David Gray would appear to comprehend the digital revolution. His new RCA CD, A New Day At Midnight won’t be out in stores until November 5, but you can go to the release website to hear the entire album online RIGHT NOW. You can also download pics of Gray, sign up for his street team, and get track listing and all of the lyrics. It wouldn’t appear that Gray is afraid people having access to his music for free online will harm CD sales. I bet he thinks it will improve them.
I wrote this bio of Gray last year just before his spring tour of North America.
Everyone loves a ten-year overnight sensation, and David Gray, the sensitive-but-not-sniveling English singer/songwriter, is suddenly much loved.
Gray, whose lightly gritty tenor voice falls somewhere between Leo Sayer and Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall with echoes of the young Bob Dylan, bottomed out in ’97 having been dropped by both the Hut and EMI labels after three critically honored but commercially snubbed CDs: A Century Ends (1993), Flesh (1994) and Sell, Sell, Sell (1996). He retreated to his flat in London, and accompanied primarily by his own acoustic guitar and piano, a drum machine, and longtime aide-de-camp “Clune” McClune on drums, bass and keyboards, Gray pushed aside concerns of recording contracts and chart-positions and recorded his subtle masterwork White Ladder. Relaxed yet revelatory, White Ladder’s long climb to the top ironically began with the freedom granted Gray through his rejection by the recording establishment, leaving him free to plumb the depths of his soul for gems like “Please Forgive Me,” “This Year’s Love” and “Babylon.”
“Please Forgive Me” rolls along with a lazy, coiled vigor on a supressed, drum machine-generated jungle beat. Gray deftly matches message with medium as the music addresses the contradictions endemic between electronic and acoustic music, and his lyrics address the contradictions inherent in a love of painful intensity with lines like “Feels like lightning running through my veins every time I look at you” and “I got half a mind to die so I won’t ever have to lose you girl.”
Similarly themed, but looking with some trepidation at the bigger picture is another classic, “This Year’s Love.” Over unadorned piano, Gray tries to face down the cynicism that has crept into his song title, realizing that even the most intense love can fall away, leaving his heart “torn when that hurt gets thrown.” But against his better judgment, the hopeless romantic takes over. “I open up my arms and fall losing all control of every dream inside my soul.” Having chosen the path of engagement, Gray can only hope for the best; the song trails out with him repeating a warning, a prayer, a declarative statement against the contingency of all feeling, as if the very repetition will make it so: “This year’s love had better last.”
The catchiest song on the album, “Babylon,” has become a AAA radio staple and the video has seen a lot of airtime on VH1 and MTV. Another tale of contact and retraction, Gray walks the autumn streets of London, kicking leaves and himself with recriminations for a love he has allowed to founder on the rocks of jealousy and bitterness. But the story ends happily as Gray entreaties himself and his returned lover to “let go your heart, let go your head and feel it now, Babylon,” drawing an analogy between the ancient city renowned for sensual gratification and the riot of the senses let loose when one abandons oneself to love.
Ladder was originally released on Gray’s own IHT label in ’98, finding commercial success first in Ireland — where it eventually reached 14-times platinum status — and then the rest of the UK, where it has now sold over one million copies. After being picked up by Dave Matthews’ new ATO imprint for RCA, Ladder was released in the US in March of 2000, where it has now also reached platinum.
Gray slowly but doggedly built a cult following through the ’90s by making very personal music and touring steadily, both on his own and opening for major acts such as Radiohead and the Dave Matthews Band. After nearly ten years out of the mainstream’s reach, David Gray’s following has grown from cult to sect status, and his tales of tangled feelings will find scores of happily receptive ears throughout the land.