"Bored socialist millionaires making solo records."
This header from a review of the About Face album duly infuriated me, about three decades ago. In this review the critic satirised the fact that David Gilmour had asked colleague Pete Townshend, from an equally legendary band, to help him out on a couple of tracks.
In retrospect the About Face album tried a bit too hard to launch Gilmour on a successful solo career, it was a bit too AOR, too Foreigner-ish to be good. The general audience wasn't interested in Pink Floyd members going solo anyway and - in Belgium - Gilmour only played a small university hall in Brussels, that was only partially filled, if my memory is correct. Not that I was there, I didn’t go as well, but that was thanks to my legendary social anxiety disorder.
Things are different now, the music industry may be complaining music isn’t selling, but at least there is an appetite for the musicians formerly known as Pink Floyd.
The buzz has been going on for quite a while now and you might except that a new David Gilmour album is something like the second coming of Christ. I’m a bit sceptic when things are getting overhyped, since Star Trek V was promoted with the slogan ‘why are they putting seatbelts in theatres this summer’? As the movie-goers found out, it was to prevent them from leaving after fifteen minutes.
Although the preliminary signs weren't all too positive, who composes a (rather mediocre) song around an annoying French railway jingle anyway and links it to a text from John Milton?, I tried to remain neutral when the CD appeared in the stores.
TL;DR: It didn't help.
Rattle That Lock
5 AM starts a bit like the absolutely beautiful Let’s Get Metaphysical (About Face) and makes me think remotely of At The End Of The Day from Mason + Fenn's Profiles album. It’s a nice introduction, but just when it could go somewhere it simply fades out, what happens with several tracks on this album unfortunately. It’s a nice, somewhat colourless intro, but that is default Pink Floyd territory, so to speak.
Rattle That Lock sits in your brain like a cockroach and jumps up when you least expect it. It’s Gilmour’s most catchy number in years, sounding a bit like one of these irresistible Chris Rea tunes: I can hear your heart beat / Rattle that lock. The problem is, who has heard of Chris Rea for the last 3 decades? The song has a standard eighties feel with irritant percussion, irritant singing and irritant lyrics and is a serious contestant to replace The Dogs Of War as Gilmour’s worst song ever. On top of that the track uses a sample from the Momentary Lapse Of Reason days (Learning To Fly) and that is how it sounds actually, fucking dated. While David Gilmour gladly acknowledges that About Face suffers from the eighties (over-)production, he does it all over again on this track. Actually I am glad I don’t live in France so I don’t have to hear the SNCF jingle on a daily basis and be reminded every time of this turd.
Faces of Stone. For a moment I feared Gilmour was going klezmer but this is a little waltz that regularly puts you on the wrong foot. Perhaps the best track on the album, although not among Gilmour’s bests, if you know what I mean. It says something of the quality of the other tracks, I fear. I guess I’m just happy there is a cool solo at the end.
Gilmour’s eulogy to Rick Wright A Boat Lies Waiting starts with a long and slow intro that could have been on The Endless River. Although there is the tendency from fans to find it a fitting remembrance it is a bit monotonous, despite some nice singing from Crosby and Nash. The song ends rather abrupt as if these old tossers were suddenly out of breath, but others think that it is a symbolical way to visualise how Rick was taken out of this world. Beautiful, but not really earth-shattering and the fact that it is about Wright probably makes me judge it milder than the others.
I don’t honestly know what to think of Dancing In Front Of Me, I would like to like it, but then there is that feeling that it could’ve been much better and that it is just a filler. Gilmour obviously is a happy man and happy men, so goes the first rule of rock'n'roll, don’t make great records. What if The Wall had tracks like ‘My father and me went fishing’, ‘My mother was always positive towards me’ and ‘Pink has a successful garden shop in Cambridge’? Nobody would’ve bought it.
In Any Tongue first has some whistling for god’s sake, but then it takes off like all the others in that lazy tone that specifies this record. For a moment the refrain brings a solace, a glimpse of Floydian grandeur, but – fearing I’m getting repetitive – the song never seems to blossom, except perhaps for that ending 'Comfortably Numb'-ish solo. With some help from Roger Waters and Rick Wright this could’ve been an epic track. Wait a minute. Did I just ask for Roger Waters? Something must be really wrong with this record.
Beauty starts like it could’ve been a part of the last Floyd and perhaps it was. Still sounds like a bit of filler, with a slight touch of One of These Days. Too many bread and not enough cheese on this album though.
The Girl In The Yellow Dress or Gilmour and Samson go jazz. Unfortunately it is the kind of jazz you hear as a soundtrack on French romantic movies. This would be a cute track on a Jools Holland album and actually that guy manipulates the piano here, as are Robert Wyatt and Bob (Rado) Klose. But as it is definitely something else it kind of stands out against the rest. Different, not better.
Today starts like a church hymn, never a good sign, but then a funky guitar takes over with a Fame signature, unfortunately one of the David Bowie tracks I loathe the most. Today is a mixed bag, has some awful singing, and seems to be getting nowhere, like most of the disco dance floor fillers. Chris Rea once sang 'I'm in a European disco', but this is no Saturday Night Fever, I'm afraid.
And then… there is a relieved sigh that this record is finally over. The last instrumental will be used by radio makers all over the world to end their show with and thank the audience for their kind attention. If it had a sax solo it could also have been used to musically accompany an episode of Red Shoe Diaries, but just like that soft erotic drama series it never really gets off the ground.
No sex please, we're British
As a matter of fact that is not such a bad comparison. David Gilmour has given us a soft-core record, that will obviously be loved by millions, but personally I was expecting something more 'in the flesh'. Of course this isn't a bad record, David Gilmour is smart enough not to make 'bad' records, but it is just so... dull, flat, uninspired. Like that American cheese with no holes, no smell and also no taste.
As a final note I would like to add that the album comes in a regular and a deluxe version. At almost the triple in price you get an incredible amount of, what the Dutch describe so beautiful as, 'prullaria' (kitsch, rubbish). One of those is a piece of plastic that is called a plectrum, although 'plectrum-ish' would be far more closer to the truth. It could be a plectrum for an ukulele, but apparently that is an instrument you can't use a plectrum on, so tells me a musician who is the master of all things strings. Whatever. (At the Holy Church Tumblr page there is a gallery with the contents of the deluxe box: Unpacking Rattle That Lock #1 and Unpacking Rattle That Lock #2.)
The deluxe edition also contains a Blu-ray (or DVD) with a few meticulous surround mixes, a couple of barn jams between Gilmour and Wright and some horrifically bad remixes of Rattle That Lock. The barn jams used to be online but they have already been deleted by the Pink Floyd gestapo.
This is a fucking disappointing record and one that certainly won't help me through my midlife crisis. On the other hand, Jason Lytle has just announced a new Grandaddy album. So there is still a reason to keep on going on with this miserable life. But first, I think I'm going to have a listen to About Face, compared to Rattle That Lock, it is a masterpiece.