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Gray gets past obstacles, creates poetic clarity

Observer Scene | Thursday, November 10, 2005

In the four years following his seven-time platinum album “White Ladder,” British singer-songwriter David Gray has worked to craft a decent follow up record. 2003’s “A New Day at Midnight,” written in response to the death of Gray’s father, was too dark and mellow a release for his original audience to respond to.

His latest effort, however, “Life in Slow Motion,” is a solid return to his previous level of work, with a fresh yet familiar feel to its ten tracks. Refreshing, insightful and token Gray, the album is an achievement of beauty and substance.

This album marks the first time Gray has recorded his music in what one might call a “serious studio.” Previously he was hallmarked for the stark, simplistic nature of his recording style. This time around, Gray moves beyond the “bedroom” studio into a full-blown recording facility, and this shows in the smooth clarity of each track.

“How I long to / bite the hand that feeds you,” Gray sings in an opening line. The album begins with “Alibi,” a darker track about the bitterness of lost love. The orchestral strains of the song’s start dispel any seasoned Gray listener’s ideas about his previously electronica-heavy style.

“This time around, the drum machine has been replaced with spacious soundscapes of glacial instrumentation,” Lucie Davis said in a recent BBC review of the album. This effort runs through “Slow Motion,” with a clarity harkening back to his earlier efforts, while evolving into another realm of style.

The second track and first-released single, “One I Love,” is signature Gray in its earnest emotions, quiet poetry and strong melodic chords. Not unlike his classic “This Year’s Love,” this track works due to its taking hold of real life emotions without sinking into the hackneyed or clichéd. The light and earthy feel of the guitar riffs carries the song, and the earnest lyrics lend it to be placed among Gray’s classics.

“As the tracer glides / In its graceful arc / Send a little prayer out to ya / ‘cross the falling dark,” Gray croons in the opening verse of “One I Love.”

Each of the remaining tracks has a distinct feel. “From Here You Can Almost See the Sea,” the sixth track, has an almost ethereal sensibility, with Gray’s normally somewhat-ragged voice hitting higher, more lilting notes. The sound is quiet, elegant and refreshing, and the track as a whole is gorgeous in its effortlessness.

Other highlights include the compelling title track, “Slow Motion,” and “Hospital Food,” where Gray muses on what he feels to be the mediocre nature of much of daily life. With a heavier drum beat than earlier tracks, “Hospital Food” grabs attention while subtly making the listener think.

“A bucketful of Babylon / A belly full of hate,” Gray sings in “Nos Da Cariad,” Welsh for “Goodnight, sweetheart.” Gray has a history of writing more poetic lyrics, and “Life in Slow Motion” proves wonderfully to be no different. His word choice is often subtle but effective, working seamlessly with his melodies to create an undeniably strong record.

“It was bloody hard work,” Gray says on his website, www.davidgray.com. “Fear and doubt are huge obstacles. In terms of your own work, you have to try to overcome them.

“It would have been so easy to get freaked out, but I’m really delighted that I didn’t.”