David Gray - Draw the Line

2009-10-06 11:22
Draw the Line

It goes without saying that he is an utterly immersive performer (as anyone who caught his tour to SA a couple of years ago will attest) and even his most low-key moments on breakout album White Ladder – were infused with quiet inspiration. White Ladder was one of the biggest selling CDs of the late 90s and the album that hailed the start of a new acoustic movement that gave rise to artists such as James Blunt and Damien Rice, and it's interesting to note how Gray has reacted to the ubiquity of his proverbial spawn – by remaining constant in the face of a fickle musical climate.

It's been four years since Gray's last album, Life in Slow Motion, his best work since White Ladder. Draw the Line finds Gray in comfortable, murky waters, where love is a battlefield with evidence of its casualties everywhere - as on "Fugitive" ("Well it's flesh and blood and camouflage") and the brutal "Harder" (Now we’ve been beating on it/'Til we’re black and blue). Gray was never one for sugar-coating the messiness of the heart and its entanglements.

Elsewhere, the strong melodies ring assuredly, particularly on the piano-driven "Kathleen" and its regretful twin "Nemesis" which features some of Gray's most menacing lyrics – which would sound even more so had they not been accompanied by a beautifully measured guitar arpeggio, affecting in its subtlety. Annie Lennox makes a cameo in the closer "Full Steam", but what may have seemed like a great idea on paper encountered a miscalculation of epic proportions in the studio. Lennox adopts a squawk too reminiscent of Johnny Rotten to be taken seriously, and what should have been a meeting between two powerhouses comes off sounding like the rejected jingle for a seniors' booze cruise ad.

Thankfully, Gray's trademark gravel of a voice is still as intense and sincere as ever, although he doesn't do much with it. The same can be said for Draw the Line as a whole – while the songs are strong and the intentions true, it's what we've come to expect. This lack of surprise and intrigue could see Gray level off and one day reach Annie Lennox-levels of redundancy once he reaches his golden years.

Here's hoping he goes glam for his next album.

It's hard not to associate David Gray with desolate horizons and crumpled, tear-stained tissues littering an empty bedroom. His music is not exactly what you'd call depressing or dark (he's about a 5 on the Joy Division scale of wrist-slitting), but there is a bitterness that lurks beneath the surface, threatening to spill over and consume him.

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