River Thames. It's laid back beyond measure, sparse, leisurely, unforced -- that last trait arguably missing from the pair of Gilmour-led Floyd albums. Whether all this results in Gilmour's most personal, genuine musical statement or a resounding bore is a matter of perspective and personal taste.

Gilmour was a huge part of the expansive Pink Floyd sound, so it's inevitable that On an Island is going to sound like a Floyd record to some extent. Nothing if not calculating, Gilmour has embraced this fact, working with Dark Side of the Moon engineer Chris Thomas (who co-produced along with Gilmour and Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera, a neighbor) and Floyd's other musical lynchpin, keyboardist Rick Wright, not to mention Roger Waters's musical replacement, bassist Guy Pratt. Sure enough, the sparse, sunrise-like instrumental "Castellorizon" could be the opener from any of several Floyd albums. Then the title track floats by on Wright's sustained Hammond chords, bearing some mean-sounding guitar jabs from Gilmour and ex-Roxy drummer Andy Newmark's best Nick Mason impression, and you're thinking this is the kind of breezy, wistful, midtempo sound-pillow found on much of Floyd's Meddle.

Gilmour's time-defying voice only adds to that impression. His carefully-mannered, high-pitched singing is still the essence of hard-won calm; the guy could sing a credit card statement and make it sound beguiling. But there's a sense of relaxation, intimacy and closeness that's unique to this album. Even Gilmour's solos, while as sharp and perfectly pitched as ever, seem to ripple along with the backing tracks more than break against them.

On an Island provides all the placid reflection and prettiness its title implies. The problem, or what may be heard as such, is that by its end, Gilmour's all but fallen asleep in his chaise lounge. "Take a Breath" is a passable straight-ahead rocker, and "This Heaven" a nice blues stomper. After the wonderful acoustic ballad "Smile", however, the last couple tracks are so near-ambient and slow they're barely there.

Tempos throughout the album range from lax to nonexistent, with most everything creeping over the five-minute mark. That's not bad in itself; thank Heaven Gilmour didn't decide to "rawk"; but it does put more focus on the lyrics. They're not bad, either, at least not the ones written or co-written with said wife. The general theme is midlife contentedness with an underlying vein of agnosticism. Gilmour's admitted he's not much of a lyricist, a notion confirmed by solo composition "Where We Start", basically high school love poetry without the lust.

On an Island finds Gilmour taking absolutely no risks, has nothing to pull out of its hat. Maybe that's the point -- that Gimour's earned the right. Those looking for more than a placid day on the Thames will have to look elsewhere.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

Cornet specialist Ron Miles, from Denver, brings in a stupendous band for a set of gorgeous, intriguing explorations that are lyrical, free, and incisive in turns.

Ron Miles has been a brass player on the scene for about 30 years. His primary association is with the versatile jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, in whose bands Miles has been a real voice — not just the trumpet player (or, more often these days, cornetist) but someone who carefully sings the songs, if instrumentally. He has also appeared on recordings by Frisell-linked musicians such as violinist Jenny Scheinman and keyboard wiz Wayne Horvitz, always bringing that sensibility: a tart, vocal lyricism.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.