David Gilmour’s On An Island was un-extravagant, mesmerizing

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A wee-hours recording, David Gilmour’s On An Island was utterly controlled — even when it rocked a little — and completely mesmerizing. The project, released on March 6, 2006, took a similar path to completion. Gilmour’s third solo effort ever arrived nearly 20 years after the last. It was worth the wait.

For so long forced into a square peg of diffidence and/or crankiness by Roger Waters’ narrative contortions in Pink Floyd, David Gilmour’s third — and, by far, best — album was instead full of nocturnal musings. That’s perhaps best heard on its waltzing, utterly delightful title track, a stand out moment which balances On An Island‘s typically elegant atmospherics with a series of Floydian elements. Gilmour’s arching rumination on the guitar is, in fact, made complete by the presence of old bandmates in the late Richard Wright on organ and Andy Newmark (who appeared on Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut) at the drums. Bassist Guy Pratt was part of their 1987-94 post-Waters touring units, as well.

Along the way, David Gilmour transforms back into his pretension-free, early-period Pink Floyd persona, before “Sorrow,” before “Not Now John,” before “Comfortably Numb.” On An Island is, really, as un-extravagant as it can be — poles apart not only from the Wall/Final Cut era, but also the over-thought, occasionally stuffy things Gilmour later did as frontman with Pink Floyd on Momentary Lapse/Division Bell. That’s its lasting charm.

On An Island moves beyond those easy comparisons, too. That title song (which, like its Grammy-nominated predeccessor “Castellorizon,” was based on a twilit memory from the island of Kastelorizo near Greece) finds its most important contributors in a place that has nothing to do with Gilmour’s old band: Graham Nash and David Crosby, of Crosby Stills and Nash fame, give “On an Island” its emotional propulsion, settling in behind Gilmour’s airy vocals.

Then there are the sensitive orchestrations by Zbigniew Preisner, which color so much of this release. Together, they travel halfway to the stars, without ever touching down — giving the entire album a similarly warm sense of reverie, this enchanting suspension. Hushed delights await everywhere, from the swirling quietude of “The Blue” to the low-key roots of “This Heaven” to the dark trance of “A Pocketful of Stones.”

Of course, that very tranquility worked against David Gilmour, in some quarters. Critics said On An Island sounded too much like it was: a pet project constructed by this semi-retired 60-year-old multi-millioniare, hanging out with his wife and buddies aboard a houseboat on the Thames.

Challenge yourself to listen more closely, however, and you’ll hear for the first time in forever a complete return to the cerulean placidity that made pre-Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd recordings so special — and a direct antecedent to the band’s spacious, mostly instrumental, utterly throwback finale, Endless River.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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