Never the most prolific of writers, David Gilmour, erstwhile Pink Floyd leader and remarkable exponent upon the guitar, has managed a mere four solo albums over the course of his career. The last of these, the beautifully staid ‘on an island’ was released nine years ago and the intervening years have seen activity only in fits and starts. Of course there was the quite remarkable release of ‘the endless river’, a gentle, ambient farewell to one of the greatest rock bands ever, but David Gilmour, these days, prefers to take it easy. The positive side to all this is that there is no sense of pressure for David to do anything, so you can guarantee that whatever is released is a project that is 100% representative of David’s artistic desires, and so it proves with the elegant, varied ‘rattle that lock’, a poignant, dreamy album that is woozily eclectic and yet always tethered by David’s wonderfully languid guitar work and soulful vocals to the ghost of Pink Floyd. Like its forebear, ‘on an island’, ‘Rattle that lock’ offers little in the way of David’s rockier side, but instead it genre-hops beautifully, taking in subtle progressive, aching blues and even jazz as it journeys through the highs and lows of a single day.
As with ‘the endless river’, there are various versions of this new effort form David Gilmour available. A single CD is the way to go for those not interested in surround mixes and the like, but for those who have the hardware there is a box set version that features either DVD or Blu ray which is most certainly worth exploring. For our purposes we are reviewing the blu ray edition as it offers the highest possible resolution audio. Aside from a blu ray with surround mixes, high-res audio and various video clips there are also two hard back books, the first being the album credits whilst the second is a beautifully printed edition of the second book of Milton’s Paradise Lost. There is also a poster, a postcard and a David Gilmour guitar pick, all of which are enclosed in a beautifully bound box and which will certainly appeal to collectors.
The album opens with the beautiful, orchestral ‘Five A.M’ which is draws together the stunning guitar work of Gilmour with the sympathetic orchestrations of Polish composer / conductor Zbigniew Preisner who previously worked with David when the latter played a ground breaking concert at Gdansk. Poignant and elegant, it’s a warm and tender start to the album that leads neatly to the funky title track with its snaking bass line and breezy rhythm perfectly underpinning David’s worn, but still rich, delivery and stately guitar playing. Polly Samson’s lyrics are at their best here and David sings the hell out of them and it’s hard to believe we’ve had to endure such a wait for new material from someone who sounds still sounds so utterly in love with the process of making music. Echoes of Floyd abound on the haunting ‘faces of stone’ (one of the few tracks with a Gilmour lyric) with its echoing piano intro bringing to mind a slow, spiritual successor to ‘a great day for freedom’ only for David to wrong-foot the listener and drift into a dreamy waltz as he recounts the sad dissolution of his mother as she succumbed to dementia. A beautiful, emotive song that sits in the mind long after the album is over, it’s clear that David has lost none of his ability to craft an effective atmosphere, much as he did with ‘on an island’, and his short, sweet solo work speaks of long-repressed emotion finally bubbling to the fore. The air of gentle melancholy persists on the equally elegant ‘a boat lies waiting’ in which David pays tribute to his friend and colleague Richard Wright, who passed away so tragically in 2008. Opening in a very Floydian vein with slide guitar, gentle piano and a sample of Richard talking, the song really takes flight as David sings in harmony with David Crosby and Graham Nash on what must rank as one of the most touchingly gorgeous tributes ever recorded. Having drifted gently on an ocean of sadness, the light, bluesy touch of ‘Dancing right in front of me’ (another track that is credited exclusively to Gilmour) may still be tinged with regret, but musically it recalls the fabulous pairing of Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen (Lethal Weapon 1-3 & Heart of Darkness) with its bluesy licks and jazzy flourishes. It’s a stunning track that sees David sweetly exploring a variety of genres, and it’s clear that ‘Rattle that lock’ is first and foremost an exercise in David satisfying his own creative impulses rather than any attempt to appeal to the vast Floyd fan base that still clamours for more material.
Drifting slowly into view, ‘In any tongue’ is a meditation on the emotions that affect us all no matter what language we speak and it’s delivered with typical understated intelligence and musical gravity, the icing on the cake proving to be Zbigniew Preisner’s lush orchestrations and Andy Newmark’s subtle percussive sweeps. David’s faith in Polly Samson’s lyrics is once again shown to be well-placed and her intuition clearly resonates with him because he sings the words with that quiet intensity that was so apparent on ‘the division bell’, from which album this track could so easily come. Boasting one of the album’s most wonderfully extended solos, ‘in any tongue’ is an album highlight mixing beauty and grace in equal measure. Opening with ominous keyboard elements, the instrumental ‘Beauty’ is equally reminiscent of ‘the division bell’, with its rippling synth and David’s expressive playing only for the album to take a turn into the left field with the jazzy ‘the girl in the yellow dress’ which comes complete with Chris Laurence’s deft double bass work, the wonderful Jools Holland on piano and Robert Wyatt on Cornet. It’s a track that feels delightfully spontaneous, as if David and friends crowded into a smoky basement to drink and play one evening, and it’s very different to anything David’s done before. Featuring two Floyd Alumni (Guy Pratt on bass and John Carin on keyboard) as well as featuring Polly Samson on vocals, ‘Today’ is a funky, bright-eyed piece awash with echo that comes across as a cross between Led Zeppelin (‘houses of the holy’) and Pink Floyd’s own ‘the wall’ before the album concludes with another instrumental, the wistful ‘and then’ which once again showcases that stunning, liquid guitar sound that no one quite seems capable of making apart from David Gilmour.
As much as David Gilmour wishes to escape the shadow of ‘that pop group’ that he once played in, his vocal approach and guitar playing is so utterly synonymous with it that it should come as no surprise that much of ‘rattle that lock’ retains that oh-so-familiar Floyd vibe. That said, it is also clear that Gilmour wants nothing more now than to play the music that moves him the most without the weight of expectation that comes with that name, and so it transpires with ‘rattle that lock’. Some songs here are inescapably Floyd-esque, and listeners will pick out familiar elements in a number of songs. However, David has also experimented freely with a variety of genres and it is here that the album frequently impresses the most. The exquisite blues-infused jazz of ‘the girl in the yellow dress’, the heart-breaking tribute to Richard Wright and the light, sweeping title track are all examples of David finding a voice that is uniquely his and not quite so bound up with the weight of his history. Since the dissolution of Floyd, David has very much kept his own council, unwilling to step into a limelight that must have appeared blinding by the time of those epic concerts on the Pulse tour. This album is the product of a musician who is content to lay the past to rest quietly and with dignity and move calmly forward under his own steam and it is a beautiful exploration of a prodigious talent. Whether there will be more from David Gilmour in the coming years remains a question, but we should be grateful for ‘rattle that lock’, a gentle, poignant and frequently very beautiful album that benefits greatly from repeated listens.