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ISSUE 119 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/14/2005

Gray abandons signature intimacy

By Anne Torkelson
Online Editor

Friday, October 14, 2005

The feeling I get from David Gray’s recently released seventh album, Life in Slow Motion, is that life does indeed move in slow motion, or at least my life does as I listen to the album. Life in Slow Motion takes its name from the fifth track, "Slow Motion" (although why the song isn’t titled "Life in Slow Motion" as the lyrics read, beats me).

The album begins with "Alibi," a slow, romantic song that sounds promising at first but loses its appeal when the orchestra joins Gray, a move that foreshadows the rest of the album as an overproduced electronic-folk-pop compilation that belongs on K-Lite FM, not in my CD player.

Life in Slow Motion is the first album Gray recorded in a "real" studio with an outside producer, Marius De Vries, who has worked with big-names David Bowie, Madonna, U2 and Rufus Wainwright. Taking production away from Gray’s traditional "bedroom" studios, however, has also removed intimacy from the music, replacing it with synthesizers and cheesy orchestration.

Most of the tracks, such as the almost-seven-minute-long "Now and Always," are slow-paced and vaguely annoying.

"Now and Always" features a tiresomely repetitive harmonica and piano introduction, which is part of three minutes the song could easily do without.

As for the song’s lyrics, the deeper meaning of his ending reiteration of "The dogs are running wild" is lost on me. Speaking of running wild, Gray also runs wild on two other songs, singing "Tonight I’m running wild I’m running" ("Alibi") and "Then we’ll be running" ("Nos de Cariad").

Curiously, Gray considers his lyrics on Life In Slow Motion some of his best work. He states on his website, "From Here I Can Almost See The Sea" is "one of the best things I’ve ever written by a mile, lyrically." Now, I’m no lyricist, but I feel that Gray can – and has – done better than "Little puppy dog in a box/Somebody’s picking the locks/It’s wandered down from the socks" ("From Here I Can See The Sea").

I expect a little soul-searching from Gray, not lines I could have written myself with a rhyming dictionary, or the imagery-lacking "Ba da da da whoa" choruses of "Slow Motion."

Despite unsatisfactory lyrics, "From Here I Can Almost See The Sea" begins as a sweet ballad. The song quickly turns sour, however, when Gray goes into a precarious falsetto on the chorus. The last track, "Disappearing World" also begins beautifully but is spoiled by a grating, discordant section that disrupts the song halfway through, complete with its own chorus of "Na na na na na na na"s.

"Lately" almost redeems Gray, except for the female background singers. They (or she? It? Human? Synthesizer?) sing fine background "ahhh"s during the majority of the song but then come in strong during its last 30 seconds, unwanted and with a sound much too bright for the "Honey lately I’ve been way down" chorus.

"Nos de Cariad," Welsh for "Goodnight, Sweetheart," stands out from the rest of the album with its simple and persistent minor piano line. Unlike "Lately," its female vocals carry their own line that moves the song forward instead of stagnating it by merely singing along with Gray.

Life in Slow Motion feels like Gray unsuccessfully trying to top his last two albums by sacrificing expression for electronics. Granted, surpassing White Ladder (1998), which is the highest-selling record in Ireland – ever – and the four-time platinum A New Day at Midnight (2002), is a hard feat to accomplish.

Those new to Gray’s music will easily find Life in Slow Motion an enjoyable album and Gray a talented artist. However, fans of Gray’s older music, such as Century Ends (1993) and Flesh (1994), will most likely be left longing for the folk-rock acoustic guitar which supported but did not obscure the raw, emotional, lilting vocals of Gray’s past.

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