Badly Drawn Boy: Have You Fed The Fish?

Badly Drawn Boy: Have You Fed The Fish?

When Damon Gough (a.k.a. Badly Drawn Boy) released his soundtrack for About A Boy earlier this year, the British slack-folk troubadour hastened to clarify that the disc wasn't a true follow-up to his well-received 2000 debut The Hour Of Bewilderbeast. He needn't have been so defensive. While slighter in ambition, Gough's About A Boy music revealed a pop-minded focus that eluded the eclectic Bewilderbeast, which was often as exhausting as it was impressive. Badly Drawn Boy's second "official" album, Have You Fed The Fish? reconciles his previous approaches to music-making, adding fully realized, studio-scrubbed professionalism to a set of songs that switch styles and frequently head deliberately into dead ends. At its worst (on the title track, for example), Have You Fed The Fish? sounds uncomfortably bloated; the superfluous instruments and noises obscure the inherent lightness of Gough's cabaret-influenced songwriting, and the results look meager next to the similarly weird and wild work of Conor Oberst's punk-folk collective Bright Eyes. But even the worst of Have You Fed The Fish? isn't all that bad. More typical are tracks like "40 Days, 40 Fights" and "What Is It Now?," which could be leaner, but get by on sheer tunefulness. Even when Badly Drawn Boy's tendency toward half-considered dabbling resurfaces—as on the orchestrated disco backing of "All Possibilities" and the new-school Latin funk beats of "The Further I Slide"—Gough's seemingly off-the-cuff lyrics and charming monotone keep the songs grounded and intimate. On that score, Have You Fed The Fish? punches hardest with "You Were Right," a romantic fantasy that encompasses an imaginary rejection of Madonna and a reverie about dead rock stars. It's a loose, rangy number, punctuated by a Beatles-esque guitar sting, and though the song is overlong and excessively arranged, its flaws are a byproduct of an appealing individuality. British pop acts tend to peak early and peter out with astonishing rapidity, but for all his distracting business, Gough's core compositional gifts and personal stamp have yet to fail him.

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