A New Day at Midnight
2000’s White Ladder seemed to have just the right mix of folk-y melodies and electronic frippery around the edges to make Gray’s commercial breakthrough a record full of engaging grooves. Unfortunately on this follow up he lets the technology overwhelm the proceedings and all too often it is used in service of forgettable, substandard melodies.
The disturbingly apocalyptic imagery of opening track “Dead in the Water” is set to strangely upbeat music. Assorted electronic blips and bleats and distracting synthetic percussion mar tracks like “Caroline” and “Knowhere.” And “Kangaroo” sounds like Gray couldn’t event muster the energy to put together a good song.
Gray sings in a wounded ache of a voice that on some tracks here seems in danger of fading into the wallpaper. He’s much better off when he actually tries to emote and show some range as on the brass section-backed “Freedom.” The piano here does a nice job of grounding this one in the singer-songwriter tradition and it’s clearly an album highlight. “Feel the touch of grief / You stand in disbelief / Can steal the earth from right beneath you.” Grief is a recurring theme on the album, which is dedicated to Gray’s late father. “There’s nothing here to hold me now / And I got no more tears to cry,” he sings on “Last Boat to America.” He sounds vocally committed on this one as well.
And fortunately the album wraps up with a trio of tracks that seem likely to become standards in the Gray catalogue. “Be Mine” is practically a big ole goofy love song that will set the lighters a-waving. “Easy Way to Cry” has a pleasant jingle-jangle, some harmony vocals, and a string quartet to recommend it. And the haunted “The Other Side” starts out simply but powerfully with just Gray and his piano. Eventually the drum machines invade upon our reverie but just for those two minutes he seems to speak from the heart and connects in a way that much of this album doesn’t. “And now the floodgates cannot hold / All my sorrow all my rage / A teardrop falls on every page,” he sings.
Some will be willing to wallow in the emotional, cluttered textures of A New Day at Midnight for kernels of wounded wisdom. The rest of us will be more than happy to move on. But at least there aren’t any Soft Cell covers on this album.