If there's a worse way to begin an album than a heavy-handed chat with yourself, Badly Drawn Boy's Damon Gough apparently couldn't think of it. From the left and right channels, he asks himself questions, then responds: "What about the world?" he asks. "What do you mean?" he answers. The song seems perfectly titled: "Intro / Swimming Pool Pt. 1" goes right off the deep end. The rest of Gough's fifth album doesn't follow the meandering introduction; in fact, it sets out for and finds the middle of the road, rarely bothering to detour and rarely mustering the energy to get even a little weird.
Which isn't the worst thing: Gough is a fine storyteller and pop craftsman clearly trying to explore his most mainstream instincts. When they work, Born In The U.K.'s charming songs breeze by like the best '70s soft-rock: "Degrees Of Separation" chimes and glides in all the right places, the winsome piano ballad "Nothing's Gonna Change Your Mind" could sound great performed by anyone from Elton John to Jeff Tweedy, and "Without A Kiss" feels, like Gough's early greats, refreshingly unforced.
But those highlights tend to get lost in a sea of similarly paced but less inspired material: The songs ride a line in which the good are separated from the ineffective by such a slim margin that they run together. And the bad apples don't so much spoil the album as just weigh it down. Impatient fans might just run back to Badly Drawn Boy's 1996 classic The Hour Of Bewilderbeast, whose overlong sprawl aged into charm. Oh, and that title: Yes, Gough is still fond of Bruce Springsteen. Born In The U.K. even ends with the line, "If we still don't have a plan / We'll listen to 'Thunder Road.'"