The Drama You've Been Craving
Monday Jan. 22, 2001
Into The Mystic With Badly Drawn Boy
A young man revives the British folk-rock tradition.
By Michael Goldberg
Sometimes the hype can put you off. When I started getting the buzz on Badly Drawn Boy early last year, the effect was the opposite of what buzz should do. Perhaps it's the awkward name "Badly Drawn Boy," but something made me resist his album, The Hour of Bewilderbeast. Even after I'd acquired it, it sat in a pile of unplayed CDs for some time.
I know, I know. I'm supposed to check out new artists, not ignore them.
Worse, when I finally did play it in the car, I think I didn't really pay attention, and since the music is subtle, the kind that grows on you, it made little impression on first listen. So it sat in a pile I keep of played-but-didn't-cut-it CDs that I figure deserve a second chance. More time passed.
In the fall Badly Drawn Boy won England's highly regarded Mercury Music Prize (beating out Coldplay, Death in Vegas, Richard Ashcroft and a number of other serious contenders). For me, this only reinforced my growing anti-Badly Drawn Boy feeling. How irrational.
It took ARTISTdirect's Marc Geiger who at one point raved about The Hour of Bewilderbeast as one of his very favorite albums of 2000 to make me to break on through, put aside my reservations and give it a serious listen.
Sure enough, Badly Drawn Boy's The Hour of Bewilderbeast turns out to be one of the best albums released in 2000, and I didn't even give it a chance until 2001!
Badly Drawn Boy (born Damon Gough) is a distinctly English creation. You can hear England in his accent, his phrasing, his choice of words. From his voice to the arrangements to the occasional music-hall sing-songy melodies, he's one of those charming eccentrics, an artist who fits beside the Richard Thompsons and Nick Drakes of the world. "I'm sure I just saw a UFO," he tells a Rolling Stone reporter in the midst of a phone interview; the profile appears in the Feb. 1 issue. "There were three lights overhead, blinking in a funny way."
There are many things to like about The Hour of Bewilderbeast, which contains 18 songs, including some charming instrumentals. The music is British-style folk-rock: at times there are strings, and a drum machine pops up, and a Wurlitzer piano. Put it on and it will take you out to the country on an overcast day, and make you feel sad, especially when you listen to the extended intro that begins "Stone on the Water."
Gough is a self-made DIY kinda artist. In that Rolling Stone profile, writer Gavin Edwards reports that early on Gough bought a Tascam 144 four-track recorder, the same model Bruce Springsteen used to record Nebraska. After getting his recorder, Gough began writing a song a day, says Edwards; then in 1997 he released his first EP on his own label, Twisted Nerve.
Here was an unknown artist with a fresh sensibility who bought a cheap recorder, worked on his craft, started his own label and began getting his music out into the world all on his own. Gough is, of course, a real talent, which is why we should care about how his music ended up in our CD players. He is an example of what a talented artist can do, independent of the music-biz machine.
Gough talks of Bruce Springsteen as a major influence, and is a fan of the Flaming Lips, the Pixies, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Frank Zappa and Pavement. Perhaps you can find traces of those artists in his work. I can't. At least not in the music. Rather, I think those artists have inspired Gough to take chances and to be himself in his songs.
"Magic in the Air," a ballad that one critic noted has a bit of a Burt Bacharach feel, begins with this lyric: "We laughed so much, then we cried all night/ And you left your shoes in the tree, with me/ I'll wear them to your house, tonight/ Magic in the air, tonight." Later in the song he sings, "We slept on leaves on my drive, all night." I love that kind of whimsy, the mixing romance and joy, of being young and willing to do silly, irresponsible things.
Sometimes, when you resist something for a long time before letting it enter your life, it resonates more deeply.
Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.
© 2000, 2001 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.