posted on September 17, 2009 19:00
A review of David Gray's album 'Draw the line'
Review Snapshot: David Gray's "Draw the line" - new songs, new band, new outlook. Same old same old.
The CLUAS verdict? 5 out of 10
Full Review: Nothing screams late nineties quite like David Gray’s “White ladder”, a “classic” album that worked basically because its lo fi songs captured a moment and because Gray himself consciously, or unconsciously, lightened his own musical mood. Gray has trod so much water since “White ladder” that he has developed webbed feet. Noughties follow ups, “A New Day at Midnight “ and “Life in Slow Motion” are as workmanlike and well intentioned as they are forgettable but his “Lost Songs” collection of outtakes was a peak. His own wife said ”Lost Songs” should be accompanied by a government health warning but it worked because he submerged himself so totally in his own misery.
So it’s against that background that he’s now released “Draw the line “ and with a completely new band too - Clune, that annoying drummer of his has been binned off - and Gray has been telling the world that he’s been writing new material at a rate of knots. “Draw the line” may be new material and Gray may profess that he’s been inspired but in the strictest sense it’s more of same and for the most part it’s less than inspiring. The arrangements on this album are exquisite, the band are on the money and the melodies are serviceable but there’s no sense of pushing things forward or of improving on what’s gone before.
“Draw the Line” suffers particularly because of Gray’s voice, which is now parched and tinder dry. The album’s outstanding track is “Breathe”, an outstandingly bad duet with the truly scary Annie Lennox. It’s self important, it’s po faced and it’s a little bit creepy but I wouldn't judge “Draw the line” on the basis of one spectacularly bad number. In fact the opener and the lead single, “Fugitive” is about the brightest thing here but really that’s not saying much. “Nemesis” on the other hand is a dark little thing with a lyric that starts out as self deprecation but veers towards self mutilation:
I’m the manta ray
I’m the louse
I am the photograph
They found in your burned out house
I am the sound of money washing down the drain
I am the pack of lies
Baby that keeps you sane
And on it goes.
“Kathleen”, “First Chance”, “Breathe”, and the rest are well arranged and lushly produced pieces of folk rock that merge into each other far too seamlessly .
The fact is that despite the stage banter and the big noddy dog head on him, Gray’s a self obsessed little man with a blacker than black world vision. When the greats like John Martyn, Nick Drake, Brett Anderson and Elliot Smith look within for inspiration they look into hearts full of soul but when Gray looks within all he finds staring back at him are his own slights, wounds and injuries.
Gray may not produce another “White ladder” and he may not even want to but “Draw the line” does not represent anything new, uplifting or even challenging.