David Gray’s 1998's last chance saloon career high White Ladder remains the biggest-selling album in Irish history. Its canny marriage of organic singer-songwriter angst and machine beats launched a whole sub genre of lonely boys tinkering with laptops and loops late at night.
Since then Gray has valiantly tried to create wide open space between that multi-million seller and his next move. Rarely has he come near to White Ladder’s giddy inventiveness.
However, on his tenth album he may have found his new Clune (the hyperactive drummer who gave that album so much of its whack) in the form of Andy Barlow of neglected nineties trip hoppers Lamb. Together they make a slight return to electro dusting and serpentine rhythms while Grey enunciates those (family) man of destiny lyrics in that voice of sand and glue.
There is much to like: Back in The World switches from declamatory words to lovely percussive tranquillity; the title track builds and builds beautifully until a scything harmonica cuts deep and Gray ends up overcome and speaking in tongues; and the Robert Kirby-like string work on Last Summer is quite something to behold.
As ever, it is solid, dependable and pleasant fare. Perhaps next time Gray and Barlow should journey right to the centre of the music and envelope themselves completely in pure sound.