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When David Gray’s breakthrough single, “Babylon,” hit the airwaves a
few years ago, my interest in the much-ballyhooed folk-rock up-and-comer shriveled after a few listens to the song’s super-repetitive chorus (sample lines: “Babylon/ Babylon/Babylon!”). Unwisely, A New Day at Midnight, Gray’s new LP (not his second, as many of the Best New Artist mind-set would believe, but his sixth), starts off in similarly droning manner, with the cryptic “Dead in the Water” (sample lines: “People stand in line/People stand in line/People stand in line!”). The disc seems to quickly right itself with the sprightly “Caroline,” a Dylan-esque heartache with simple phrasing and a lovely melody whose blippy synth opening soon gives way to B.J. Cole’s countrified pedal-steel guitar. But don’t worry: The melancholy of the world, looking for more of the lovelorn lines found on “Babylon”‘s home, the multiplatinum White Ladder, need only look past Track 2 to continue their despair. Gray wrote A New Day at Midnight after the death of his father, and songs such as “Last Boat to America” and the album’s closer (and odd-choice first single), “The Other Side,” are filled with the gentle percussion, plaintive keys—of the real, electronic, and melodica varieties—and woe’s-the-world lyrics worthy of the worst soft rock. This is not cleaning-your-house-to music: Keeping these songs in the background guarantees that all you’re likely to get out of them is Gray’s whine and easy-listening rhythms. It’s much better to experience A New Day at Midnight with headphones and heart heavy, when lines such as “The word’s goodbye but I can’t say it” can more effectively do their job of punching you in the gut—no repetition necessary. —Tricia Olszewski