Album review: David Gray – Gold in a Brass Age

Gold in a Brass Age is David Gray's first album in five years.

Gold in a Brass Age is David Gray's first album in five years. - Credit: Archant

North London songsmith heads for new ground on his eleventh studio album

Gray’s first album of new material in four years apparently finds him in renewed creative form, perhaps spurred on for a fresh start by leaving behind his old Church Studios in Crouch End, sold to legendary producer Paul Epworth in 2013.

For Gold in a Brass Age he’s taken a more intuitive approach to songwriting, exploring electronic textures and sound palettes, developing arrangements by cut-and-paste rather than traditional methods, or using the cadence of a phrase as the basis for a rhythm. He’s also switched narrative lyricism for esoteric couplets inspired by fragility, loss and regeneration.

Lead single The Sapling is a strong start. Gray alludes to an episode of self-realisation and progression as an uplifting arrangement of skipping percussion, soft and woozy brass and gospel backing unfurls around him, sweeping the song into the clouds.

The only problem is it hangs together as a memorable song far better than the following 10. Gray’s experimentation has elicited a relaxed, sun-dappled Mediterranean vibe throughout, but that’s about as far as it goes and too many tracks are left feeling unfinished.

The hundreds of nuances, little flourishes of guitar, electronica, samples, even treated vocals, are left wanting of bolder structures.

Hall Of Mirrors is hung on a cute motif played on what sounds like Spanish guitar, but when he sings “dance like no-one sees” on A Tight Ship, amid smatterings of soft ‘90s piano, splashy drum loop and warm bleeps, it sounds ready-made for Rob Brydon to start hamming it up in his latest cruise ship ad.

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The mellifluous Furthering floats around in its own musical backwater for four-and-a-half minutes, slowly consuming itself with a shrug, and Ridiculous Heart doesn’t fare much better.

Executed with more conviction and perhaps a more restricted sonic palette, this could have been a very different record. As it is, Gold in a Brass Age will be too anodyne for many to notice.

David Gray plays the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday, March 17.

Rating: 2/5 stars