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Sunday, June 17, 2018

David Gilmour: About Face

DAVID GILMOUR: ABOUT FACE (1984)

1) Until We Sleep; 2) Murder; 3) Love On The Air; 4) Blue Light; 5) Out Of The Blue; 6) All Lovers Are Deranged; 7) You Know I'm Right; 8) Cruise; 9) Let's Get Metaphysical; 10) Near The End.

General verdict: As close to «The (Not So) Great Lost Pink Floyd Dance Pop Album» as it ever gets.


Sometimes I cannot help feeling that, through some subconscious bond, Roger and David had agreed to turn the Eighties into that one decade that would once and for all decide who of the two could sink to the lowest depths of suckdom. It's not that the music they both made on their own was always cringeworthy on its own merits — in all fairness, it was no better or worse on the average than the output of most of their boomer peers. It is simply that both of them lost all traces of that intangible Floyd magic. Using the same ingredients, pursuing largely the same goals, but no longer fed by the spirit that elevated them high above most of the competition in the previous decade. Tired? Disoriented? Losing focus? Perhaps someday somebody will write a good piece of musico-psychological non-fiction about it. In the meantime, here is David Gilmour's second solo album — of which only a very naïve and easily impressed listener could expect to rectify the wrongs caused by The Final Cut.

Curiously, About Face turned out to be the single most dynamic, «lively» record in Gilmour's career (including the Waters-less «Stink Floyd» period). Since the self-titled album had been written and produced in an era when Floyd was still very much alive, simply as a distracting intermis­sion, it was not until the clouds began truly gathering on the horizon that David began to think more seriously of a possible solo career. And a possible solo career, if it were to be a career rather than a hobby, had to take the pop market into consideration — thus, more vocal numbers, more catchiness, more sing-along bits, more toe-tapping, and a few extra tricks to lure the customer in. Put together the general musical environment of 1984 and the usual personality of David Gilmour (the sad, mopey, introvert, but sentimental blues genius guy), and the results are predictably disappointing, though, perhaps, not downright catastrophic.

As a representative example, let us take ʽBlue Lightʼ, the first single off the album. Naturally, it has a trademark Gilmour element — the echoey, delayed rhythm guitars creating that atmosphere of inescapable doom — but on top of those guitars, you have a lively, funky, robotic brass section dominating the song, so that it ultimately sounds like a cross between ʽRun Like Hellʼ and ʽSussudioʼ. Throw in a few cryptic lyrical lines that could have been written about anybody from Margaret Thatcher ("she steals your savings from under your bed") to Gilmour's wife ("under her mantle you feel safe from the cold"), a trendy musical video with dancers a-plenty, and you get an easy recipe for a bona fide hit song — but one for which there is absolutely no necessity. It has neither the dread of ʽRun Like Hellʼ nor the mindless fun of ʽSussudioʼ: it is a clear example of somebody desperately trying to be somebody else, and even though the song still became a minor hit (hey, it's Dave Gilmour, and you can dance to it!), ultimately it becomes just another brick in the (memorial) wall of The Great Eighties' Artistic Self-Humiliation.

Much more true to the artist's heart was the second single, ʽLove On The Airʼ, one of the two songs on the album for which Gilmour had commissioned the lyrics from Pete Townshend — and the lyrics actually sound as if Pete could have written them after a good, solid listen to The Wall, and who could be a better substitute for Waters in terms of bleak misanthropy (and, more speci­fically, misogyny) than Mr. I-know-you-deceive-me-now-here's-a-surprise? The interesting news is that if you do not concentrate too hard on the lyrics, the song might be mistaken for a heart-on-the-sleeve serenade (when it is really about getting out of love). The not so inspiring news is that the song is not very good — quite a flat and simple acoustic progression whose only attempt at a hook is to raise the volume and pitch during the chorus; little wonder, then, that the song flopped commercially, because... well, you couldn't even very well dance to it.

And that's pretty much it: most of the album consists of relatively simplistic and usually over­produced rhythmic ballads, interspersed with the occasional quirky and uncomfortable dance-rocker. The overproduction does a disservice to Gilmour's singing voice, blending it in together with the bombastic percussion and cheap synthesizers; and the pop market orientation does a dis­service to Gilmour's guitar playing, too often downplayed because guitar solos were not supposed to be a big market-driving force in 1984.

Much to Dave's honor, About Face is all about doing an about-face, but rarely about downright losing face — ʽBlue Lightʼ is about as close as it comes to that, and even that song is saved by decent lyrics, imaginative arrangements, and the fact that, at the very least, Gilmour is not trying to dance himself in the accompanying video. It is clear that the man is still committed to his ideals of marrying blues music to psychedelic vision, and no amount of electronics or metallic riffage à la ʽOwner Of A Lonely Heartʼ is going to stop him from honoring that commitment. Thus, ʽUntil We Sleepʼ may start the album with a completely stereotypical Eighties' vibe (big drums, crunchy guitars, electronics), but its intentions are noble — a song about vanity and transience of being, with an epic combination of keyboards, guitars, and dreamy inner-demon vocals. Ten years earlier (or perhaps even ten years later), its arrangement might have been more adequate to those intentions. It's only Fate that commanded it to be recorded in 1984.

Unfortunately, the magnificent list of guest musicians on the album — including both tried-and-true rock horses such as Jon Lord and Steve Winwood, and new stars such as Art Of Noise's Ann Dudley — is squandered away under the circumstances. Likewise, Bob Ezrin, co-producing the album with Dave, was unable to put his classic macabre spin on it, either: About Face can be morose and it can be aggressive, but there is nothing here even remotely approaching the spooki­ness and tension of the better parts of The Wall. Worse, its several moments of social and politi­cal activism almost make Dave look like he'd taken a bit of envy to Roger's Final Cuttisms (ʽMurderʼ has him venting some four-year-late frustrations over Lennon's killing, and ʽCruiseʼ is an ironic take on the nuclear shield), but the man has never had true venom running in his blood, and neither being super-angry nor being super-sarcastic comes as naturally to him as it does to his big-nosed partner. (Also, the more he focuses on lyrical subjects, the less interesting his melodies get — ʽMurderʼ sounds like an old Greenwich Village folk ballad).

In short, this whole thing is as «okay» as it gets, but it is hard to imagine who could be particular­ly fond of it these days: I mean, David Gilmour cautiously selling out for peanuts? If you happen to like Dave's solo career in general, About Face will probably be your least favorite of his albums, just because so much of it is «not him». If you are generally bored by Dave's solo career, it is not likely that the upbeat and poppy nature of so many of these songs will be a great relief: clearly, it would make sense to run to a couple hundred other Eighties artists for these values before you realize that yes, even David Gilmour had a little bit of Phil Collins dormant inside him for all those years.

2 comments:

  1. I'm a bit confused. You pretty much trashed the album (at best neutral), but you gave it a good general verdict. Did you mean to color the verdict yellow instead of orange? Full disclosure; I'm a huge Floyd fan and would give this album a yellow verdict

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