If music betrays its context, then listening to early records from The Kinks and The Beatles would allow the listener to visualise a swinging Carnaby Street full of mods with quirky dress sense. Listening to early seventies Genesis would give the impression of a pastoral England full of mythical creatures, all wanting to seduce Peter Gabriel. Judging from David Gray and Coldplay at the turn of the 21st century, and it sounds like England has lost its mystique and is now full of lovelorn young men moping through drab and miserable winters.
Musically, Gray’s a whiny guy with a nasal voice singing relatively predictable singer-songwriter fare, replete with attractive arrangements and cool synth noises. Some of the arrangements on this record are absolutely gorgeous, admirable when it’s considered that Gray made White Ladder in his London apartment with traffic noises filtering in – the theremin like keyboard effects in ‘We’re Not Right’ and the stately piano of ‘Babylon’. And despite the self-obsession running through the lyrics (“I got half a mind to scream out loud/I got half a mind to die/So I won’t lose you girl’) Gray does put together a strong batch of songs on White Ladder. It’s no injustice that this record became a sleeper hit for Gray after he spent a few years languishing on the fringes with obscure albums like A Century Ends, Sell, Sell, Sell and Flesh, not hitting the big time until his 30th year. Gray’s lack of humour and self-obsession wear thin quickly, but songs like ‘Please Forgive Me’, ‘Babylon’, and ‘My Oh My’ are catchy despite their low key nature.
A singer-songwriter who annoys me somehow creates an album that’s mostly interesting.