Ever since David Gray’s multi-platinum monster White Ladder over a decade ago, the British singer-songwriter has with each successive release stepped further away from what made that ‘bedroom’ album such a success. It never seemed so much a self-conscious avoidance to repeat himself, but more an indulgence of the creative freedom afforded by White Ladder’s massive triumph. Gray bought a recording studio, broke from drummer and longtime collaborator Clune, and dove into ballads lushly decorated with string arrangements and ever darkening themes. The subsequent records were always patient and meticulous, and rarely if ever betrayals of Gray’s steadfast style, but could not equal the numbers of the “Babylon”-driven hit.
Mutineers arrives as a hybrid of its half-dozen predecessors, mid-tempo introspection led by melodic piano and acoustic guitars, laced with vocal harmonies and cello. Ornithological imagery swirls through extended metaphors of exodus and return, almost self-fulfilling prophecies for Gray’s latest existential excursions. Never one to hide from first-person observation, lyrical implications suggest his journey has migrated back to a place once and still familiar, yet changed in the interim.
Contrapuntal patterns are employed on many of the cuts, layered to form a kind of futuristic baroque, and project a gravitas that plays well in support of the Englishman’s pleading, anxious lyrics. Mood pieces, at times, more so than pop songs, the 11 efforts are fully-fleshed out just short of overstatement. An emotional workout from start to finish that reiterates Gray’s post as arbiter of middle-age melancholy, it’s certainly cathartic, but only as empathy, not resolution. As the next stone on the path, Mutineers achieves the appearance of growth, distance, and depth, while retaining that lingering essence of what David Gray has maintained his whole career- a penchant for making progress out of pain, serenity out of solitude, and love out of life.