Music

David Gray: Life in Slow Motion

Mike Schiller

David Gray leaves his bedroom behind, traveling with new producer Marius de Vries into the unknown of full-on studio wizardry.


David Gray

Life in Slow Motion

Label: ATO
US Release Date: 2005-09-13
UK Release Date: 2005-09-12
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

David Gray has the biggest selling non-compilation album of all time in Ireland. Did you know that? U2, The Corrs, Van Morrison, this North Manchester-born lad has beaten them all in terms of sheer sales of a single album. White Ladder is that album, an album that vaulted him into the mainstream consciousness worldwide, an album that made Gray an unlikely pop hero in not only Ireland, but in England as well -- not to mention pushing all the way across the Atlantic into American hearts and minds. It all happened so suddenly as to seem effortless, if anything can possibly be effortless by the time an artist's fourth album comes around.

It doesn't seem like all that long ago that David Gray was beginning to rule the world, but it's been six years. Six years since "Babylon" topped the charts, and a full three years since he followed it up with the lesson in introversion that is A New Day at Midnight. Counting the reissued compilation of his early EPs and the success-spurred recording of some old Lost Songs, A New Day at Midnight was Gray's seventh album, every single one of which was done with minimal production work and a bedroom intimacy that is unique to David Gray, derivative as it may be of artists like Van Morrison and his blue-eyed ilk. Despite a few absolute treasures, A New Day at Midnight was also the first album that demonstrated some stagnation in Gray's songwriting, a treading of water that didn't suit someone who, only a year or two before, was catapulting into the cultural stratosphere.

Apparently, it's possible that Gray had taken the quiet introspection as far as he knew how.

Life in Slow Motion is David Gray's newest album, and despite the title's implication of further navel-gazing, it's sonically his most far-reaching album to date, very much in part to the first outside producer Gray has ever employed, one Marius de Vries. Now, this is the guy who produced Madonna's Ray of Light, the guy who was Baz Luhrmann's musical director for Moulin Rouge, the guy who finally allowed Rufus Wainwright to achieve his broadway musical aspirations on the Want duo of albums. Obviously, there's nothing even remotely intimate about his production style; bigger is better, bombast is king, and every open space is filled with a sound pushed to the proverbial eleven. Life in Slow Motion, then, sounds exactly as one might expect: It's David Gray through a haze of production wizardry and orchestral aspiration.

In many cases, this sense of orchestral majesty works to Life in Slow Motion's benefit. Opening track "Alibi" may well have you thinking you bought a Moby album for all of its thick, string-based ambient chord progressions, but eventually the strings bleed into an actual song, one of the most intense slow burns Gray has written. "Alibi" goes so far as to reference mega-hit "Babylon" in its use of the phrase "running wild", and we get a sense of quiet regret, the flipside (or, perhaps, the consequence) of "Babylon"'s carpe diem brand of frivolity. "Nos da Cariad" (Welsh for "Goodnight Sweetheart") focuses on an insistent, pulsing, minor-key piano line that eventually carries into a major-key chorus that features Gray all but screaming over beautiful, motion-carrying backing vocals. The title track is, as one might expect, an exercise in embellishing the static with lush ornamentation, bringing to mind a more fully-realized, optimistic take on past Gray treasures as "This Year's Love" and "The Other Side". In these songs, we hear expansive instrumentation, the kind Gray has likely always heard in his imagination but has never had the means (or, in his pre-White ladder days, the money) to express in his finished songs.

As it is wont to do, access to such production tricks tends to lead to underdevelopment in some of the songs as well. "Ain't No Love" is what sounds like a single verse, a single chorus, and a coda, stretched to three minutes via a long introduction and build via addition of instruments in that coda. "Now and Always", at almost seven minutes, is stretched at least three minutes longer than it needs to be, due largely in part to an intro that features a fade-in on a rather annoying harmonica line. Conversely, the ever-present orchestration rather humbles the songs that go for the more intimate approach -- a quiet, plaintive song like "From Here You Can Almost See the Sea", which would have been a lovely addition to Lost Songs, gets lost in the shuffle here.

Such missteps and miscalculations are permissible, however, given that Life in Slow Motion plays as much like a debut album by a young star-in-the-making who just got a record deal with a big studio budget as much as it does like an eighth album by a jaded industry veteran over a decade into his career. It's the wide-eyed wonder with which Gray approaches his new palette that allows the listener to remember the moments of sublime beauty over the moments of heavy-handed awkwardness. Life in Slow Motion is the sound of an artist learning to explore again -- perhaps on his next album, David Gray will find what he's looking for.

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

9
Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane
Music

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".

Music

Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.

Music

Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.

Books

On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.

Music

Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".

Film

Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?

Music

London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".

Books

Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.

Music

Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.