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David Gilmour - About Face CD (album) cover


David Gilmour


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2.85 | 281 ratings

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3 stars One quick gander at this album's date of release will tell you immediately that the usual criteria of evaluation for its contents must be abandoned and several acres of slack are to be prescribed by necessity. Orwell had predicted a dearth of personal liberty in his novel "1984" but when that year arrived the real victims of cruel tyranny were progressive music lovers who'd witnessed their genre of choice being gutted ruthlessly by the callous MTV virus and buried beneath a landfill of cheap, spandex-clad, camera-mugging charlatans wielding nary a thimble-sized dollop of talent in their rhinestone-encrusted gloved hands. The mighty Pink Floyd's soaring hog had dropped out of the sky like a lead balloon and their inner dysfunction had caused them to figuratively hit The Wall before discovering that the Final Cut was the deepest, creating an oozing scab that would never heal. David Gilmour was all dressed up with nowhere to go but out on his own and, as so often happens in these situations, he wrote and recorded a collection of songs uneven in quality due to the lack of constructive criticism his bandmates used to supply. In other words, "About Face," like the 80s in general, has no clear direction and dog paddles half the time in an ocean of trendy distractions.

Being a lifelong guitar player I've always been drawn to David's inimitable style and technique on the instrument but I find his unique vocal delivery equally magnetic. I'm one of those who actually found a lot to admire about the post-Waters version of Pink Floyd and I attribute much of my attraction to the dominant presence of Gilmour on that reinvigorated lineup's two studio offerings. There's something quite comfortable and effortlessly enjoyable about how David goes about his business, adding a touch of class to everything he's a part of whether it's a cameo appearance on a Supertramp album or a solo project like this one. I realize that many proggers despise "About Face" and I truly understand why they feel that way but I don't know that Gilmour could've manufactured anything better considering the bipolar state of mind music was in during that time period. He did the best he could in the dire circumstances he and other middle-aged progmen found themselves in and one should keep an open conscience when listening to it in the 21st century.

Case in point is the curtain-raiser, "Until We Sleep." It has the undeniable New Wave techno pop feel that never ends pulsating incessantly underneath his calm vocal and ripping guitar licks that keep the tune from becoming an ugly Thomas Dolby clone but the whole thing is horribly dated. It has no hook of note, no discernable lyric content and, unfortunately, it pollutes the atmosphere the remainder of the tracks have to breathe in. Try not to condemn the whole album by the shortcomings of the first tune, thereby giving up on it too early. There's a few diamonds to be found in the roughage and the first of those is "Murder." David chooses to embellish poignant words with some light acoustic guitar and silky fretless bass artistry from Pino Palladino as the song steadily builds to a forceful expression of exasperation over John Lennon's senseless homicide. I like the sharp edge that perches on Gilmour's voice when he's mad. He sings "I don't want this anger that's burning in me/it's something from which it's so hard to be free" with a desperate yearning for vengeance. The track then slips into a jogging shuffle wherein he takes out his frustration on his trusty axe. It's a cathartic experience.

"Love on the Air" is next and it's basically a power ballad sans power chords. That makes it sound more anemic than it is because, in its defense, David lets the number flow and evolve naturally without forcing the issue. It has a slight British Country flavor that's charming in a quaint sort of way and it fits Pete Townshend's heartbroken lyrics appropriately. "No one will hurt me again/no one will cause me to lie/no one control me by pain/no one will cause me to cry," David warbles with a pout. "Blue Light" follows and it's a stinky salamander to chew on, much less keep down. So strange to hear a horn section blaring alongside Gilmour's ethereal voice and the whole shebang sounds like a vain imitation of the platinum Phil Collins/Steve Winwood vibe that was topping the charts in that era. He fails miserably. Adding insult to injury, the inane words are on the same lofty level as, say, Hall & Oates' insipid "Maneater" and shouldn't be repeated. Speaking of Winwood, his growling Hammond organ ride is the sole bright spot but it's not worth sitting through the entire tune to hear. Skip ahead.

