On An Island, the best solo album of any Pink Floyd member. It is quite extraordinary, and rivals anything Pink Floyd did with the exception of Dark Side of the Moon. A bold statement for sure, but this is a masterful album of songwriting, arrangements and of course, the guitar. The Wall and Wish You Were Here are great Pink Floyd albums, and On An Island is in that class.
Gilmour has released only four solo studio albums in over forty years. As with his Pink Floyd releases, he is a meticulous and slow craftsman.
I liked On An Island from the moment I heard it. It has the intense and industrial sound of Pink Floyd and the subdued, melodic and soulful harmonics that Floyd carefully doled out. Gilmour dials up the sweetness with a touch of romanticism, something you rarely got with Floyd. Has Gilmour mellowed in his later years? Perhaps it is the influence of wife Polly Sampson, his frequent lyricist and a successful novelist in her own right. This album is a mellower, but equally complex version of Pink Floyd. Instead of subjects of alienation and the exploration of our existence, the focus is on the maturity and bitter sweetness of love, of seeing life through an intimate, reflective lens and finding inner peace. If you want upbeat and theatrical, I can steer you to other albums, including Gilmour’s most recent solo effort. If you want to feel your pulse slow and a fullness in your soul, this one is for you.
Each of Gilmour’s albums are different, which could be due to the enormous time between each release. On An Island has similarities to Sinatra’s reflective album, September of My Years, a loose concept album with a specific theme and tone. On An Island‘s songs have a nautical texture, the mostly gentle sea with rolling waves across the palette of relationship’s many emotions. With the help of Sampson, Gilmour creates the kind of subdued emotion that Sinatra sang about in the wee hours, alone in the night, lamenting after a few stiff drinks. Unlike Sinatra, Gilmour is embracing the sweet nectar of close relationships, not the sour aftertaste of romance. Gilmour looks to the shimmering stars above, not the bitterness in his scotch glass. Opposite sides of the coin.
“On An Island is mostly a laid-back, utterly elegant English record. It has the feel of taking place between twilight and dawn. There are a few rumblers to upset the overall balance of tranquility and stillness, like flashes of heat lightning across the dark skies; they add dimension and a quiet power to these proceedings.” – Allmusic.com
Don’t worry, Gilmour shifted style again with Rattle That Lock in 2015, with a more upbeat, rock and roll vibe.
Gilmour seemed to compose many of these songs on his acoustic guitar and the results are delightful. Don’t get too comfortable, Gilmour’s guitar can melt your lounger. Unlike his first solo album, a blues rock shredding machine, here he uses his long, soulful sustains strategically.
A typical beginning to a Gilmour/Pink Floyd album, an orchestrated instrumental that uses the best of rock instruments and orchestral flavors. It paints what is like boarding a grand ship for an intriguing voyage. Since this is your boarding pass.
“On An Island”
A somber, flowing acoustic flavored song. The song has a waltz-like rhythm, rich in soft, layered vocals including Crosby & Nash on background vocals. Two minutes in, Gilmour plugs in the electric guitars for slow, gritty, extended notes. The guitar will resurface later in the song, where he duets with himself on winding solos. Simply gorgeous.
We lay side by side
Between the moon and the tide
Mapping the stars for a while
Let the night surround you
We’re halfway to the stars
Ebb and flow
Let it go
Feel her warmth beside you
Keeping the soft, gentle vibe. Dreamy vocals and a sleepy harmonic over a strummed guitar. If you aren’t laying on your back, looking at the sky, you should be. Gilmour knows when to wind it up with more intense orchestration, then ease it down. He is a master at picking the right guitar effect to color his dreamscape with an electric guitar that soars but does not overpower the elegance. One of the best Gilmour solos you will ever hear.
Aimlessly so blue
Midnight-moon shines for you
Silence drifting through
Nowhere to choose
Star-crossed you and me
“Take a Breath”
A more typical Pink Floyd type song, grittier and more electric, with sound effects.
“Red Sky At Night”
An orchestrated song, with lonely saxophone in the fog. Gull-like noises echoing in the background.
A bluesy acoustic song with a shuffle beat and raw, soulful vocals by Gilmour. An aggressive electric solo and strings that glide in and out. Gilmour does have a liking to flowing, jazzy beats where he can open up his guitar to the mood.
“When I Close My Eyes”
An eclectic soundscape of water sounds, low humming, dobro leading to a a small band of different guitars and piano and other sting instruments, rolling on the gentle waves of the song. This song shows the prowess of Gilmour to accompany himself, almost a duet of dobro and slide guitar.
Maybe the prettiest song on the album, almost a lullaby of someone wanting to find their way home to their loved one. A song about a smile! Pink Floyd? If you listen to no other song on this blog, pick this one.
To make it all right
While sleep has taken you
Where I’m out of sight
Time on my own
Search for a better way
To find my way home
To your smile
“A Pocket Full of Stones”
Another hauntingly beautiful song. How does he keep doing it? This is poignant, a bit melancholy and romantic – all at the same time. This is far away from rock as you can get. The orchestration is marvelous, full of deep feeling and soaring emotion.
“Where We Start”
One of the most emotionally fulfilling songs Gilmour has ever been associated. It is a soft, rolling song with poignant guitar chords. Some might say it sounds like a dirge, it does have that lonesome, distance quality. By the end, Gilmour’s normal electric guitar solo is replaced by a quiet picking on strings that are as effective as anything he’s ever played.
We walk ourselves weary, arm in arm
Back through the twilight
Home again, we’re home again
We waltz in the moonlight and the embers glow
So much behind us