Success can change a musician, but it seemed to alter the career trajectory of David Gray more drastically than most. After all, this was the young man whom Joan Baez reportedly called “the best lyricist since Dylan” after hearing his 1993 debut (A Century Ends); who slogged it out in UK and Irish dives before his fourth album (the worldbeating White Ladder) changed everything.
When American audiences started to sit up and take notice, it was pretty much game over for Gray’s credibility. Presumably terrified at the prospect of slipping into dadrock territory, he signalled a desire, with 2010’s enjoyable Foundling, to strip everything back after the cheesy, overblown production of the preceding albums.
The arrangements on Mutineers, Gray’s 10th album, aren’t quite as simplistic, but they are handled in a more sympathetic, understated way. There’s a delicacy to the guitar and strings on the title track and Last Summer, while the intoxicating reverberation of piano on standout song Beautiful Agony and the mournful Birds of the High Arctic prove that you don’t need the aural equivalent of exploding confetti cannons to make a statement.
On the other hand, it seems that the inclusion of the inoffensive MOR folk-rock Snow in Vegas indicates that Gray remains mindful of his Stateside audience, and a handful of tracks are undeniably more filler than killer. Still, closing couplet Girl Like You and Gulls allow him to indulge his experimental side. The former is a stuttering exercise in acoustic minimalism, complete with enjoyably drawn-out passages of jazzstyle drumming.
Yes, it may be difficult to reconcile the fired-up 25-yearold of A Century Ends with the man behind Mutineers. But in many ways this album acts as a robust anchor for a musician still finding his decisive path. davidgray.com
Download: Beautiful Agony, Girl Like You