BADLY DRAWN BOY: ONE PLUS ONE IS ONE (2004)
1) One Plus One Is One; 2) Easy Love; 3) Summertime In Wintertime; 4) This Is That New Song; 5) Another Devil Dies; 6) The Blossoms; 7) Year Of The Rat; 8) Four Leaf Clover; 9) Fewer Words; 10) Logic Of A Friend; 11) Stockport; 12) Life Turned Upside Down; 13) Takes The Glory; 14) Holy Grail; 15*) Don't Ask Me, I'm Only The President; 16*) Plan B.
Perhaps one of the problems with listening to Gough's increasingly frustrating output is that Badly Drawn Boy himself seems to have taken in too many musical influences. He is not the sum of all of these parts; he is their collector, and once he gets all of them together in one circle and punches a hole in the middle, he has too little energy left to properly inseminate the hole, if you know what I mean.
Take the title track. As the simple guitar chords and heart-on-sleeve vocals roll on out, it becomes clear that the man is chasing a John Lennon vibe — something simple, punchy, honest, naïve, anthemic, inspirational. As pianos, chimes, drums, strings, and brass progressively join the picture, and Damon begs us to «give me some peace» (John used to ask for some truth instead, but it's easy to go from one to another without changing one's life philosophy), one could hope for a bucket of tears, but... no click. Nothing. An empty stylization that does not work; to my ears and mind, the clever arrangement is just completely wasted.
Another case — 'Summertime In Wintertime', with a hard rock groove and wild flute solos that openly remind of Jethro Tull. Why? The main melody is rather dull, plain pop, and I do not get the idea why, in the composer's mind, it had to be sewn together with a well-done, but pointless imitation of Ian Anderson's madness. I could go on further and say, for instance, that 'Four Leaf Clover' sounds exactly like one of those bad late period Ray Davies songs that may sound all cuddly and friendly, but can never be memorized, because it really has nothing but style to it. Or... but you get where I'm going already.
It is sad, because One Plus One actually moves away from the mistakes of Have You Fed The Fish?: it is generally more quiet, relying once again on chamber-pop rather than large-scale arrangements. But something has been lost in transition, and that «something» is the ability to come up with charming hooks, which were still in abundance on About A Boy, but have been since then sacrificed for these bits of musical chameleonism — that may touch and impress someone, but I won't lie to you: I was bored stiff throughout, several times over.
Amazingly, the one song that did stick with me was 'Year Of The Rat', and it was the one big piece of bombast on the album, mainly due to the anthemic chorus, on which Damon is joined by a children's choir (sometimes the choir is left on its own, as if this were a tribute to John and Yoko's 'Happy Xmas'... okay, I'll shut up now). It's silly, it's stupid, it's derivative, it's overblown, and it wasn't even anywhere close to the true year of the Rat in 2004. But the chorus still packs an optimistic spirit that feels like an optimistic spirit. Same goes for the eight-minute epic closer 'Holy Grail', which is silly, overblown, and also overlong and repetitive, and features the brilliant line "you forgot you've got oxygen running through your veins" (the natural question here is not «what makes you think so?», but rather «so frickin' what?»). But there is something there in its grand idealism that at least makes you want to take note. And it's got a cool speed-up thing towards the end, as if it were paying homage to 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'... high time somebody stopped me from this already.
Anyway, in a nutshell: I don't like most of these songs, and it may have something to do with the fact that Gough thought too much of others here, and not enough of himself. His so-so streak would not, however, be over with this record, so perhaps it was just one prolonged case of bad writer's block — except writer's block usually prevents one from coming up with anything, and here we have our out-of-steam God of Chamber-Pop disregard that and let us all see the contents of his Chamber-Pot. (As rude as it may sound, I feel entitled to it after all the hours I wasted trying to penetrate the hidden beauty — but try as I might, I just cannot force myself to come to terms with the statement that one plus one really is one). Thumbs down.
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