Life goes on, people come and go, the world keeps turning, but there will always, eventually, be a new David Gray album. The singer-songwriter seemed to have fallen off the radar somewhat in recent times – indeed, Mutineers is his first album since the disappointingly dour Foundling was released almost four years ago.
So, Mutineers comes complete with quotes about being pushed out of a comfort zone, about finding new ways to record, about a new change in direction for Gray. Yet most of the album feels reassuringly familiar, despite the presence of former Lamb man Andy Barlow. There are a few more electronic burbles here and there, but there’s nothing that will scare any long-term Gray fans away.
There may be no surprises then, but it’s certainly a whole lot better than Foundling – Gray actually doesn’t sound like he’s on the verge of falling asleep for one thing, which he often did on the previous album. Opening track Back In The World is brisk and upbeat, the sound of a man happy to be back doing what he does best, even if the lyrics do veer into ‘happy-clappy’ territory when Gray tells us he’s “naked like a tree, the only way to be”.
There’s more emphasis on piano this time around than on his traditional acoustic – the title track is built upon a haunting, tinkling keyboard riff, and Birds Of The High Arctic is an austere piano ballad. Yet these fail to make much of an impression, and Gray fares fare better when he loosens up a bit: the excellent Girl Like You is a strange and eerie exploration of electronic experimentation, with Barlow’s influence close to the fore, with echo effects being applied to Gray’s voice to make the song as spacey as possible. It’s the best track on the album by a country mile.
The problem is that there are very few memorable songs on Mutineers. It’s obviously unfair to compare this album to previous work, but you do tend to yearn for a song with the lightness of touch of White Ladder, Babylon or Be Mine. Too much of Mutineers just drifts on with no spark or passion: it’s possible to admire the way that Beautiful Agony slowly builds up, or the cute little piano motifs in Cake And Eat It, but it’s impossible to remember much more about them.
Lyrically too, Gray seems to be treading water – Snow In Vegas piles cliche upon cliche with lines like “got my money where my mouth is”, “we’d come about this far that this old road could take us” and “I missed you like a river that’s deep and strong” and Last Summer, while undeniably quite pretty, talks of being “plunged into your eyes” and “living every hour like a century”. At times, it’s the musical equivalent of a shrug.
That said, there are plenty of reasons for Gray’s fans to be pleased and excited – his voice still sounds pretty good, with echoes of Van Morrison in Cake And Eat It, and the closing Gulls (one of more than a few songs with a lyrical preoccupation with birds) makes for a starkly beautiful end to the album. There’s not much reason for anyone not enamoured with Gray to explore Mutineers, but he’s at that stage in his career where he’s probably not too bothered about that. This is a worthwhile purchase for any David Gray fans, but for everyone else the world just keeps on turning.