New Music

David Gray

A New Day At Midnight

(RCA)

David Gray has broken his quiet spell since charging into the American music scene with his 1999 album White Ladder. His latest collection, A New Day At Midnight, is a set of 12 brand new songs that reflect Gray’s overarching mission to write and record music with personal meaning. He continues to avoid the pressures that fame, a solid first album, and a Grammy nomination tend to exert on the singer-songwriter. White Ladder fans will find that while Gray’s distinctive voice has not changed, A New Day At Midnight displays a very different sonic character from his debut album. Where Gray was upbeat and optimistic with hyped up rhythms and excessive energy on songs like “Babylon” on his first album, he presents a much more solemn and thoughtful spirit throughout New Day. Tracks like “Dead In the Water,” “Easy Way To Cry” and “The Other Side” particularly reflect Gray’s personal angst of late, both in lyrics and a more mellowed sound quality.

Despite all of the fame Gray has achieved in the past few years both in the United States and the UK, his music still seems to come across with the same level of personal authenticity found in his pre-fame debut. This quality is best gleaned from Gray’s live performances, where one is presented with a no-frills emotional performance that Gray himself seemingly manages to enjoy as well. New Day songs such as “Be Mine” and “Real Love” have both popped up on Gray’s set lists in live shows over the past year or so.

Overall, New Day is an enjoyable album that, while bleaker than its predecessor, still has a broad range of rhythms, tempos and tones to keep the listener’s attention throughout the album. It deserves a full play by anyone with a slight interest, either as a follow up to White Ladder or an introduction to Gray’s music.

—L. E. Dichtel

The Donnas

Spend The Night

(Atlantic)

The Donnas’ fifth full-length effort, Spend the Night, raises a question: just how much more of the band’s jailbait, piss-and-estrogen rock can one palate? The algorithm for their records has always been fairly obvious, drawing its vivacity from the Beach Boys, melody from the Ramones and potency from Bikini Kill. But even the most rawking of formulas will eventually become tiresome as they keep cranking out the same three-minute, guitar-reliant anthems. The Donnas may need to do some tweaking, and God forbid, some maturing, as the years go by.

For now, however, they are still banging out some of the most dependable rock in the business. After signing onto Atlantic Records last December, the quartet has only sharpened their songwriting skills. Spend the Night knocks down the door that was replaced after the release of their last album, The Donnas Turn 21, with no more than a fistful of chords and a cowbell on the mouth-watering opener “It’s On the Rocks.” The songs continue to ride a wave of kick-to-the-balls energy, peaking with the playful “Please Don’t Tease,” as lead singer Donna A. taunts “Baby, do you think that sometime maybe / We could go out / You don’t have to be such a Boy Scout.” The only noticeable difference from the band’s earlier albums is a slightly more polished sheen on the album’s production, most obvious in tracks “Take It Off” and “Not the One.”

Ultimately, answering the question of how much more listeners can stand becomes impossible. While The Donnas’ sound and image are such a trademark that any experimentation would feel awkward and staged, this very lack of experimentation will also come to bore their old listeners. It’s nice to finally see the ladies reach a wider audience on the radio and on TRL, where their music can ensnare young listeners who think Avril Lavigne is just about as punk as they come. But for a fresher taste of a woman’s boot in your mouth, pick up any of the Donnas’ earlier albums, and float back to a time when the band’s musical future was even more solid than their guitar riffs.

—B. Chung

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