It’s always a wonderful time when one of your favourite and most influential musicians releases a new record. The stakes are high! If you’re as passionate about the music as I am, you’re probably feeling this huge excitement mixed with irrepressible anticipation each time it happens, and of course if you’re as cautious and perhaps pessimistic as I am you also can’t help but experience a slight trepidation: the wait for a new album has been a long one, and what if by some extreme unfortunate chance this new record will let you down, being nowhere near the best works from the musician? What if all this waiting was for naught?
That’s precisely how I felt when I’ve heard the new David Gilmour album was in the making, and the excitement and worry grew with each subsequent update about the writing, mixing and mastering process, artwork and tracklist reveal and so on. Even the singles aired prior to the worldwide release – more on that below – weren’t able to extinguish that small yet persistent and infectious thought I’ll end up severely disappointed after a long time of restless waiting after previous David’s soulful masterpiece, On An Island. These nine years of waiting raised the stakes even higher if it was even possible.
The timelines did quite curiously coincide that at the time the new album, Rattle That Lock, was released I was far away from home, enjoying my well-deserved (or at least I like to think so) vacation in Netherlands, and of course I couldn’t wait and ventured to a local record store to find out if they had the deluxe edition. They did have it, and while I rejoiced the opportunity and walked out of store with a huge smile on my face, somewhere deep in my subconsciousness I somehow couldn’t help but think the album will be a major letdown; I probably stuttered because of that when I asked the seller about the album, and my hand definitely trembled when I was crouching at the audio player connected to the excellent rare speakers designed sometime in the 70s, courtesy to our host in the Netherlands, putting the CD in. I’ve waited for this album for nine years, I was looking forward to this moment so much, and damn, was I nervous.
And then the first keyboard sounds and guitar notes started to emerge soothingly from the speakers and I was lost in the haze of this bewitching music.
There was no need to be nervous at all. Rattle That Lock was everything I could’ve hoped for, and more.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and shed some light on the people who performed on this album. Indeed, nine years has passed since On An Island, and while David asked a lot of the same musicians – loads of them are multi-instrumentalists so there’s almost no point to mention who plays what – to perform on his new record, including Guy Pratt, Phil Manzanera, Rado Klose, Robert Wyatt, David Crosby and Graham Nash, there is also one noticeable absence that couldn’t be helped – Richard Wright, who recorded some Hammond organ and leads vocals for On An Island and subsequently, after a long persuasion, agreed to do the tour for that album and said he’s enjoyed it immensely, sadly passed away in 2008. However, he’s still featured on this record most unexpectedly, since one of the songs features his voice samples.
Still, it’s difficult to recite all the musicians you can hear on Rattle That Lock, the list is immense. I would say there are some more people that deserve some attention though: first, of course, Polly Samson, who penned the lyrics for five songs no less and also provided the back vocals for one of the tracks; second, Steve DiStanislao, who bravely played the drum parts and some percussion on like half of the album and even provided backing vocals on the title track; and third, the surprise appearance of David’s son, Gabriel Gilmour, who has fittingly played the piano on a certain song.
I admit I can be falling for the same old clichés here, but I can’t help saying Rattle That Lock is strangely alike to On An Island, and at the same time it’s strikingly different from it. I mean, there are those familiar guitar passages that only David Gilmour can put into his music, flowing seamlessly in and out of the songs; and there is this serene, unhurried pace to the tracks, but, well, the atmosphere this album is miles apart from the Gilmour’s previous work. It’s sufficient to look at the two covers to make the convincing conclusion: while On An Island is more relaxing, contemplative and admiring the beauty of nature, Rattle That Lock is slightly more intense and reflective. It’s subtle, but it definitely can be noticed while you’re paying a lot of attention to all the small details. Or, I don’t know, it could be only me imagining things.
Regardless, the beginning of this album isn’t intense at all. 5 A.M. begins with those atmospheric, laid-back keyboards complemented with the relaxed acoustic guitar notes and the trademark emotional Gilmour electric-guitar playing. It’s a sweet instrumental with the great melodies, and it makes me wonder if I’m doing something wrong with my life: I mean, I get up to work at 5 A.M. every morning and my soundtrack for this time would’ve been some aggressive metal because I basically hate everyone at that point, but here, David Gilmour managed to present this as a fabulous experience through the music. Maybe it’s simply a matter of getting older, wiser and more tolerant to everyone around you? I hope so.
It’s getting even more bizarre in a good way when this song is followed by an energetic, grooving and all-around a lots-of-fun title track, Rattle That Lock. It’s known that David’s inspiration for the main melody was a four-note jingle that can be heard on the train stations, announcing the train arrival. It’s funny and fascinating at the same time, how some of us can draw the inspiration from the smallest things that surround us every day, and it’s so impressive because the result is nothing short of stellar, an incredibly catchy song with those infectious choruses, pronounced bassline, well done guitar solos and worthy use of backing vocals. And even if you don’t pay attention to the details, I don’t think anyone can deny it’s just a plain fun rock song.
