Badly Drawn Boy
Have You Fed the Fish?
Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy, is developing into somewhat of a curious artist, definitely one worth keeping your eye on. What is perhaps most noticeable about his first three albums (Hour of the Bewilderbeast, the soundtrack for About A Boy, and his latest, Have You Fed the Fish?) is how different they are. Whereas Hour reveled in its lo-fi acoustic indie sound (best exemplified by songs such as "This Song") and drew numerous comparisons to artists of the Elliott Smith ilk, his second album showed an entirely different side of the artist. To be fair, it was a soundtrack and most likely he was at the mercy of the film from time to time, but he still managed to show a flair for orchestration and production that hinted he was more than a shaggy troubadour playing folksy songs from under his wool-knitted cap.
With his third album, Have You Fed the Fish?, (the "official" follow-up to Hour), Badly Drawn Boy pushes the envelope even further, diving full on into Beatlesque orchestration and experimentation. This is both a good and a bad thing. When he's on, as he is for a good deal of the album, the results are actually quite brilliant. However, when he missteps it is equally as awful. Still, you have to admire him for taking the leaps he does -- and when you leap, you're going to fall now and again.
The album kicks off with a brief, bizarre interlude (an airplane captain announcing "...and if you take a look out of the right side of the plane you'll see a cloud that looks exactly like Badly Drawn Boy...") before settling into a groove that ultimately leads into the rather delightful opening track, which shares its name with the album's title. Though sounding quite a bit like a '70s song -- in a good way -- in its first minutes, it gradually moves into an even catchier, piano-dominated middle section. With lyrics that alternate between cheesy and interesting ("Sometimes you've to rewind to go forward / there's something around the corner / but have you fed the fish today?") it's definitely a solid opening to the album as a whole. I've heard Gough in interviews say this album deals a lot with the whole aspect of fame (he is quite a star in the UK) -- his persona versus who he actually is once he walks through the front door at home (i.e. a guy constantly asked by his wife if he has fed the fish).
And maybe this is true, this is what he wanted the album to be about, but honestly it doesn't feel much like the concept album he's made it up to be. Musically the songs fit quite nicely together to form a whole, but lyrically he still seems all over the place. Still, the man can write a damn fine melody, as evidenced on songs like "40 Days, 40 Fights" and "The Further I Slide," and if his lyrics on this album at times seem lacking, his orchestration and sense of melody most assuredly don't. One can only imagine what would emerge should he ever decide to collaborate with Jon Brion in the studio.
In the end, though, Have You Fed the Fish? seems like a bit of a let down. A surprisingly catchy and listenable disappointment, but a disappointment nonetheless. There is the sense, when listening to this album, that Badly Drawn Boy is capable of much greater things. In the one-two punch of "I Was Wrong" which segues perfectly into "You Were Right" -- easily the finest thing Badly Drawn Boy has ever recorded -- you see the potential inherent within this obviously talented musician. And while for some musicians, this album might be the pinnacle of their entire career, with Badly Drawn Boy it seems more of a tease. You can definitely count me in line to hear what Gough does next, but this album -- despite its wonderful moments -- will ultimately leave you wanting.
ArtistDIRECT Records: http://www.artistdirectrecords.com/