splendid > reviews > 8/30/2004
Badly Drawn Boy
Badly Drawn Boy
One Plus One is One

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Summertime in Wintertime"

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Once you become a beacon of stability in the music industry, people tend to forget about you. Case in point: Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy. Since winning the Mercury Music Prize for his stunning debut, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, he's released two exceptional albums -- the jaunty soundtrack for the film version of Nick Hornby's About a Boy and the seventies coke-pop opus Have You Fed the Fish Today? -- with little or no fanfare. When he was fucking up gigs in front of dozens of A&R gibbons desperate to ink him you, couldn't flip through a magazine without seeing his wooly-capped mug, but now that he's a fully functioning pop entity, hardly anybody seems to notice him.

Maybe if he were a raging alcoholic, or a schizophrenic basketcase, more people would be talking about the troubled genius of One Plus One is One, but as it stands, Gough is a simple family man who writes brilliant songs in the loo and records them as close to home as possible. It's no big secret that producer/collaborator Tom Rothrock helped steer Gough toward the shiny, shimmering Cali-pop of his previous two releases, and while it worked remarkably well for both sessions, this one is clearly Gough's baby, and sounds all the more invigorating for it. Introspective and world-weary, One Plus One is One's songs veer more toward Gough's debut in terms of timbre and somber celebration -- a fact due in no small part to Gough's renewed relationship with friend and production cohort Andy Votel.

Whereas Rothrock sought to make Gough's songwriting bigger and brighter, Votel's presence here anchors the proceedings in an earthy vein, allowing the songs' inherent nuances to shine rather than stacking them to the rafters with technicolor string-and-synth bursts. "Summertime in Wintertime"'s gravelly, rollicking demeanor belies its tender pop heart, while baroque-pop interlude "The Blossoms" and the subsequent "Year of the Rat" exude a natural joy reminiscent of Van Dyke Parks. It's all so beautifully simple, especially moody acoustic guitar/piano laments like "Fewer Words", that you almost miss how effective the arrangements are -- gorgeous, heartfelt melodies yield odes to a life that's consistently surprising and alive with optimism.

Wisely, Gough hasn't sought to re-invent his wheel, and though some listeners might view such a move as re-treading common ground, it doesn't come across that way; he has simply found his niche, and if we're ready to damn him for being perfectly content as a singer/songwriter, we must also be ready to condemn his prestigious forebears -- namely Nick Drake, Harry Nilsson and Cat Stevens. Like Gough, they never strayed too far from their chosen oeuvre, but nobody seemed to mind all that much back then. Since when did dependability, especially in the realm of songwriting and performance, become a four letter word?

So it's come to this: Damon Gough, the world's most gifted wallflower. The tag might infuriate many other musicians, but if the tone Gough projects throughout One Plus One is One is any indication, it's perfectly all right by him.



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