Review Summary: Keep hold of your heart, let go of your head, and this is probably what it sounds like.The Line he Draws runs all the way through his back catalogue and a little way into the future, but sometimes it seems a little bit too straight, and ever so slightly faded.
When I first scribbled down my thoughts on British singer-songwriter David Gray's new offering, I got it wrong, and I'm not surprised. Much as his previous work is both excellent and wide-reaching in tone, it's difficult not to compare every word that comes out of his mouth to the euphoric anthem that is Babylon. Draw The Line's opening track, Fugitive, does little to remove that pre-determined standard and scale, with it's tapped piano and uplifting chorus mimicking that of Gray's greatest hit to date. And on first listen, his eighth studio album doesn't hit those heights again in its 50-minute runtime. It slides through mid-tempos, abstract lyrics about jackdaws and his lovable trademark drawl, sometimes affecting and wholly listenable. But I was ready, after a few listens, to declare this venture into what Gray labels his extrospective
perspective something of a disappointment. The truth is that Draw The Line is nowhere nearly as radically different to his other material as he has suggested in interviews, but nor does expecting a carbon copy of White Ladder or Life In Slow Motion lend itself to a particularly fulfilling experience.
The fact of the matter is that third track Nemesis doesn't touch the heart-crushing hole left by Freedom, but it's sombre tone and mourning instrumentation occasionally brushes that sense of loss. I am your one true love who sleeps with someone else, I am your nemesis,
Gray sings towards the song's close, and it kinda hurts. The Manchester-born singer-songwriter still has a way of forming universal truths in an original way, hitting the right emotional notes alongside some incredible vocal ones. Pianos, acoustic guitars, strings and a host of other, subtly employed instruments take control of the atmosphere, which is one of Draw The Line's most prominent qualities. Kathleen's polarised piano takes the song through peaks and lulls in mood, but Fugitive employs similar instrumentation while managing to remain upbeat throughout; Breathe is more desperate, and First Chance sounds hopeful without ever becoming optimistic. There's little doubt that Gray and his band are capable of setting songs to their most appropriate backdrops.
But what set him apart was always his own personal performance, and that's no different here. It's a genuine shock when Annie Lennox sings the opening line to final track Full Steam, because you've grown so accustomed to Gray's world-weary, relatable voice across the previous 10 songs. Herein lies one of the biggest pitfalls of Draw The Line; Full Steam's intentions are good and Lennox brings an unmistakable aura to the table, but its inclusion as a closing track seems awkward, as if it hasn't been thought about enough, and there are numerous moments on this record where Gray appears to be on auto-pilot. Granted, he's still never bad
, but cuts like Harder and the title track are uninspired and at best pleasant. There appears to be a lack of deliberation; the track listing moves like a collection of songs rather than a comprehensive journey with its highs and lows in tact, and a few of its songs are arguably lazy despite their catchy hooks and intoxicating moods.
So Draw The Line exists as neither a disappointment nor a resounding success; Breathe's jangling open chords are strangely commemorative of Lately from Gray's 2005 effort, yet they grow into a much more impressive track whose chorus bounces and almost loses its head before reeling itself back in for another verse. Melodically, the man that penned This Year's Love and Sail Away is still in there, and it's not difficult to find him, but there is a new-found depth to certain moments, evidenced by the collaborations and the way tracks sometimes change direction, which has been somewhat rare in a career built out of verse-chorus songwriting. Really, though, there's not much to distinguish Draw The Line from its predecessors; it breathes confidence and melody at every opportunity, and though it sometimes lacks the raw feeling of Gray's most popular and moving moments, it's an entirely enjoyable journey with lots to say and even more to sing along to.