Has it already been almost ten years since 1998’s White Ladder was released? Where has this time gone? Though I must admit it was sometime in mid 2000 when I first heard David Gray. I had just moved on my own, for the first time, to New Orleans. I bought the year end issue of Q Magazine, with Thom Yorke on the cover, and it included a CD with the best artists and albums of the year, including David Gray’s “We’re Not Right.” Of all the songs on that Q disc there was one of his lyrics that hit me, and one of my favorites that he has ever written— “Betty Ford won’t you be my Valentine.” I had just gotten out of a three year relationship and those words expressed how I was feeling at the time. I was single and alone, drinking heartily, in this wondrous Southern City. After playing “We’re Not Right” over and over again, it became the theme song for my first bohemian summer as a barfly in New Orleans; I then went out and bought White Ladder. I was hooked from the beginning and have remained ever since.
Gray has to be the most popified (my word) artist of whom I am a fan. I’d say his music is a guilty pleasure. Still, the one thing I respect most about Gray is that he can write a grooved filled and addictive pop song. “Babylon” is what he’s most famous for, but D.G. is no one hit wonder. Gray has had three UK number one albums—the above mentioned White Ladder, 2002’s A New Day at Midnight and 2005’s Life in Slow Motion. He has a rabid, worldwide fan base. He sold out two nights at The Wiltern in LA. And we can thank David Gray for the recent explosion of singer/songwriters such as Damien Rice, and blame him for the chart hit by James Blunt.
I have to say, gold records aside, that my favorite album of Gray’s has to be Lost Songs. The aptly titled collection brings together a plethora of low-fi acoustic flavored “lost” songs that Gray had written from 1995-98 before his meteoric rise to international rock stardom. One of those songs, “Flame Turns Blue” makes an appearance on his Greatest Hits.
Many of my amigos know that I am not a fan of artists who release Greatest Hits compilations from new songs added (see my 2006 Best of Moby review). But Gray’s the exception. David’s new songs are worthy additions to his pop dominated discography. I prefer the opening track “You’re the World to Me.” It’s a classic David Gray love song. He has a knack for writing joyous love songs that make you feel good on the inside. Even on piano ballads like “This Year’s Love” you can’t help but smile. This is why I love his music.
As you can guess, there are 4 tracks from White Ladder including “Babylon,” “This Year’s Love,” “Please Forgive Me” and “Sail Away.” Nonetheless, two of my favorite new Gray songs appear on this hits collection. “The One I Love” has the coolest line “Tell the repo man and the stars above you’re the one I love.” And “Hospital Food” contains the catchy chorus, “Tell me something I don’t already know.” I can’t forget David’s ultimate Valentine’s Day song “Be Mine.” I love the background harmony vocals with the recurring lyrics of “My heart is on fire,” which ends in the ironic line “am I losing my sanity?” Only Gray could write lyrics this sweet and bright.
I’ve been listening to Greatest Hits since it arrived in my mailbox earlier this week, mainly because I hold a special place in my memories for Gray. I have to send him some special thanks for a night in my not so distant past. It’s another New Orleans memory during my first Mardi Gras; I was tripping so intensely, all night long. The one album that I listened to that would calm me down while I tripped was White Ladder. I must have heard that album more than 20 times that night. Gray’s music kept me from losing my mind, and I remember how sweet his voice sounded, keeping me calm during that wicked night.
For this and many other times in my life, I am indebted to the magical music from one David Gray. I dare you to listen to one of his song and not smile or feel happy. We have enough artists that sing about sadness and heartache. We need more David Grays in this world to help see the joy in our personal Babylons. Gray and his sweet English croon will stay in my ears and memories through winter, summer, day or night.
Damien Rice – O
Pete Yorn – Day I Forgot
John Mayer – Continuum