The Mail on Sunday
The accidental star is back
David Gray Skellig Streaming now; CD and LP out May 14
David Gray’s career has been a game of snakes and ladders, lasting 27 years. His f i rst t hree al bums s ank without trace, but then came the ladder – White Ladder, which sold seven million copies and was the only album from the 1990s to make the UK top ten of the 2000s.
For years Gray ( right) was an accidental superstar, turning windswept introspection into platinum discs, but lately all that success has been receding like a hairline. His last three albums, culminating in Gold In A Brass Age, didn’t even go silver.
The latest, Skellig, has just been rush-released on his own Laugh
A Minute Records. If Gray had still been with a major label, they might well have blocked it. And they would have been wrong.
This is an unusual record, but instantly intriguing. It’s inspired by Skellig Michael, the dot in the ocean off County Kerry famous for its 6th Century monastery, now a World Heritage site.
Gray is awestruck by the monks’ determination to escape the world, which chimes with his own ‘deepest longings’ to be free of ‘all the endless noise’ of modern life.
The album, made before lockdown, could have been called Come On Feel The Silence.
Its sound is suitably ascetic – slow and sparse, with only two flourishes: an eloquent cello (rather underused) and heavily layered vocals. At times Gray turns himself into a folk choir.
The lyrics are thoughtful, the melodies soulful. If you once sang along to Babylon, try Can’t Hurt More Than This, a piercing piano ballad, or Dun Laoghaire, an anthem with elegant rhymes. Unlike most of today’s singers, Gray writes alone, and he has made a singular album.