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CD Review: David Gray, Life in Slow Motion

There was a time when I thought David Gray’s music was insufferably boring. Either I was wrong, or I’ve become insufferably boring myself, because I’ve developed an honest appreciation — God help me, sometimes a genuine fondness — for the melancholy musings of the Welsh troubadour, in a this-is-nice-over-Sunday-breakfast sort of way. It was on an early-morning airport drive in March that I realized I’d truly crossed over: The sun was coming up over Boston Harbor, “Babylon” came on the radio, and I caught myself thinking “Wow, this song is really beautiful” before I realized what we were listening to.

Anyway, if you like David Gray, you know his albums are more or less interchangeable; the songs might be different, but the form is essentially the same. He’s tried to switch things up a bit on Life in Slow Motion, availing himself of a real big-budget recording studio rather than the bedroom setups he’s used in the past. A lot of the noise from the Gray camp regarding this album is that it’s “bigger,” but eh, I don’t know how accurate that is. The production is still pretty skeletal, although “Now and Always” is positively Sgt. Pepper-ish compared to his earlier work (and maybe the best song on the album besides.)

Gray has described this album’s music as “eloquent,” which I’ll go along with, but he’s also quite proud of his lyrics here, which is mystifying; I’m no poet, but this stuff ranges from the merely serviceable to the semi-embarrassing. He’s particularly happy with “From Here You Can Almost See the Sea,” which contains the following rhyming-dictionary groaners:

Just a parasite in a line
I’m smoking, killing the time
How long’s a piece of twine

and

Little puppy dog in a box
Somebody’s picking the locks
Must want the darn from the socks

I’m forever being criticized by friends and acquaintances for caring about the lyrics to pop songs. If you’re like me, you’ve heard “Nobody cares about the words” so many times you almost believe it. If this is what passes for prideworthy these days, perhaps those people have a point. I confess to absolute ignorance with regards to the words to Gray’s other songs, and I’m guessing that might be a good thing. It’ll still sound good over bagels, coffee, and the morning paper.

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  • http://www.pulverradio.com Mikey McClenathan

    i couldn’t agree with you more about the lyrics. i think i might punch the next person who says “nobody cares about the lyrics” in the kidney.

  • Steve

    Hmmm, David Gray, one of my faves…re. the ‘nobody cares about the lyrics’ comment…I do think that is hyperbole, as you two posters at least prove! However, for me, as long as there is no profanity in the lyrics, or anything really offensive, I must confess, personally the music is more important than the lyrics…I’ve found most artists’ lyrics to be quite impenetratable, only to find that for many of them, that is there intention anyway so that the listener can read into the lyrics whatever they want…on the other hand, I remember Sting saying he had conversations with some of his fans, where many would say that “Every Breath You Take” (by The Police of course) is one of our fave love songs to which Sting would reply (or at least think to himself… I forget now) ‘Boy, you must have a very strange relationship (with your significant other) as that song is about a twisted stalker!!! To me, although there have been great songs that tell great stories, the ones that have great music added to them are pretty rare. On an annual basis I think I could count them on one hand (two hands in a good year). I can get my ideas about life from books and other places where prose is used. Can’t get music from anything else but music, I guess that’s why I focus on it more than the lyrics. If the music is great, I can ignore poor lyrics, as long as they aren’t too repetitive or, as I said above, offensive. Indeed, there are many songs (particularly in the dance music genre) that would sound better as instrumentals to these ears lol. There have been many good songs that have been rendered badly musically…well, ok, let me be more diplomatic…in arrangements I have not enjoyed personally (for me, that includes a number of great songwriters, like much of Dylan’s output, for example) to the point where I would rather read the lyrics themselves than have to listen to the music that accompanies them. Just my own opinion.

  • http://www.guichoncreek.com/wilson Wilson

    I can certainly see why you think David Gray’s music would be boring…but I would ask you to listen a couple of his earlier albums…namely “A Century Ends” and “Flesh” as they have much better lyrics than his later work.

    If you are looking for particular tracks…check out Gathering Dust, Flame Turns Blue, Falling Free or The Light.

  • betty boo

    david gray white ladder will always have a special place in my heart because the first time I heard David Gray sing live on tv; before I really knew who he was, he brought me to tears and to make this moment even more memorable was it was the time I cried in front of my boyfriend ..everything he sung touched me in such a unique way I could never explain..and it was it was that day that i realised my boyfriend was the guy I wanted to marry. that was 4 years ago at uni, we are still together and he is still the guy i know Im going to marry. So for that reason David Gray will always sail far higher than any other artist for me.

  • Shannon

    I love David Gray’s music, but yeah, I agree with you on the lyrics — they’re essential. If the lyrics are crap, I can’t bother with the song. I don’t know about the ones you used as examples from “From Here You Can Almost See the Sea.” I haven’t really warmed up to that song yet. But I can definetly agree with Wilson:

    “Flame Turns Blue” is my favorite song, ever, due to one lyric (although the entire tune is utterly gorgeous, IMHO):

    I’m in collision with every stone I ever threw and blind ambition where the flame turns blue.

  • Andrew

    The first time I heard ‘Babylon,’ I broke my 3 song rule (an album has to have 3 songs I like for me to purchase it) and I found that I liked every song on the album. I went to an indie music store and saw they had all of his previous albums as well. I bought one, ‘A Century Ends,’ and the first song, ‘Shine,’ absolutely knocked my socks off. For the next year, I saved my pennies and bought each of the albums that came out before ‘White Ladder,’ including ‘Lost Songs’ which were songs written before WL but released afterwards.

    ‘Flame Turns Blue’ is a tremendous song as is ‘Gutter full of Rain.’ There are songs of his that tell stories in the traditional sense and there are songs of his that simply convey emotion through the use of metaphor. Is he the greatest ever? No. Is he my favorite singer-songwriter at this time in my life? Yes.