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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Badly Drawn Boy: About A Boy


BADLY DRAWN BOY: ABOUT A BOY (2002)

1) Exit Stage Right; 2) A Peak You Reach; 3) Something To Talk About; 4) Dead Duck; 5) Above You, Below Me; 6) I Love N.Y.E.; 7) Silent Sigh; 8) Wet, Wet, Wet; 9) River-Sea-Ocean; 10) S.P.A.T.; 11) Rachel's Flat; 12) Wal­k­ing Out Of Stride; 13) File Me Away; 14) A Minor Incident; 15) Delta (Little Boy Blues); 16) Donna & Blitzen.

I admit to having never read any of Nick Hornby's novels, and, furthermore, I am nowhere near a major Hugh Grant fan (according to my humble opinion, the man belongs to that unfortunate ca­tegory of talented actors who never get to play in worthwhile movies), but I did see About A Boy when it came out, and... uh... well, it was one of those Hugh Grant movies. But, honestly, I was simply too concerned trying to figure out whether the movie itself had any redeeming qualities to it to notice the quality of the soundtrack. My bad — had I called up some more brain cell reinfor­cements back then, I would have learned about Badly Drawn Boy eight years earlier, when his career had not yet been spoiled by years of torturous anti-reviews on Pitchforkmedia.

About A Boy is just a soundtrack to the movie, but apparently, Damon Gough was a major Nick Hornby fan (or Nick Hornby was a big Damon Gough fan, I keep mixing these things up), and the commission to write all of the music for the movie pronged him into releasing the strongest collection of «sad sunshine pop» tunes he'd ever assembled for one album. Leave out the brief in­strumental links and there are 13 good-to-great compositions here, simple, but vital, proving that at least as late as 2002 your average basic retro-pop recipé was still working.

Unlike Bewilderbeast, which sort of rocked back and forth between all sorts of emotions, this one here is a fairly happy affair — not «happy» as in «Prozac-happy», but «intelligently happy», one of those records that purports to cheer you up in the face of well-acknowledged and genuine­ly troublesome odds. 'A Peak You Reach' opens the album on exactly that particular note: starting out all worriesome, then slowly and softly rocking its way into an exciting mash of acoustic and slide guitars and falsetto doo-doos that prop up the song's message — "I'd like you to feel we've reached our peak" (and he has, definitely).

Ensuing highlights include 'Something To Talk About' (nice old music-hall-ish piano shuffle à la Small Faces or something like that); gorgeous piano-pop on 'Silent Sigh', most of whose very confused lyrics are delive­red in an odd, post-psychedelic aspirated falsetto; the overtly cutesy 'File Me Away', whose doo-doos and la-las could easily fit into Sesame Street (but that has never been a crime in and out of itself); and the bravely romantic finale of 'Donna And Blitzen', epic in scale and mostly cheese-free in the little details. Some of the instrumentals are quite listenable on their own, too — 'Delta' and 'S.P.A.T.' both have cool beats and make good use of the brass sec­tion (with a particularly splendid bass sax solo on the former).

If it's at all possible, About A Boy creates an even more fragile and delicate world than Bewil­der­beast, one in which human relations seem to be made of thin porcelain, and emotional life on­ly exists within the confines of a specially constructed clean room. It was, perhaps, inevitable that Hornby and Gough found each other — creators of perfectly sanitized environments are rare eno­ugh these days, and they sure must get lonely from time to time. If you believe that «grit» should be an essential component of even soft pop music, the shiny, Platonic, above-the-clouds atmos­phere of About A Boy will be irritating. But I'd rather take the perfect, removed-from-life abstra­ction of the soundtrack than the accompanying movie, which, as I remember it, was sort of insis­ting on its happening in real life, despite essentially consisting of a fairy-tale dream. Me, I like my fairy-tales properly disconnected from my immediate neighborhood, so it's a thumbs up for the soundtrack, and let's pretend I forgot my thumbs at home when I rented the movie.


Check "About A Boy" (CD) on Amazon
Check "About A Boy" (MP3) on Amazon

7 comments:

  1. Well, Nick "The Listmaker" Hornby is not much of a great writer, is he. I could never really fall for his chummy take on prose (though I know some good people who did).
    As for Hugh Grant - I believe he was at his most effective in his brief role in "The Remains Of The Day". Now that is one hell of a book.
    Never heard this record though. I have alse seen the film, but who knew there was good music playing in it!

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  2. Hmmm... well I thought Extreme Measures was pretty good actually, but I guess that it's an exception at best. Oh, he had a bit role in The Remains Of The Day too I remember.

    I really like the record. Not any better or worse I guess than any solid retro-pop record ever recorded, but God knows that any decent music-lover should love solid retro-pop.
    The Pitchfork review of this was really disgusting though. I know they're usually bad, but this guy was just over-the-top.

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  3. "The Remains Of The Day" was a fabulous movie, but, frankly, Hopkins' performance overshadowed everything so much I don't even remember Hugh Grant being there at all...

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  4. Oh I emphatise. I only remembered it because I'm rewatching most of the Merchant-Ivory catalogue and when Grant popped up in there I got quite a shock.
    Huh! Hugh Grant? In a great movie?! Musta been an accident.

    Oh yeah, I assume you're keeping a check on these things, but just in case you're not, Beirut has a new album out.

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  5. Movie 'Education' did you have seen though it? It's after Mr Horn book I never read such book but the movie was a 1st class fable maybe a book good's too.

    Remains of the Day never seen such movie read a book can't believe there can be a god movie but maybe so with the Edication

    dgsgsgsdhhsfsfsdf these are also some characters just for fun added

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  6. Not Horn(by)'s book, Alex - I think it was his screenplay. He adapted it from a piece written by some British journalist. But that's a decent film indeed! I think Carey Mulligan is a phenomenal young actress, and she totally saved last year's bloodless "Never Let Me Go" (how could they butcher a book like that?!?).

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  7. Ah yes yes yes decent in every sense quite a pleasure to see if only because of its decency and M-lle Mulligan she fits in she fits in. George he reviewes only music as a surprise he could review a movie or some food always hope he'll post such entry yet George never does. That's because discipline it's struggling with the alphabet think Einstein running each day 1 km faster or say Stephen Hawking gaining 1 kg each day

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