75 Essential Albums – Day #41 – David Gray

Here goes with day 41 of my countdown of 75 Albums that in my opinion should have a place in everyones music collection.  They are not in any particular order though the top 10 will be my personal take on the top 10 albums ever released.  You might be surprised at some of my picks and some of my omissions.  Feel free to chime in with your comments and let me know if you love (or hate my choices).

David Gray – White Ladder

White Ladder was the fourth studio album by British singer-songwriter David Gray.  It was released originally on his own label and was the first album to afford Gray any kind of commercial success.  A commercial success it most certainly is having sold close to 10 million copies worldwide. Whilst Gray has a record of commercial success since this album was released it is my view that White Ladder was the highlight of his career and in many ways it does define his career.

Like many great albums White Ladder is difficult to categorise as it has so many different layers and textures.  It feels like a folk rock album in parts but the use of drum machines and synthesisers sometimes makes it feel like synth pop.  What in my view defines the album is that the use of techno instruments, acoustic guitar, strings and piano, together with Grays emotional vocal delivery, combine to produce a a rich emotional brew, quality throughout but with several huge peaks.

The album opens with ‘Get through to myself’ a track that could have been released by the Stranglers, it has that raw edge.  This was originally a hidden track and the album proper opened with the sound of a drum machine, shortly joined by piano and then Grays Vocal on one of the albums strongest songs, ‘Please Forgive Me’.  As the song progresses additional instruments join to build up a rich texture, it is a beautiful ballad and a great opener.

Next up is probably the albums best known track, and a massive hit ‘Babylon’.  Musically this track is notable for its stripped back acoustic feel, it has a fairly straight forward rhythm but Gray adds a lovely little melody line by playing some unusual chord shapes combined with hammer-on’s and pull-offs.  This leads into My Oh My, the most stark and stripped back track on the album.

‘We’re not right’ is, for me at least, the albums low point.  It feels out of place and the way it is mixed sounds like it is a little distorted.  I am not sure what Gray was trying to achieve here but it passed me by.  From there onwards though the album climbs inexorably upwards, getting better with every track.  Night-blindness is a very laid back track, opening with just an understated acoustic guitar and Grays vocal.  It is a great showcase for Grays songwriting and vocals, it is about 1/3 of the way into the song before any percussion is added and this too is low key.

Silver Lining & White Ladder build things back up with a more upbeat feel, but Gray is just setting you up for the double whammy that is ‘This Year’s Love and ‘Sail Away’.  The former starts with just Grays vocal and a sparse piano arrangement, it is a song of love and hurt, hope and despair, dreams and reality.  it is heart achingly beautiful.  Sail away is on the surface a love song but it feels like Gray uses the imagery of stormy seas as a metaphor for a relationship, it is a very powerful track.

The album closes with a cover of Soft Cells ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’  he covers it well but it is the end of the song that really hits me as Gray segues into lines from Van Morrisons ‘Madame George’ and ‘Into the Mystic’.  This is delivered with aplomb, in a fashion beloved of Morrison himself, it is these last few minutes that has this listener on the ropes and begging for more.  A truly superb piece of work.

As always thanks for dropping by my blog.  if you like what you read please hit the like button or leave a comment.  If you don’t like what you read then please leave a comment explaining why 🙂

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