Review of David Gray's album Draw The Line
Every Glastonbury has that moment; the one in which opportunity is taken, a performance so beatific that in years to come it defines the event for that year. And the hippy altruistic roots of the festival aside, more often than not, commercial success follows. In 2009 it was undeniably Kasabian's sun-setting psychedelic blast of Fire, one which saw Worthy Farm turned into the proverbial sea of humanity, but in 2000 that honour went to David Gray.
The Mancunian had been playing White Ladder to anyone who'd listen for a couple of years, but amongst the downpours, the acoustic simplicity of its signature track Babylon struck that once-in-a-festival chord amongst the soaking masses. And whilst these things are not always a fait accompli, after that the singer-songwriter eventually saw his fourth album hit number one, three years after its initial release. It seems all good things do come to those who hang around.
I'd lost track of him since then, so it was a minor surprise to discover that Draw The Line represents only his third post-Ladder release, and I was curious to see what direction he'd taken since the days when Limp Bizkit ruled that charts. The answer unfortunately is the road to nowhere. Stuck in a bit of a rut? Want to reconnect with your public and get with the iPod generation? Answer -Collaborate. Now, let's think - who's free...Karen O? Fuck Buttons? Will.i.Am?
Let's go get Annie Lennox then.
If White Ladder is the yardstick by which all subsequent works by the artist are to be measured, then homogenous in the extreme, Draw The Line is merely an exercise in treading water. Crucially there's no Sail Away here, or This Year's Love, or Please Forgive Me. True, diehard fans will probably be delighted that the notion of autotune, sampling and playing the sound of broken glass back through a guitar amp and then speeding it up are all another musicians problem. Equally you shouldn't forget your audience, but the angst ridden troubadour writing songs for Gwyneth Paltrow and Hugh Grant to snog to is about as contemporary now as a Dreamcast, and only on Stella The Artist and Breathe does Gray shrug off his torpor. Matters aren't helped by Lennox phoning in her harmonies on closer Full Steam - and still managing to sound like Mick Hucknall. Almost prophetically, this closing track features the words 'You saw it coming'. Yes Dave. I guess we did.