Manchester’s Badly Drawn Boy (better known to his mum as Damon Gough) seems determined on his second official release to prove he’s worth the mountain of accolades thrown his way for 2000’s Mercury Prize-winning The Hour Of Bewilderbeast. The ambitious multi-instrumentalist, singer-song writer, who likes to hide his aspirations behind an outer shell of slackerdom, caught many off guard with the epic pop textures and heartbreaking melodies of Bewilderbeast.
Gough’s effortless mix of lofi folk sensibilities and unexpected pop elegance defined Badly Drawn Boy as something of a contradiction. Here’s a chain-smoking near-catatonic who’s never seen without his trademark wool cap pulled down in eyes, but somehow manages to pull brilliant, beautiful classical-tinged pop music out nowhere; kind of a British Elliott Smith with a quirky sense of humor.
Maybe he cares, maybe he just wants to nap on the couch. Maybe he wants to put on a good show tonight, maybe he just wants to pass pictures of his newborns around the crowd.
The curse of the sophomore record has haunted many an artist, but it looked like Gough was going to dodge the proverbial bullet early this year when he unofficially followed-up his debut with the surprisingly entertaining and impressive “About A Boy” Soundtrack. For essentially being the background music for a Hugh Grant flick, the album was filled with remarkable treats for listeners. It didn’t top Bewilderbeast, but at least it held on to the best features of the first record while standing on its own.
When it came out in the summer, fans assumed “About A Boy” was just the appetizer for the promised full second album. But now that Have You Fed The Fish? is out, turns out Boy was really the full meal and Fish is just dessert. Now I like dessert as much as the next guy, but there’s still a bit of a let down when you’re expecting a five-course feast.
These 15 sprawling tracks have their moments. Instrumentals “Coming Into Land” and “CentrePeace,” along with the pensive acoustic build-up of “How?” are as lovely as songs as any others BDB has written. But sprawling is the key word here.
The title track is the best example of what’s wonderful and disappointing about this record. Tom Rothrock’s (Elliot Smith, Beck) overly slick production chokes what starts as a great melody. Quirky touches seemed tacked on just so that fans don’t think Gough is drifting towards the mainstream too much. Grand overstatements like “Sometimes you’ve got to rewind / There’s some good times around the corner” are contrasted with bits of everyday worries like feeding the pets. BDB’s cool contradictions are becoming institutionalized.
What should be a great record feels half finished, unfocused and unrefined. While Gough is trying more than ever to confirm his genius, he ends up overreaching, neglecting the details that could have built the individual great moments on Fish into something more up to par with Bewilderbeast.
While the sums of the moments is still compelling, it’s still disapointing that this isn’t even the best Badly Drawn Boy record of the year.