As I said, David has his moments of grandeur and "Out of the Blue" is one of them. A beautiful ballad incorporating an involved orchestral score that majestically colors the verses, he expands the scope to massive depths on the bridge and that gesture makes me want to forgive him for his earlier trespasses. The lyrics bring to mind how the ancient Greeks must've felt about their fickle deities. "Out of the blue, with wings on his heels/a messenger comes/bearing regrets for the time that he steals/but steal it he will/my children's and mine/against our desires, against all our needs/our blood spilled like wine," he mourns. "All Lovers are Deranged" is a hard-rocking, Bruce Springsteen-ish steamroller that roasts serious rump and I revel in the bare-bones rawness of the production here. Once again he collaborated with Townshend (one of my all-time favorite wordsmiths) to convey snarky shards of wisdom like "It takes a fight to start a fight/and differences remain/we have the right to think we're right/we're addicts feigning shame/for love recalled is love reborn/we're determined to relive the pain/but then, all lovers are deranged," he sings with a smirk. Another treat comes when Gilmour gets jiggy with the whammy bar at the end. He darn near snaps the thing off.

"You Know I'm Right" is an adventurous tune that incorporates too many of the contemporary grooves that thrived in that musical dark age but it might have earned a passing grade if not for him opting to use his weak, girly falsetto on the choruses. Someone should've talked him out of that blunder because the intriguing orchestral injections are cool and his fierce guitar lead is excellent. "We really seem to have a problem here/but is it you or me?/whatever I have going through my mind/you always have to disagree," he complains. My apologies, David, but I call 'em as I see 'em. My advice? Stop the soprano crap. Yet his grossest misstep on this platter is "Cruise," a puttering tugboat of a song that has no rudder but plenty of stupid lyrics. Who or what is he talking about when he croons lines like "Cruise, we both know you're the best/how can they say you're like all the rest?" A politician? One of his kids? A button on his steering wheel? Tom? Even though he beefs up the choruses to make it seem like something is happening he was grasping at straws when he went Jamaican reggae at the end. That ever-safe but boring ploy (so popular in the 80s) did nothing for me then and it never will. I take it as a blatant affront. He should be ashamed.

Thank heavens he goes out with some dignity! The last two tracks save this album from eternal ridicule. The instrumental "Let's Get Metaphysical" (clever moniker, that) begins with a splendid symphony pouring its heart out, then Gilmour's guitar comes streaking into the concert hall like a shaft of sunlight igniting the hovering dust. This stunning piece detonates like peals of thunder but eventually settles onto a serene meadow. The aptly- titled "Near the End" is a case of David's typical melancholy working like magic and the tune's haunting aura foreshadows the soon-to-be-resurrected Pink Floyd sound. I love his line of "Some things never change/and I'm feeling the cold/thinking that we're getting older and wiser/when we're just getting old." Amen, brother, I feel your pain. When Gilmour lets his prog monster reign over his creativity as he does here one can get lost in his dense, drifting synthetic clouds and allow oneself to be serenaded by deep, cavernous oohs and ahhs, a pleasure I never get tired of. It's also a delight to hear how he switches from acoustic guitar to electric without a seam during the extended fadeout solo. Masterful. I only wish the rest of "About Face" was this satisfying.

The 80s didn't do anyone except hairspray and pet rock manufacturers any favors and this particular guitar hero was no exception. The bratty New Wave generation had no respect for prog rock and insisted on changing things for the sake of change, preferring to be optically amused rather than aurally challenged and it led music into an abyss that it is only now starting to crawl out of. Figuring out what the confused common folk cared to hear was a wild shot in the dark and poor David was flying blind without a compass. Even he admits that he didn't have a clue when he made this record and it shows. I guess I should be amazed that it's not a total disgrace. For the glimpses of brilliance he displays I am grateful, giving it the lowest rung of the 3 star rating.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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