Album Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
At WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania radio station, the DJs and the listeners vote on the best albums of the year for a countdown to the new year with the best albums played in their entirities. Every one of the DJs, who have been on Philadelphia radio since the early 70's, voted for this album -- that's how good it is! David Gray covers emotional ground on this album that no artist has touched since Van Morrison in the early 70's. Gray has Morrison's lyrical gift and lonely voice, but instead of fusing folk and jazz like Morrison, Gray plays around with a folk-ambient-techno hybrid -- but it's mostly folk!
If you're looking for uplifting, uptempo music, look elsewhere. This is love-sick, world-gone-wrong, melancholic folk-guitar music at its best. Gray breaks your heart on this album, and it's beautiful. It also includes his first popular hit "Babylon," after almost a decade of unrewarding work -- you can appreciate why his music is so wonderfully dreary. Somehow, even on the first track "Please Forgive Me," Gray sings over fast synth-drum:
"Throw a stone and watch the ripples flow
Moving out across the bay
Like a stone I fall into your eyes
Deep into some mystery..."
and you feel an overwhelming urge to fall apart. His lyrics are so eloquent with so many emotions colliding on so many different levels that you don't know how to think. Many of his lyrics are very mysterious. One of my favorites is on "We're Not Right," a song that when I first heard it, I thought it was Beck. He sings, "Can't tell the bottle from the mountaintop, no, we're not right...."
There is something wonderful and memorable about each of the tracks on this album, but unfortunately, the songs on either end are somehow a little more memorable that the ones in the middle. Probably, there are too many mid-tempo songs with sparse guitar and piano in the middle that a set of ears can't hold attention that long, but that doesn't mean the songs are throw-aways. These lyrics from "Silver Lining" are some of my favorites on the album:
"Step into the silence
Take it in your own
And sprinkle it like diamonds
All across these lands
Blaze it in the morning
Wear it like an iron skin
Only things worth living for are
Innocence and magic, amen."
After the title track is when the album starts building to its climatic ending, and you realize that, all of the sudden, you're listening to a concept album. I can't tell you exactly what the concept is, it has something to do with the nature of love and life ("There is no rhyme or reason to love, this sweet, sweet love..."), but you can't deny that the last four songs tie every other song on the album together, somehow. You'll have to give it a listen for yourself!
It's possible that this was the first timeless masterpiece of the new millenium, and hopefully people will continue to enjoy it for many, many years. The emphasis here is lyrical rather than instrumental. It is the perfect blend of highly accessible and deeply emotional.