Damon Gough has become the epitome of new folk conformity.
Mark Beaumont 2010
It’s bizarre to think, now, that Badly Drawn Boy was once considered rebellious. He was the anti-image folk provocateur who made an hour-long debut of esoteric and adventurous noise in 2000, The Hour of Bewilderbeast. A decade on, usurped by more imaginative strumbling upstarts such as Bright Eyes, Sufjan Stevens and Jamie T, he’s the epitome of new folk conformity: the Richard Curtis of the acoustic guitar and laptop. It’s virtually impossible to think of him without picturing Hugh Grant failing to relate to a pre-teen.
This seventh studio album – you mean you failed to notice the last five as well? – will do little to reverse his reputation for the anodyne. Drum machines crunch inoffensively, cheap beats are employed, and if the strings on Too Many Miracles aren’t actually synthesised, great lengths have been taken to ensure they sound like it. Where once Damon Gough seemed to be pushing folk music into colourful new sonic spheres, here he retreats into lo-fi security and recalls little so much as Stephen Duffy’s lush 80s acoustic combo The Lilac Time. His vocal timbre is similarly feather-light and dreamy, his lyrics appropriately vacuous: "I’m tired of dreaming of what tomorrow brings" he croons on What Tomorrow Brings, while in The Order of Things he complains "Birds in the sky steal my melodies". Yeah, and how high is that sky, eh Damon? My oh my…
The Lilac Time, however, boasted deeply affecting melodies that unravelled gradually, rewarding repeated listening immeasurably. It’s What I’m Thinking Pt 1 boasts a few such moments. The aforementioned Too Many Miracles is a soulful strut that, with its Motown throwbacks, might be a stab at the Plan B/Winehouse dollar, while A Pure Accident is sublime shoegaze folk that effortlessly surpasses much of Gough’s more recent material. Sadly, much of the rest conforms to a malaise that’s afflicted him since 2002’s Have You Fed the Fish?: repetitive tracks consisting of one looping half-melody that outstays its welcome by several months. The title-track here is a prime example: six and a half minutes that aims for White Album languor and hits the drearier end of Red House Painters.
That this is only part one of an undefined album cycle suggests further self-indulgence to stretch our patience is in the pipeline. On the evidence of this record’s title-track, one half expects BDB to put out exactly the same album again twice more, but with different lyrics. Not that you’d really notice.