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ISSUE 116 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/6/2002

Artists face 'sophomore slump'

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, December 6, 2002

David Gray and Craig David have much in common. Both are successful singer-songwriters. Both were critically acclaimed and lauded as burgeoning superstars. Unfortunately, both could not overcome the “sophomore slump.” While both Gray and David had consistent and talent-affirming major label debuts, only Gray extends on the quality and catharsis hinted at on his debut, producing a stylish and moody album aptly titled New Day at Midnight. Gray kicks off his new CD with the mid tempo doom of "Dead in the Water," expanding on his already unmistakable style, perfectly balancing big beats with subdued piano and synths. The jangly guitar in "Long Distance Call" and "Knowhere" grooves and melds into each thumping, almost a club ready beat. The album reaches emotional high water on "Last Boat to America," as Gray's wavering tenor laments, "Pin another dream on me/'cuz the night is bearing down." Missteps are few and far between. The album lags towards its close, but no amount of filler can erase the simple beauty of songs like "Kangaroo" and "Real Love." In fact, it is the simplicity of the melodies that make "New Day at Midnight" such a statement. Gray takes melodies that would seem almost derivative in lesser hands and makes them magical, soaring epics, ready to shame the heavens. David does not completely miss the mark on his new album, Slicker Than Your Average, and several songs capture the uptempo soul of his debut, Born to Do It. The album's high spot is the breezy romp of "Hidden Agenda," finding David bouncing from verse to verse before a tone-perfect chorus smoothes out all the ripples. The claustrophobic and paranoid rhythms of "What’s Changed" are simply terrifying, rising and falling amid the palpable desperation in David's truly soulful voice. Slicker Than Your Average fails in its ballads, an area where David had proven himself to be a formidable musician with hits like "Walking Away." Truly grating tunes like "Personal" and the simply despicable "You Don't Miss Your Water ('Til the Well Runs Dry)" pop up too many times early in the album, and plague its closing. David stumbles the worst on his collaboration with Sting, "Rise and Fall." While the song itself is not poorly written, built on a sample of Sting's hit, “Shape of my Heart,” David's decision to sing with one of the legendary living pop figures is simply foolish. Sting sings circles around David, adding a final nail into the album's coffin. Sure, its slickly produced, but Slicker Than Your Average is not anything more than average itself. Both David and Gray had to, at the very least, impress record execs with their new albums. However, it is obvious that only Slicker Than Your Average stoops to that lowest common denominator, producing not grab bag of musical flavor, but a genre-hopping mess. Gray succeeds in trumping the sophomore slump not because he can please the execs better than David can, or because his music is more mainstream, but because it never compromises or panders: A rare quality, sophomore slump or not.

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