Badly Drawn Boy
One Plus One Is One
T.J. Simon's #2 album for 2004
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2004, Volume 11, #9
Written by John Metzger
Since his critically heralded debut The Hour of Bewilderbeast, Badly Drawn Boy nťe Damon Gough has done everything in his power to avoid being typecast as just another singer-songwriter from the slacker brigade, even though in essence, he remains not only Britainís belated response to Beck but also the guy who played a huge role in paving the way for the likes of Damien Rice, Sondre Lerche, and Simple Kid. In 2002, Gough did the unthinkable and released a pair of exploratory efforts (Have You Fed the Fish? and the film soundtrack to About a Boy), which found him moving in two different directions without ever abandoning the core eclecticism of his baroque-infused sound. His latest endeavor One Plus One Is One attempts to bridge the gaps that separate all three outings, and for the most part, it succeeds. He regains the fragility that made The Hour of Bewilderbeast so affecting while losing the self-indulgence that threatened to undercut Have You Fed the Fish?, and nowhere is this more evident than on the new collectionís title track, which opens as lo-fi acoustic folk before blossoming into a brilliant display of Beatle-esque pop.
As with his other outings, Gough binds his songs together through lyrical ruminations on matters of the heart, and although the poems he penned for One Plus One Is One at first appear simple (almost too much so), taken as a whole, they paint a far more complex portrait that examines the multi-faceted turbulence of intimate relationships with enough ambiguity as to lend credence to the theory that heís also speaking to the world at large. "It all boils down to love and peace," Gough sings on the title track, a sentiment that also reverberates through the community-building Year of the Rat as well as the in memoriam phrases that permeate Takes the Glory. Elsewhere, he sprinkles a few dabs of hope, filling Another Devil Dies with images from Itís a Wonderful Life, and offering his best wishes for fulfilled dreams on Four Leaf Clover. In essence, he seems to take strength from the isolationism implied by the albumís given name, an intriguing twist that fuses broken-hearted vulnerability with the optimism of a better tomorrow.
However, while one must admire his fondness for crafting ambitious conceptual collections rather than disconnected streams of songs, itís clear from One Plus One Is One that Gough is still searching for his own voice. As a result, his mannerisms sometimes are displayed awkwardly, and given the plethora of ambient effects he employs, itís safe to say that he also has a tendency to overreach, missing the forest for the trees. Itís as if he knows which heroesí spirits he wishes to invoke, but not quite how to bend them to his will or how to tap their essence rather than their superficial ornamentations. Nick Drake, John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, and Fairport Convention figure prominently, haunting many of his songs, and try as he might, Gough just canít seem to shake the aforementioned allusions to Beck that peak around nearly every nook and cranny of his work. Oddly enough, thereís also a hint of Jethro Tull tossed into the mix ó most notably on Summertime in Wintertime, a prog-rock tune that, superbly performed as it is, erupts with such fury as to feel jarringly out of synch within the confines of the rest of the albumís orchestrated, folk-pop proceedings.
In other words, at this point, Goughís vision is grander than his ability to execute, and although his touchstones are all fine refuges in which to take solace and find direction, he hasnít succeeded in transforming them into an identity that is decidedly his. Thatís not necessarily a bad thing either, especially since one suspects that he, too, understands this concept and is reveling in his freedom to experiment in order to achieve artistic growth. Indeed, despite its faults, One Plus One Is One is a step forward, one in which nurtured refinement trumps Goughís own eclectic nature, but although it is a focused and cohesively grounded affair, it also unfortunately just doesnít have the seamlessly organic flow that made Sondre Lercheís Two-Way Monologue and Damien Riceís O such magnificent masterpieces. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
One Plus One Is One is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box