To be a Pink Floyd fan in
2006 is to live with unrealistic hopes and chronic disappointments. One of
the most inspiring bands in the classic-rock pantheon, the group evolved
through several great incarnations, including the psychedelic pop band of
the mid-'60s, the expansive jam band of the late '60s and early '70s, and
the quartet that won phenomenal success with four indelible masterpieces:
"The Dark Side of the Moon" (1973), "Wish You Were Here" (1975), "Animals"
(1977) and "The Wall" (1979).
Pink Floyd Mach IV began
with "The Final Cut" (1983), a flatulent disc that found bassist Roger
Waters, who had long since morphed into the primary lyricist, wresting
control from his veteran bandmates. You probably know the rest: After one of
the most acrimonious splits in rock history, guitarist David Gilmour,
keyboardist Rick Wright and drummer Nick Mason continued for a time as a
band devoid of intellectual substance -- "A Momentary Lapse of Reason"
(1987), "The Division Bell" (1994) -- while Waters forged ahead as a
high-minded conceptualist lacking musical inspiration, as on "The Pros and
Cons of Hitch Hiking" (1984) or "Amused to Death" (1992).
Rarely have two opposing
camps so thoroughly needed each other, and rarely have they been so dead set
against reuniting. But fans' hopes were given an unexpected boost last
summer when, against all odds, our four heroes came together for a brief set
of classic oldies at Live 8.
Alas, the echoes of that
performance were still ringing when the now sixty-something millionaires
vowed there wouldn't be an ongoing encore. "The offer was made to tour with
a lot of money, and it was with or without Roger," Gilmour recently told the
British press. His answer: a resounding "no" seconded by Waters, whose
pretensions finally grew more inflated than the band's famous floating pig
when, after 16 years of struggling, he premiered his French
Revolution-inspired opera "Ca Ira" in Rome last November. (Noted the Italian
newspaper, La Repubblica: "Waters is not so much Verdi or Puccini, more
Andrew Lloyd Webber ... [it was] like an elephant trying to take to the air
with a small pair of wings.")
Now comes "On an
Island," Gilmour's first solo album in 22 years, and the third of his
career. True Floyd heads know that the first two, "David Gilmour" (1978) and
"About Face" (1984), suffered from a serious shortage of ambition, and were
only marginally more interesting than the extracurricular offerings of
Wright and Mason. But, ill-advised as ever, we had reason to hope this time,
especially when reviewing the roster of impressive art-rock names Gilmour
tapped to help him, including co-producer Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music;
Wright, who plays Hammond organ on one tune and sings on another, and
backing vocalists Robert Wyatt, Graham Nash and David Crosby.
fleetingly pretty "On an Island" is, overall, a paint-drying-dull example of
New Age snoozak -- unfocused, meandering and curiously short of the
distinctive, soaring, ultra-melodic solos of Gilmour at his best ("Dogs,"
"Comfortably Numb"). The biggest problem isn't even comparing it to Pink
Floyd; it's trying to stay awake through the uninspired, languid and
Gilmour can still rock
out when the spirit moves him -- witness his fiery playing on Paul
McCartney's set of '50s rockers, "Run Devil Run" (1999) -- and he can be
charmingly entertaining even in his mellow old-fogy mode, as on the acoustic
performance captured on the 2002 DVD, "David Gilmour in Concert." It isn't
even inconceivable that he could make a great New Age album; ambient house
Floyd acolytes the Orb have made a career out of it.
Instead, the opening
instrumental bombast of "Castellorizon" finds the guitarist emptying his
junk drawer of half-baked riffs, which range from spacy blues to misplaced
bluegrass. Ten tracks later, "On an Island" closes with the sunny acoustic
ditty "Where We Start," its strongest song, but only because it's a
conscious attempt to imitate the lilting Floyd toss-offs on '70s soundtracks
such as "More."
The tunes in between --
many of them co-written with Gilmour's wife Polly Samson, who also lent a
hand on "The Division Bell" -- range from actively annoying (as on the
pointlessly repetitive "Take A Breath" or the sing-songy "This Heaven") to
unforgivably slight and insipid ("Shamelessly, aimlessly so blue/Midnight
moon shines for you," Gilmour coos on "The Blue") to absurdly misguided
(why would we want to hear one of the greatest rock guitarists ever playing
saxophone ... badly -- on "Red Sky at Night"?). But even those descriptions
make the overall bland-out sound more interesting than it really is.
In a 1995 interview that
stands as one of the most frank I've ever done with a bona-fide rock legend,
Mason tried to explain how Pink Floyd's once boundless ambitions had
narrowed over the years. "In the beginning, you think that you can do
anything," the drummer said.
"Your breadth of vision
in 1967 is like 100 feet, but 30 years later, you have learned so much that
you have found the areas where you operate best. It's not laziness, but now
you operate within 3 feet. One has to make a very conscious effort to break
This album fails because
Gilmour has made no effort at all -- he's unwilling to push himself and
unwilling to work with people who might. Sorry, Dave, but no man is an