It’s pristine-sounding, rife with studio tomfoolery and overlaid with a pervasive sense of bliss.
The key thing to know about David Gilmour in 2015 isn’t that he was in Pink Floyd for most of its existence. It isn’t that he’s a great guitarist, though he certainly is. It’s that he lives on a houseboat with his wife, Polly Samson, who writes most of his lyrics. When he’s not on tour, I’d guess they spend most of their time composing music and having a great time. Did I mention the houseboat is also a recording studio? Gilmour’s latest album, Rattle That Lock, sounds every bit like it was made under these circumstances. It’s pristine-sounding, rife with studio tomfoolery and overlaid with a pervasive sense of bliss.
Gilmour’s last solo album On an Island felt this way too; it was pretty and edgeless, though ultimately redeemed by a pervasive sense of awe. Rattle That Lock, by contrast, is restless. There are pretty, new age pieces and the obligatory rocker (the title track), but there are also intriguing forays into jazz and techno. They seem to fight for space in the tracklist, meaning that on first listen, it’s never quite clear what Gilmour will do next.
The worst song here is easily the title track. It feels too much like a concession to the classic-rock crowd, with its bluesy solos and splashes of gospel organ. Gilmour’s voice is too sleepy to pull something like this off, and the production’s studio-tight sheen makes it even less convincing as a rocker. It’s the only thing on here that feels like what one might expect from an album by the 69 year-old lead guitarist of an arena-packing ’70s band. This is good, because his interests lie elsewhere.
More interesting are the flirtations with lounge jazz, a style Gilmour dabbled in on Floyd’s gorgeous “San Tropez.” It’s a perfect fit for his style, allowing him to indulge his vocal and instrumental talents while maintaining a laid-back vibe. The plodding “Dancing Right In Front Of Me,” which forms an unfortunate mid-album roadblock with the equally glacial “In Any Tongue,” is thankfully interrupted by a brief tangent in which the band goes into full jazz mode. And “Girl In The Yellow Dress” finds Gilmour fully inhabiting the role of cocktail crooner. His vocals are awkward, but he’s clearly having fun.
The best thing here is “Today,” a dancefloor experiment no doubt informed by Metallic Spheres, his 2010 collaboration with The Orb. It’s an intriguing mess, commencing with an ethereal choir and cycling through CSNY harmonies (aided by the actual Crosby and Nash), flanged-out psychedelia and a solid minute and a half of guitar heroics. Throughout it all, Gilmour sings in a stream-of-consciousness style, sounding more invigorated than anywhere else on the sleepy album. This is the sound of Gilmour cutting loose, and that’s all he needs to do to make good music.