Scattered along the highway of popular
music are the withered corpses of many
failed would-be Dylans. Given the way David Gray's publicists compare him to early
Zimmerman and Van Morrison , he might be headed for this ultimate
decomposition, which would be too bad: Gray is a formidable talent in his own
His strength lies, for the most part, in
different areas from Dylan's. Not only is his
voice finer and subtler than Dylan's (as well as strangely suggestive of a Welsh
Joan Armatrading ); he is also a true sensualist, a romantic who tends toward
concrete (rather than deliberately abstract) representations of physical intimacy.
And unlike early Dylan, with his francophilic, Symbolist word-play, Gray's images
are usually quite literal. When he does try to be oblique he seems little more than
an adept impersonator.
The ballads of A Century Ends show Gray
at his best; the album opener, "Shine,"
is a touching tune of fading affection that is similar to the Celtic-flavored pop of the
Waterboys , though far superior both lyrically and melodically to that band's work.
On this and a couple other tracks, the singer fashions love songs so transcendent
that they succeed in conquering our cynicism; one responds to them almost
physically. Century's third track, "Debauchery," is a mood piece crafted from a
dense layering of images flushed with the optimism of wine-soaked carnality. This
moving narrative is poised against a sweet background of guitar, piano, bass, and
drums showing, as the melody unravels, Gray's adeptness at rock arrangement.
But during the political numbers -- like
the album's title cut, in which he parades a
vaguely leftist humanism through half-baked protest lyrics of the "innocent us" vs.
"evil them" variety -- his work seems that of a newcomer. These tracks simply don't
come up to the exceptional standards set by the love ballads, and seem flimsy
compared to the early Dylan 's barbarous, surreal political indictments.
Overall though, this album introduces
a mature talent that commits to his most
romantic sentiments with a poignant, bare-all honesty.--Phil Pegg