David Gray is an affable fellow. He writes pleasant songs. He's quite earnest. But he's no rock star. And he's not a very distinctive singer-songwriter, either. He's basically a folkie with modern inclinations (a drum loop here, skittering electro-rhythms there). And his fifth album, A New Day at Midnight, not so surprisingly is an affable, pleasant, earnest, and not very distinctive folk record.
Gray's 1999 breakthrough, White Ladder, and its splendid single, "Babylon," came after spending the better part of the '90s being kicked around from one label to another. It really didn't do or say anything all that different from his previous albums, and neither does A New Day at Midnight. It's essentially a working-class Londoner's view of the world around him.
And that everyday world includes a girl named "Caroline," a "Long Distance Call," "Real Love," and the "Last Boat to America." Gray strums an acoustic guitar and sings plaintively, as techno-gizmos burp along. Eventually, though, even these electronic embellishments become as formulaic as Gray's singer-songwriterisms. Most striking is "The Other Side," in which a piano and Gray simultaneously build to an understanding -- of life, death, and everything in between. It's Big Picture stuff, made human. And very ordinary.