David Mead's heartfelt and intimate songs are the antithesis of today's Total Request Live music world. David Mead is the next David Gray. David Mead's music says something in an age in which saying something seems to have gone out of style. David Mead's songs can be more powerful with just an acoustic guitar and his voice than a hundred makeup-and-tattoos boy-punk bands. David Mead is the American version of Coldplay's Chris Martin. David Mead writes songs that are as catchy as pop and as deep as folk.
All of the above, of course, is total bullshit -- the kind of anti-marketing-ploy marketing ploy that cynical music-biz lifers who don't realize they're cynical (or lifers) steer toward triple-A radio stations and Tracks magazine. And it certainly fits Mead's new Indiana, a disc that might've been custom-built for such outlets, with its polished production and Mead's pure tenor. Yet, at the end of Indiana, there's no kill-impulse, no hate frenzy, no imperative to cleanse the palette with drug-addled techno loops or groundless dub reggae. So, the big question is, why?
Don't think for a minute that Indiana doesn't come close: Songs such as "Oneplusone" are so smoothly catchy, so filled with -- no joke! -- Billy Joel-isms as to bring one to the brink of disaster. (We won't even discuss the lite-FM cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature." Ha, ha, that's great, now cut it out.) But large tracts of Indiana show, perhaps, what's wrong with most of Mead's triple-A neighbors. Country-flavored folkish pop, as this essentially is, too often finds the wrong setting -- it forgets that at its heart, the music is about America's vastness, be that geographical, moral or ethical. It imagines itself at the center of something that's huge, but surmountable, comprehensible. David Mead's songs have a more realistic setting: Musically and lyrically, they often seem to say, "I don't know where the fuck I am, or who the fuck I am, and it's my fault, and that's kind of sad. But mostly funny."
So, "New Mexico" is playful in its Marty Stuart nods, and "Ordinary Life" outright revels in its small dreams. Most triumphant is "Indiana," one of the finest road songs of its generation and, in its abandonment of certain songwriting basics, perhaps the most honest one ever: "The road" might be glamorous, but it's got no rhyme or reason --and a hell of a lot of it goes through godforsaken territory like Indiana. (Note to literate and sensitive singer-songwriters hoping to tour -- "Indiana" is also a great reality check: "a guy in Chicago said I sing like a girl / so I bought him a round and thanked him / what else could I do?" Cubs fans don't care that you've read Bukowski.)
There is one truth in that first paragraph: David Mead probably is the next David Gray -- he's already got the frothing fans in Ireland and the handful of somewhat-obscure albums, and he's certainly got the pop/songwriter crossover appeal. But we'll forgive him, as long as he remains a great songwriter in the face of what often seems like unavoidable opportunities to lurch into unwieldy and self-centered shmaltz.