With declining sales plaguing each album since his debut, Gavin DeGraw’s relevance in the fast-changing world of pop music had unfortunately faded. On “Chariot” back in 2004, Gavin DeGraw demonstrated a unique ability to place meaningful lyrics behind catchy hooks and a radio-friendly vocal delivery. Three albums later, DeGraw is still developing his niche. His latest release, “Sweeter,” stays true to his soulful roots, but takes a dynamic departure in songwriting and production values.
Following a switch to RCA, DeGraw has decided for the first time in his career to work with other performers. He could have hired anonymous songwriters, like countless other artists have done, to obscure the fact that he is sharing songwriting credit. On his latest release “Sweeter,” though, DeGraw has chosen to openly collaborate with some of today’s most prominent artists.
The result is immediately apparent from the title track. A distorted solo guitar riff dominates the first seconds as a clear reference to DeGraw’s 2004 hit “I Don’t Want To Be.” As the song progresses, however, the influence of OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, the song’s co-writer and producer, appears. Tedder’s signature synth drum patches and thumping keyboard octaves flesh out the track’s orchestration, and add a degree of depth to DeGraw’s voice that has been missing in recent years.
This pairing of DeGraw’s vocals with Tedder’s modern production and songwriting techniques appears throughout the album. The most prominent and successful example is on the album’s first single and DeGraw’s biggest recent hit, “Not Over You.” Above a backdrop of sorrowful keyboard chords and relentlessly pulsating bass drums, DeGraw laments, “I’m forced to face the truth. No matter what I say I’m not over you.” The track embodies the underlying theme of the entire album – the search for lost love. Vocally, DeGraw is still on top of his game. His lyrics and delivery reflect a sorrow that mixes perfectly with the danceable beats of his collaborators.
DeGraw also wrote some of the songs on the album. “Where You Are,” “Soldier,” and “Radiation,” while maybe not the most radio-friendly, are some of the most genuine tracks on the release. The most heart-wrenching track, however, is “Spell It Out.” Production values are raw here, with nothing more than an acoustic piano and DeGraw’s voice. The lyrics, much like the track’s production, are simple yet effective. Nostalgic for a lost love, DeGraw recounts “With my eyes wide open and words unspoken, I still understand.” DeGraw’s signature sound really comes through and it is evident that he has not lost his touch.
DeGraw’s new approach reinvents his previously successful sound. The immensely emotional lyrics and masterful vocal delivery are still there, but with songwriting and production that appeal to a mass market that is constantly developing. “Sweeter,” is DeGraw’s classic sound in overdrive.
Rating: **** out of five
Listen to ‘Not Over You.”