Those Old Darts #94

#94: “MURDER” (DAVID GILMOUR)

David Gilmour is an excellent guitar player, but as much as I admire the man’s talent for the instrument I have always thought he is a bit lacking as far as songwriting is concerned, in spite of his obvious knack for catchy melodies and riffs. In my opinion, it was the restless musical impulse of Roger Waters that pumped up the best of Gilmour (as well as Wright and Mason) at the heart of Pink Floyd. Wright was also a terrific keyboard player, but for some reason(s) —probably personal/family problems or depression— he became bored with Pink Floyd music and in the end decided not to participate in the band. This lead, as most people know, to Waters getting fed up with Wright’s attitude (and later, also with Gilmour’s), and eventually deciding to call it quits as far as Pink Floyd was concerned….
This song, from Gilmour’s solo album About Face (1984), was released a little bit before Water’s claim that Pink Floyd was over, on a brief hiatus where Waters himself released his solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitch-Hiking (1984). I listened to “Murder” for the first time around 1993, and I immediately fell in love with the sound and the music. The melody, the singing, the music changes, the guitar solo… everything reminded me of the Pink Floyd I had learnt to treasure and love. Around those days I used to listen to a lot of Pink Floyd bootlegs, including an infamous BBC recording of “The Narrow Way (Part 3)”, which I happened to love in spite of the crappy sound. Those were the days too when I would spend hours on my own, around lonely dark spots in the forests, waiting in vain for ufos to appear on the sky or just reflecting on a painfully recent past and longing for an even more sombre future. That is how it feels when you are twenty-something, and you still have your whole life ahead. Truth be told, life was much simpler and easier in 1993 than it is nowadays. There were no mobile phones, no Internet yet (at least not in Spain), no digital cameras, no avant-garde gimmicks to ease people’s existence or to amuse a whole species to death…. Yeah, those were still the happy days.
“Murder” starts with a nice acoustic guitar strumming. Gilmour’s voice joins in a slightly forced high pitch. Then there’s a lovely fretless bass guitar solo by Pino Palladino, and the drums softly enter the song in a slow tempo, bridging it towards the third and final verse sung by Gilmour, now in a loud and hoarse voice. And then the whole song explodes in a monumental guitar solo, very reminiscent of the solo in Comfortably Numb, albeit a little bit more artificial and pompous; fortunately the rhythm suddenly gets faster and the solo evolves into something far more interesting: a double-guitar interplay (one of them high-pitched, the other one bass-dominated) from the left and right channels respectively, rivalling in a spiralling crescendo toward a faded-out end. This kind of two-part guitar solo (first part slower, second part faster) would be perfected by Gilmour in his guitar solo for “On the Turning Away”. As good as that solo is, the one in “Murder” is nothing short of astounding; this sort of ‘simple-yet-complex’ guitar-playing style should come as no surprise, regardless, precisely because Gilmour has made a hallmark of it ever since he joined Pink Floyd.
Admittedly, lyrics have never been Gilmour’s strong point, and the ones he delivers in “Murder” are not an exception in this respect. They are simple, certainly efficient, but never on par with Waters’ philosophical depth and polysemic grandeur. To me this is a song about a murder while at the same time addressing the murderer’s viewpoint. A few years ago I read somewhere that the song was about John Lennon’s murder. I had no idea about that, and would never have guessed that was what the song was about. If I remember correctly, Lennon was shot with a gun, not stabbed with a “knife” (which is the word Gilmour uses in his lyrics) –then again, Gilmour’s fans will probably claim that the knife is a metaphor for the gun blah blah blah. Whatever. “Some of them standing, some were waiting in line/As if there was something that they thought they might find”: these are the first lines in the song, and though I’ve heard/read much worse than this, they are certainly a proof of pedestrian writing. The second and third verses get better, though not by a wide margin: “I don’t want this anger burning in me/It’s something from which it’s so hard to be free/And none of the tears that we cry in sorrow or rage can make any difference or turn back the page” –that’s more like it!
When choosing this song as my favourite from the Gilmour solo repertoire, I had a second favourite song: “So Far Away”, from David Gilmour’s eponymous album from 1978. I simply love this song, its peaceful rhythm, its catchy melody and its majestic ending…. Unfortunately, I am not as emotionally attached to it as I am to “Murder”, probably because I listened to Gilmour’s first album after having listened to his second one, at a time when I was less easily affected or moved by music.
The link below will take you to a live performance of the song, from the 1984 David Gilmour tour if I recall correctly. I still believe the original studio version is superior to any live rendition out there, but this performance includes a nice variation on the bass solo from the studio version and, as expected, a great extended guitar solo. If you like Gilmour’s (or Pink Floyd’s) music, you’ll dig it; otherwise, just skip it.

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