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David Gray – White Ladder (1998)

June 30, 2013

[Album 205/1001]220px-White_Ladder

My blog is the David Gray of music blogs.*

Generally agreeable, unlikely to polarize or stir up any controversy.

That’s not meant as a desperate plea for encouragement (‘that’s not true, I love your work’) or an invitation for criticism (‘actually, your blog is just awful!’).  I relish being middle of the road.  So much so that I have recorded 10 original songs under the working album title, ‘Reasonably Inoffensive,’ so certainly no complaints!

Just as few White Ladder boycotts were organized, it’s hard to picture many teenage bedrooms being converted to David Gray shrines (à la One Direction).

His voice is like Bob Dylan’s, but nicer, perhaps closer to Jakob Dylan & the Wallflowers.  The songs would blend seamlessly into a ‘continuous light hits’ playlist, without sounding like elevator muzak.  Babylon remains a pleasant listen 15 years later.  Otherwise, no major standouts one way or the other.

Pulp’s The Fear (also from ’98) features the great line, “you’re gonna like it, but not a lot.”  Sounds about right as a White Ladder summary.

Post-script: Just read the Wikipedia page about White Ladder, I didn’t realize it was such a huge hit in the UK – so I was way off, apparently we don’t have so much in common!

I remember Babylon being a modest success in North America, around the same time as Duncan Sheik’s Barely Breathing and Edwin McCain’s I’ll Be.  All three enhanced adult contemporary radio playlists at the time.  While it was a beneficiary of some radio play in Canada, White Ladder remains the biggest selling album in Ireland, would not have guessed that!

My bad – it appears if he had that massive a following at the end of the 20th Century, perhaps he has faced some vociferous critics as well.

So I’ll add an asterisk to the my blog/David Gray metaphor to disclaim, ‘most definitely not the case with regard to our antonymous levels of commercial/critical success!’

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From → 1990s

10 Comments
  1. I don’t know this guy, but he sounds nice-and there is an art to being agreeable and non-toxic so you go boldly with your easily digestible and inoffensive self and don’t let us angry music bloggers stop you:)

  2. Babylon is the only song I know by this guy. Any time it happens to be on the radio I stop and listen. I thought the lyrics to it were really good. Too bad there were no other hits really.

    • That was the case with me too – the only tune I knew, good enough to stop for on the radio, but I wasn’t inspired to explore further. A good song though and it definitely holds up well!

  3. David Gray is much better than his middle-of-the-road reputation might suggest. I have yet to see him live, but I caught a concert of his on TV about a year or two ago and was literally blown away by how good his voice is, and what a stellar band he has. I own several of his albums (thanks to my wife, who’s a big fan) and although I can’t say any of them are hidden classics they’re all excellent and White Ladder is no exception. I love your fair & honest review. Well done.

    • Thank you Rich – it’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised by an artist. When John Mayer burst onto the scene in the early 2000s (with the big hit Your Body is a Wonderland) my expectations weren’t high. But after exploring his work with his trio, the guy can play!

      • I have mixed feelings about Mayer. The first song I heard was “No Such Thing” and I loved it immediately. Since then there are songs I think are great and others that sound like he’s just trying to be a pop star. As for his guitar playing, he’s certainly a talented guy, and it’s good that he exposes his pop audience to blues and other genres, but I saw him perform live with Buddy Guy, Warren Haynes, Little Milton (among others) and he sounded like an amateur compared to them. That’s perhaps a slight exaggeration, but sometimes I think he gets too much praise for being a “brilliant blues guitar player” from those who either don’t know many real blues guitar players or whose expectations are very low. I really disliked his take on the Cream version of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.”

        Sorry, I hope that didn’t sound like a rant. I definitely like Mayer but I’m picky about which of his albums I’ll listen to. David Gray, on the other hand, is simply an excellent songwriter with a strong, easily identifiable voice. Of the two, I think I prefer Mr. Gray.

      • I think I fit into the low expectations category! I initially dismissed him a pure pop star/Dave Matthews wannabe, so the praise is likely inflated due to my surprise at some guitar chops accompanying the poster-friendly look. I’ll have to explore some more David Gray, there’s definitely much more to the discography!

      • I hear ya. It’s like when I saw Justin Bieber playing drums on Letterman recently. He’s no Buddy Rich but for a teen pop star he was pretty good.

      • The real question, Rich, is whether he was better than you. 🙂

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