The same absolutely can’t be said about the next song, Faces of Stone, which is, in my opinion, a definite masterpiece from David. This one is a heart-wrenching ballad, one of those tunes that you can feel speaking directly to your soul if you’re in the right mind to take it in. The somber yet ringing piano notes pave their way into the song, where the acoustic guitars are being a perfect support for Gilmour’s soulful singing. I might be wrong, but I think he plays both piano and guitars here by himself, and of course when it comes to the solo, there is no mistake who’s on the guitar. David Gilmour himself said he wrote this song about his mother’s internal battle with dementia and about his time spent with her in her last years; and oh, the grief and sorrow are oozing from this song, and yet you can feel the silver lining here, the sort of wistfulness hanging over the whole song, because whenever we lose the people dearest to us, we grief and we can’t help it, yet we still fondly reminisce about the time we spend with them, recounting all the happy and sad events we went through together. Yes, there is this infinite sadness and the hole in your heart which will never heal, but there are the moments you’ve enjoyed together and no one can take them away from you, and that’s where you can find the solace to somehow live with that loss. Faces of Stone is one of those songs that can both make you cry and brighten your mood while you’re at it, and it’s truly a rare song in the maestro’s catalogue, and indisputably one of his best.
Now that I’m finished fawning over Faces of Stone, the next track, A Boat Lies Waiting is a relaxing song once again, but the serenity here is provided by a rumbling piano sounds, like the flowing waves of the sea. The piano player is Roger Eno, and he does a great job on it. This is the song where you can hear Richard Wright’s voice on the samples, and there are Crosby and Nash singing, and overall, despite the unique atmosphere for the Gilmour’s solo albums, this feels like a fitting and thoughtful call-back to these wonderful times spent with Wright, a calm and peaceful tribute to him in a way.
The second song Gilmour penned the lyrics for, Dancing Right in Front of Me (the first obviously being Faces of Stone), is far more playful and far less mournful, yet it still has this minor touch to it, even with some jazz feel over it. The descending melody right in the beginning sets the mood to the whole song, and David’s voice sounds fresh as ever on this song. It’s just like it’s almost a night-time at the bar and the party still goes on, maybe with less people that it were in the evening, and it gets just more intimate with those lights subdued and most of the troublemakers leaving, heading to their home. Aside from the predictable, yet quite fantastic melodies, the subtle guitar touches, magnificent solos (again!) and the overall down-to-earth attitude mixed with some imperceptible grandeur this song might be nothing special for some people – but it’s once again a treasure for me.
The next track is In Any Tongue, the one I mentioned before, the one where Gabriel Gilmour, David’s son, makes his first recording appearance playing the piano here. Well, I need to say the piano touches are most welcome here, they’re helping to add the dramatic tension to this track and the tension relief on the choruses too, all the while the strings are making the mood even more ominous, it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone when I’ll say the guitar solos are still the best thing this song has to offer. The blazing solo at the end is nothing short of glorious.
The instrumentals on any David Gilmour’s album are always an interesting thing to discuss. People who are only familiar with David as a Pink Floyd guitarist are insisting his albums are always so much guitar-oriented it isn’t even funny and it’s definitely not worth their attention (nor they are usually striving to check it out); and even the folks who are more open-minded tend to assume his instrumentals show off his impeccable guitar skills. The thing is, if you look at On An Island’s Red Sky at Night (where David plays saxophone of all instruments!) and When I Close My Eyes, the next track here, Beauty, becomes a sort of natural progression. The rare guitar touches are mostly insignificant while the bass, the restrained drums and keyboards are weaving the big picture here. A great contemplative track in the vein of On An Island, only more fast-paced and more cheerful, Beauty is indeed a worthy addition to Rattle That Lock.
The biggest wonder for me was The Girl in the Yellow Dress, a full-blown jazz song I didn’t expect from David at all. It’s not that I’m opposed to it; I think David reached that point in his career he can write whatever he wants and get away with it; and I liked this song a lot, especially when it effortlessly flows from the singing part to this soft, touching saxophone solo like a yellow dress in the wind, I just never thought I’ll see David Gilmour performing jazz on his official solo album. Well, I stand corrected, and besides, this song is just worth it.
Now, you might not believe it, but there is a song on Rattle That Lock I’m not too fond of, called Today. Not that it actually mattered when I picked my album of the year, because the rest of material here is just blissful and magnificent, but Today is one of the few songs from Gilmour’s solo catalogue I just don’t get. The mood is totally different from the rest of the album, and the electric piano from Jon Carin doesn’t help any. I might have enjoyed this song as a standalone work, but I daresay it doesn’t fit at Rattle That Lock at all. To be clear, that’s where I was apprehensive – to remind you, the first two songs released were Rattle That Lock and Today – and when I’ve listened to Today, I began to worry the whole album was like that. Thankfully, it wasn’t.
Regardless, the record is brought to a quiet conclusion with And Then…, another guitar-driven instrumental reprising the themes from 5 A.M. and adding its own flavour upon them. Going through the notes and chords on the electric guitar with the lively drum behind them, the song sprawls over a few minutes, and then goes all acoustic and wistful in a High Hopes-esque way to close this record for good. Once again, this acoustic playing is something Gilmour does often – besides High Hopes, I can reference Smile on his previous album, with its remarkably beautiful campfire-like mood; well, this track does it the same way, you can even hear the logs burning at the background in the end.
I’ve made it no secret David Gilmour is my favourite living musician in the world right now. I also don’t intend to make it a secret I absolutely loved Rattle That Lock. It’s an album I can and will recommend to everyone who is looking for something excellently crafted, wonderfully peaceful and heartbreakingly gorgeous. I’ve waited for this album for nine years, and it didn’t disappoint me one bit. The fact David Gilmour is still capable of writing, playing, recording and releasing something that refreshing, something that mature and magnificent means a lot for me, and I don’t doubt I will spin this album many more times for the years to come.