By the time of Ray's release, Frazier Chorus had gone from relatively edgier work on 4AD to a crisper, cleaner sound via Virgin, something emphasized further by Ian Broudie's typically to-the-point production on the album (it's not hard to imagine Broudie immediately doing this on the heels of the first Lightning Seeds effort). Reducing the group to a trio meant an increasing reliance on outside performers, and indeed the supporting cast reads like a hit list of in-demand session workers, early-'90s U.K. style. Kick Horns member Roddy Lorimer, percussionist Louis Jardim, harmonica player Mark Feltham, and strings courtesy of the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra could threaten to overwhelm many bands, but to the trio's credit the general feel of the band's sound remains intact throughout. That said, the flip side is that said sound isn't as spectacular as it could have been. Part of the problem was contextual -- in a year when Massive Attack's Blue Lines dramatically demonstrated what a new, complex style of uniquely British music could sound like, Ray is more often than not stylishly tasteful and not much more, a smooth sheen with little bite. Kate Holmes' woodwinds add a distinct elegance to the proceedings, to be sure, and Tim Freeman's singing balances carefully being evanescence and a subtle, sly whisper, a bit like a gauzier Momus. But Ray isn't all pure float without anchor -- every so often there's a gently strange dissonance in the arrangements (the at-once doom-laden but strangely fragile "Here He Comes Again" is particularly grand), usually courtesy of guitarist Chris Taplin. Check out his mournful additions in the background of "We Love You" (lyrically one of the sharpest anti-romance numbers around) or his strong stinging shimmer on "The Telephone," a very Cocteau Twins-reminiscent track. Ray isn't quite what it could be, but an open-eared listener will find more to enjoy than might be guessed via a casual exposure.
by Ned Raggett