“The transformation is complete” sings David Gray on Draw The Line, his latest of eight studio albums. In many ways this one line captures the whole essence behind his approach to the album. The title itself provides further clues as he musically draws a line under some of what has gone before.
That presumably includes the huge, and somewhat unexpected, success of 2001’s White Ladder an album that literally catapulted him head first towards worldwide recognition. However, It proved to be a place that he felt somewhat uncomfortable being in and following his last album, the impressive Life In Slow Motion, it seemed the ideal time for him to Draw The Line and start again.
With that in mind he parted company with his old band, found himself without a label and began to shake the whole thing up once again. This deliberate act of reinvention sees him achieve something of a “Transformation”, the title of one the strongest in a set of eleven impressive tracks.
David Gray can, of course, only sound like David Gray. He has an instantly recognisable voice, a presence that shines from the record, and a songwriting style that hits straight from a heart. It is a heart that is very often worn on the sleeve. His quirky streetwise edginess is an essential part of his music and with Draw The Line he has successfully re-energised his spiky world view to excellent effect.
Quite why he felt the need to re-invent himself as a performer and songwriter after three number one albums in six years reveals much of the man himself. Perhaps the feeling of being in something of a comfort zone was one that he wanted to stamp out hence the reinvention and risk taking exercise that heralds the album’s arrival.
Comfort and the edgily wired star who pushed through the crowd with chemicals rushing through his bloodstream just don’t sit that easily together. The result is an album that is full of electricity, with many highlights and a freshness of purpose and yet is still very much a David Gray record.
This fresh urgency is revealed in the vibrant opening track, the single “Fugitive” and other songs such as “Stella The Artist”. On these he seems to be deliberately pushing himself further.
It is as though he has recognized that he could easily have delivered much more of the type of songs that propelled him to the top and yet has decided to push harder at the creative door. The result is a heady and highly satisfying combination of both strengths.
Inviting Annie Lennox along to her old north London studio, The Church, to duet so effectively on “Full Steam Ahead” was truly inspired. These two artists, with their instantly recognizable voices, ability to inject spike and feeling into each and every line, and their immense individual presence, combine together to close the album in truly memorable style.
There are many highlights on this record. The title track has David viewing life, the world and perhaps his own situation whilst delivering a song that fully justifies his reputation as one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation. The gentle and yet painfully personal and redemptive “Nemesis” leads beautifully towards the effective “Jackdaw”.
“Kathleen” sees him alongside Jolie Holland whose presence adds warmth and atmosphere that lifts this exceptional song even higher. “First Chance” has him returning to more familiar territory, whilst “Harder” takes the edge back off delivering a deceptively soothing song of a love burning out.
“Transformation” has him in reflective mood as he sings, “take me back where I come from, transformation has begun. Throwing off the clothes of day, complications fall away”. We can all identify with that after another crazed day in the city and his ability to genuinely capture this modern day vulnerability is, in many ways, the essence of much of his success.
“Breathe” highlights the freedom he has found within his newly created musical partnership with his band. The song is expanded, explored and developed beyond what he may have done with it in the past.
This is an album that David Gray should feel justly proud of. His self-imposed period of transformation has set him back on a course of authenticity that the essence of his music literally thrives on.
For us listeners the results are often a little less obvious and we have an album that sits nicely alongside much of his previous output. Scratch below the surface however and you begin to realize that David Gray’s transformation is perhaps complete after all.
Please visit this link to David Gray's official website for more details.