Singer-songwriter David Gray believes he is in the midst of a transformation. Lest you doubt him, the title of his latest proper release, the surly pose gracing the cover of said album, and the overhauling of his band seem to indicate that the man means business.
Gray has commented on the matter. When speaking of the less-introverted subject matter on Draw The Line, and, in particular, the title track, he noted that, while the “previous records were inward most of the time,” the new material had shown him to have “kicked the front door down”. Now he’s “outside.”
It turns out that, once the dust had settled about that door, Gray found that he was standing face to face with… well, himself.
In fact Draw The Line doesn’t represent a musical sea change for him. A rebirth, perhaps, given the aforementioned details, the time separating the previous and current record, as well as the declaration, following the release of the down-tempo Life In Slow Motion, of him being intent on pursuing “wholesale changes.” But those hoping for a new direction in Gray’s music will be quite disappointed.
But standard Gray fare is by no means unwelcome. As always, acoustic guitars and/or gentle piano are the backbone for Gray’s raspy, Bob Dylan-esque vocal and thought-provoking lyrics. Singular, syncopated piano notes amble about through the excellent, upbeat lead single Fugitive.
Natural instrumentation makes up much of this album’s sound. He’s been avoiding electronic orchestration and synthetic beats since White Ladder. While Fugitive and John Mellencamp-like rocker Stella The Artist seem relatively raucous, they are anomalies on the album. The remainder of Draw The Line is considerably gentler. Gray slips into typically mild mood on the lullaby Nemesis, whose floating, lightly reverberated guitar lines call to mind Fin by Supergrass or Galapagos by Smashing Pumpkins, while Kathleen consists of a robust, minor-key piano part that will have the listener anticipating the arrival of Tori Amos‘s voice.
Also of note, again in the gentle vain, are the outstanding backing vocals on the intro track and Harder, as well as those provided impressively by guests Jolie Holland and Annie Lennox on Kathleen and Full Steam Ahead respectively. The end result is a pleasing, intimate experience by no means out of context with the rest of Gray’s catalogue.
But apparently these 11 tracks are but a sampling of the bevy of new songs composed by the revitalized, “hungry” David Gray. No longer the self-described “mud-streaked fugitive” hermit, the renowned singer is looking outside his own world and finding plenty of inspiration.
If Draw The Line is any indication though, the resultant novelty is only with respect to the topics addressed by his lyrics, and not the underlying sound. Musically speaking, one can’t help but call Gray’s supposed line of demarcation rather faint.