Monday, December 13, 2010

David Gilmour: About Face

This second album from David Gilmour, the guitarist and singer from Pink Floyd, came out in March 1984. At that time, the last I had heard from Gilmour was on Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut from 1983. While I liked The Final Cut then [and still do] I felt there was something missing, and that “something” was David Gilmour. For that final album with Roger Waters, Gilmour was just the guitar player. He didn’t have any of his own songs on the album, he sang only one song [Not Now John], and he did not receive any production credit as he had on the Floyd’s previous album, 1979’s The Wall. Where The Wall saw loads of input from Gilmour, The Final Cut had none. The Final Cut was seen by many [including me] as Pink Floyd’s swan song. So when About Face came out I was keen to hear what David Gilmour had been up to since The Wall. I remember back in the day that Rolling Stone magazine [and Kurt Loder in particular] had given About Face a three-star [out of five] rating. Loder grudgingly gave a positive review. But shortly after About Face’s release [a month], Roger Waters put out his own album, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking. Where Loder’s review of About Face was somewhat positive, his review of The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking was downright scathing. Loder stated that when comparing the two Floyd solo albums to each other, it was perfectly clear to him who had the patent on Pink Floyd’s sound. Loder’s verdict on that question: Gilmour. He even stated that About Face gained more luster in comparison with “this turkey.”

Every Pink Floyd album between The Dark Side of the Moon and The Final Cut is based [in some cases loosely, in others explicitly] on some sort of concept or theme. About Face is not like that. It is simply a collection of songs. Some of the music on About Face is very Floydian. These songs would include Murder [a song addressed to John Lennon’s killer], You Know I’m Right [Gilmour’s open letter to Roger Waters], Near the End [another open letter to Waters], and the ballad Out of the Blue, where Gilmour voices his concerns about nuclear war. Each of these songs has what many songs from The Final Cut do not have – melody. Murder starts with an acoustic guitar which reminds me of Norwegian Wood [This Bird Has Flown], has a wonderful fretless bass solo from Pino Palladino, and finishes with some fierce electric guitar at the end. Near the End is similar in structure to Murder, but instead of having a “big guitar” finish, Near the End ends with a double-tracked acoustic guitar solo that morphs into a single electric guitar solo. You Know I’m Right has a simple electric guitar introduction, a big orchestral sound, and then a minute-and-a-half of somewhat atonal guitar soloing at the end. The instrumental Let’s Get Metaphysical is an orchestral piece with Gilmour soloing over the top. It serves as an introduction to Near the End and would also seem at home on a Floyd album.

The rest of About Face is a different kettle of fish. Until We Sleep, which leads off the album, has vocal harmonies that sound like they came from The Byrds, humongous Fender Stratocaster tones, and a massive synthesizer sound courtesy of Deep Purple’s Jon Lord. The second side of the album [back when there was such a thing] begins with the headbanging All Lovers Are Deranged, co-written by Gilmour and Pete Townshend. When asked about this song, David Gilmour said he fancied a bit of headbanging before he got too old for it. The ballad Love on the Air is another tune co-written with Pete Townshend. In 1985 Pete Townshend played two shows for charity at the Brixton Academy under his own name [rather than as a member of The Who]. David Gilmour served as lead guitarist for the band [he had played on Pete’s White City album then currently out], and during his solo spot he played Love on the Air. Blue Light is David Gilmour trying to be funky (?!?), complete with a horn section. This song is more of a curiosity than something that should be taken seriously, but I like it anyway because it’s so “out of character” for him. Cruise is another acoustic-driven song that has a reggae (?!?) breakdown in the middle. It’s the one song on About Face that makes me hit the “skip” button on the CD player every time.

David Gilmour has often said that he finds it easier to express himself musically rather than lyrically. About Face shows David Gilmour to be an average lyricist, especially when compared to an outstanding lyricist like Roger Waters or Pete Townshend. That being said, it’s better than anything I could ever attempt. The appeal of About Face lies in the music contained therein. David Gilmour is an outstanding musician with a keen melodic sense. He's also my most favorite guitar player. In places it sounds a lot like Pink Floyd. Though he is a very fluid soloist, he demonstrates that he can play piledriving riffs if the song requires it. About Face is Gilmour at the crossroads between The Wall and A Momentary Lapse of Reason. It is essential for any Pink Floyd fan who does not think that Pink Floyd began and ended with Roger Waters.

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