Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin were the twin Gods of Rock in the 1970’s. There are no two bands that define that era for rock and rollers like “Floyd and Zep”. If you throw in Rush you may have the High Holy Trinity of 70’s stoners. You don’t get much bigger than those two iconic bands even today. One of the cornerstones of the Pink Floyd sound was the guitar and vocals of David Gilmour. But much like Robert Plant, whose voice was one of the cornerstones of Led Zeppelin’s sound, Gilmour has eschewed any more reunions for Pink Floyd. In 2014 Pink Floyd released what appears to be their final album, “The Endless River,” a mostly instrumental album that was a tribute to Floyd’s keyboardist Rick Wright, who sadly passed away. I personally loved “The Endless River.” It reminded me of some of their pre-“Darkness” catalog. It was, as the saying goes, true headphone music.
Gilmour’s solo career has been a little harder to pin down. Expectations of another “Dark Side of the Moon” (or fans would likely settle for even just an “Animals”) probably drag down the reaction to his solo work. It took me three months to get to a place where I felt I could assess this record so, I’m a little overdue here. It hasn’t helped Gilmour that he’s decided for the latter half of his career to turn over most the lyric composition to his wife. Call it the Yoko-syndrome but no one ever seems to be happy when the wife/girlfriend joins the band. I don’t really have an issue with the wife writing the lyrics, I mean, who would know him and what he’s trying to express better than she would? She is an actual writer after all. I’ve ghost written a few letters and emails for the wife, who doesn’t like to write, and that has always gone well.
It’s not like the man has enormous body of work. He’s only done four proper solo albums since ’78. I bought “David Gilmour” on vinyl but a chick I was dating absconded with it. Pink Floyd was always a guy thing. Never trust a chick whose into Pink Floyd. I believe the woman in question may have been a dealer. The phone sure rang a lot. His second album “About Face” was much more accessible than “David Gilmour” and Pete Townshend actually wrote lyrics on two songs. It was a stronger album than his solo-debut, but never really blew me away. I skipped “On An Island” his last outing after one of my Pink Floyd-fanatic friends warned me away from it.
Which all leads me to “Rattle That Lock.” I’ve read a couple of things that suggested this was supposed to be a “song cycle” chronicling the thoughts that pop into a man’s head during the course of a day, similar to Roger Waters’ “The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking”. The title, I’ve heard, is from Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. After that I thought, conceptual song cycle like Pink Floyd, I need to check this out.
David Gilmour’s guitar playing is so distinctive and expressive, the man almost doesn’t need lyrics. His playing tells me what the song is trying to express by the sheer tone and the way he bends a note. When he plays on other people’s records (“Give Blood”/Townshend, “No More Lonely Nights”/McCartney), I always know that it’s Gilmour even without reading the liner notes. He is truly one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Wisely, he puts the lyrics aside and guitar out front as 3 of the 10 songs on “Rattle That Lock” are instrumentals. None of them feel like filler. In the old days great bands like the Faces, Rush, Zeppelin, and Floyd actually released instrumental songs on albums. It’s a lost art. My favorite of the three is “5 A.M.” which opens the album. Its a slow build and then boom that Gilmour guitar tone hits you. Its simply ethereal.
Of the remaining tracks, the stand out, and dare I say masterpiece, is “In Any Tongue”. The lyric “I know sorrow tastes the same on any tongue” in this anti-war song makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. “A Boat Lies Waiting” is another song about Rick Wright’s passing and is another stand out especially with the harmony vocals of Crosby & Nash (check out their first two albums together as a duo from the ’70’s, thank me later). I also liked the Gilmour self-penned lyrics on “Faces of Stone.” The title track has actually grown on me as well but it took a few listens. The instrumentals and those four tracks are very strong.
Alas, (I always try to be positive on BourbonAndVinyl) some of the other songs just lose me. “The Girl In the Yellow Dress” sounds like something you’d hear in a jazz pub down on the corner. I just couldn’t connect with it. “Today” just never musters the firepower to take off. “Dancing Right In Front of Me” is actually hard to listen to.
At the end of the day, the things that stick with me most are what always stick with me when listening to David Gilmour’s work. His beautiful guitar and his smooth-as-slipping-into-a-warm-bath vocals. There are very strong moments on “Rattle That Lock” but for those looking for a 70’s era masterpiece, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Like Robert Plant’s latter solo career, Gilmour is more about making smaller, quieter statements. And you know, that’s ok.