His career prior to that was a good one; making interesting music that was occasionally wonderful, often average. And since then, he's faded away again. His music is still the same, but the magic is gone. 'This Year's Love' was a masterpiece, and 'Babylon' captured everyone. But there's been nothing on the same level since.
There's probably nothing he can do about it. It's not within his power. You get it in all creative disciplines. Sometimes you're a hit, sometimes you're not. I think Woody Allen was a better director in the nineties than the seventies, but it's those earlier films which resonate with audiences.
The first song on David Gray's debut album, was a song called "Shine". Sometimes you hit it right out of the park on the first go. Many filmmakers have that. They do a little short film with their friends on a Sunday and before you know it there's 3,000 YouTube views and everyone loves you. After that, there's three years of doing terrible work.
'Shine' was simple. Small. Honest. It's about that moment when things are over. The love has faded and you're saying goodbye to what you knew and held on to. He captures it perfectly, and with such simplicity. It breaks your heart.
You care about the people in the song. Probably because they're you, or some fragment of you and someone you loved from day's gone by.
It's crazy to think that David Gray's greatest moment came on his debut album, before the world really knew him. But it's there. There's a moment that is so simple, so truthful, so beautiful; it smacks right into you and resonates. Why? Because it's so raw and honest. Forget philosophy and education, the meaning of life is captured in the moment when he sings:
It's not just the lyrics. It's the way he delivers it. And it's never as powerful on the live versions. There's something about this recording. He just nailed it, it's there, you feel the life, right in those lines. That's art. That's why you create. So that people like me and you can experience it and feel a little more understanding about the crazy universe we're in.
"This Year's Love' was one of the hits. In the late nineties it was on nearly every film soundtrack. Why? Because it was like cheating, a shortcut. Rather than create the emotion or intention you needed, you could just use the song. It would take you there because it was so powerful.
'This Years Love' feels exactly, exactly like that New Year's feeling when, despite many bits of evidence to the contrary, you feel, deeply, that this will be the year.
It's a bittersweet follow-on to 'Shine'. With 'Shine', he was losing a big love, things were changing. In 'This Year's Love', he sounds older, wiser, and more cautious.
He captures that feeling of getting older, of learning to love again. Of holding on to the magic of life as it arises despite how friggin' hard it is.
There's this great part of the song, about two and a half minutes in, when he sings about the difficult stuff, and then follows it with a magically written and delivered moment of romance.
1993. 1998. Two years in which he nailed it. In '93, the fans caught it. In '98 the world caught it. These two songs will always be with me and I hope, with you too. And if we're truthful, that's how our artistic careers go. We have a time of learning our craft, with occasional magic but not that much. And then we hit our stride and, if we're lucky, bring the world with us. You hold onto it for as long as you can but it's quite possible you won't resonate forever. I guess the world changes, or we change.
David Gray will always have a career. He'll create nice songs and sell out arenas; and he deserves it. But really, it's about the magic he found somewhere in him and managed to get out from inside of him into the world at very particular times in his life.