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David Gray – Draw the Line

on September 28, 2009, 1:00pm
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The cover of David Gray’s eighth studio album, Draw the Line, features Mr. Gray and Mr. Gray alone. He looks as though he’s thinking, “If you don’t like what you hear, here I am. Come and get me.” After parting ways with a backing band he had for over a decade, Gray took a chance with a new group of collaborators. If the new album failed, we would know who to blame. Fortunately for the listener, Gray had no need to look so defensive. Draw the Line is the best album David Gray has released in the 21st century.

Breaking up the band was certainly a risk. Life in Slow Motion is roughly 1,000 times better than the album preceding it, 2002’s A New Day at Midnight, so it wasn’t a lack of quality that necessitated change. However, Gray felt he had to make changes in order to move forward creatively. With Draw the Line’s first single and first track, “Fugitive”, Gray proves he hasn’t lost the knack to write a good pop song. The piano drives the song along with acoustic guitar, a marching drum beat, and allusions to decisions the songwriter made before recording the album:

The world that you’re forsaking
Is surely more than just a lie
Gotta try
It’s all there for the taking
And you don’t need to justify
Gotta try

It’s a showcase for Gray’s love-it-or-hate-it vocals, and they get more and more passionate as “Fugitive” reaches its climax. Passionate musicianship is found within the ethereal “Nemesis”, featuring gorgeous guitar from the onset. Many singers will wax poetic on the person they can’t get out of their head, but Gray has done the opposite with this track. He is the “nemesis” of the song, her “one true love/who sleeps with someone else.” The dark, proud lyrics over the beautiful music elevate the song to another level.

”Jackdaw” gives us Gray at his Van-Morrison-best. He pines for the old days with a former lover, insistent about his feelings (“I still want you yeah”) atop flowing strings and piano. “Kathleen” is a sadder, more reflective look at a past relationship and the inability to move on (“Quite why she went I can’t decide”). The latter song is a duet with Jolie Holland, who plays the role of the ghost in Gray’s head, her vocals drifting in and out of verses.

After a fit of nostalgia for what is gone, Gray is desperate to move away in “First Chance”. The chorus should provide the audience with something to sing-along to at upcoming concerts, as they try to match Gray’s furious vocals. “First Chance” is the halfway point of an album whose first half outweighs its second.

”Harder” and “Breathe” are filler. There isn’t anything particularly repugnant about either track; they just break up the flow of the album. There are, however, a couple of real winners on the back half of Draw the Line. “Stella the Artist” is a fun, up-tempo track that sticks out in a good way. For anyone who complains about Gray’s lyrics, I doubt you’ll find the line “I swam the sea of psychotic puke” on any other album released this year.

”Full Steam”, the album closer, is a soaring duet with Annie Lennox. After alternating lines in each verse, Gray and Lennox harmonize just before each chorus. Lennox is one of the most powerful vocalists of her era, and combined with Gray helps the song go “full steam ahead.” The rousing chorus (“Now you saw it coming/And I saw it coming/We all saw it coming/But we still bought it”) is a fitting conclusion to a solid effort from old’ Wobbly Head.

Gray may never reach the commercial success of White Ladder again, but that shouldn’t matter. He will maintain a strong enough following if he keeps putting out albums like Draw the Line. The album has a couple missteps, but promises a bright enough future for David Gray: The Last Piano Man.

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Draw the Line Album Review: David Gray – Draw the Line

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