It’s never nice to have to use the word ‘groundswell’ in mixed company, let alone ‘grass roots’ or ‘integrity’, but unfortunately, the [a]David Gray[/a] Story begins and ends with such horrid terms.
The Welsh singer-songwriter (Christ, there’s another one) has been making albums for eight years now, yet it was only when his EMI contract ended in 1997 that the acclaim-through-obscurity route paid off. Burrowing into the studio, he wrote ‘White Ladder’, releasing it on his label Iht in 1998. For reasons that aren’t entirely incomprehensible – sounding a bit like [a]U2[/a]’s ‘The Sweetest Thing’ for example – the record settled at the top of the Irish album charts for six weeks, while Gray supported the famously sensitive Robbie Williams at Slane Castle and found bizarre Ibizan success with Paul Hartnoll‘s mix of ‘Please Forgive Me’. With 100,000 copies sold, it didn’t require a huge leap of faith for the majors to pounce once more, and so ‘White Ladder’ is pushed under the spotlight again.
Given the decent songwriting showcased here, you suspect it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke. As substitute for real excitement, however, Cinderella- mongering soon palls. While Gray‘s eyes-closed sincerity will doubtless soundtrack every ’empathic’ black-and-white building society ad until cockroaches rule the earth, it’s just what you’d expect from a record Bono calls “life-changing”. Travis‘ success proves the insatiable desire for nice songs about sadness, and on those terms, ‘White Ladder’ is undeniable. ‘This Years Love’ is Beverley Craven on a testosterone drip; the dilute dance rhythms of ‘Please Forgive Me’ and ‘Babylon’ offer a hand-knitted, festival-stall melancholy, while the title track might be Fleetwood Mac if they’d gone into organic farming. Think of the American singer-songwriter reinvention however, and ‘White Ladder’ seems as quaint as a wireless.
It’s the ill-conceived cover of Soft Cell‘s ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, that really says it all – when Gray sings of seeking “a nice little housewife”, it sounds like he’s taking a predatory stroll down the WI.