BADLY DRAWN BOY: BORN IN THE U.K. (2006)
1) Swimming Pool; 2) Born In The U.K.; 3) Degrees Of Separation; 4) Welcome To The Overground; 5) A Journey From A To B; 6) Nothing's Gonna Change Your Mind; 7) Promises; 8) The Way Things Used To Be; 9) Without A Kiss; 10) The Long Way Round; 11) Walk You Home Tonight; 12) The Time Of Times; 13) One Last Dance.
Oh my dear God. Never as of yet has Badly Drawn Boy seemed so earnestly eager to offer me his buzzing, pulsating, emotion-soaked, passion-drenched heart on a lovingly crafted plate of piano-based melodies. It almost breaks my own heart to admit that, no matter how hard he tries, there is no way this big, colorful, friendly, but thoroughly useless object could possibly be transplanted into my own body. Sorry, Mr. Gough, maybe it's just me, or maybe it's just that your fifth (sixth?) album is simply your worst up to date.
Associations invoked by the title, whether one is reluctant to admit it or not, are clear enough. Yet it would sound strange, saying that Damon Gough aspires to become the Bruce Springsteen for his own generation / side of the Atlantic / whatever. He's shorter, probably cannot do as many push-ups, draws his lyrical inspiration from Nick Drake rather than the beat scene and Dylan, and is arguably the least likely person in the UK to identify with the unspoken hopes and dreams of the Average Joe. (In fact, one little smack from the Average Joe and you can hang up that furry hat on the wall as a souvenir). On the other hand, no one can prevent you from trying to become the spokesman for your little sub-tribe of intellectual / artsy / idealistic wimps — and, if so, the title's association with Born In The USA takes on a subtly ironic nature. In a different age and context this could have been a masterpiece of understatement.
Unfortunately, B.D.B. is trying way too hard. So hard, in fact, that he has almost completely abandoned everything that used to make his music sensually attractive, in favor of laying his soul on the line. Most of the melodies here are completely flat, very much in the 1970s soft-rock vein once again (with a small touch on the artsy side, sort of like a passable avatar of a Barclay James Harvest) — so that even when he comes up with a bit of memorable phrasing (e. g. 'Nothing's Gonna Change Your Mind'), the basic flash reaction is still «Does he really need to emulate that kind of sound? What, have all the other better retro influences been distributed already?»
It comes off worst of all when you realize that the man is striving to make himself look big, a stately figure capable of processing his emotions and relations through a historical framework — the whole album is basically one large statement that says «Yeah verily, the whole way I feel has been shaped by the strange times I had to live through, and if you were born around the same time, you might as well pay me for articulating it all out for you» — but this bigness is conveyed through dull, predictable, and completely un-individual means. It's as if, say, John Lennon decided to record Plastic Ono Band, arranging all the songs as generic crooner music from the 1930s. But even that, coming off from a guy as whacky as John, might have been taken for a hoot. Badly Drawn Boy, on the contrary, just makes me yawn.
If there are any fans in the audience with machine guns at the ready — I am not saying that Born In The U.K. is, in any way, just a fraud affair. Gough's lyrics are touching, if never particularly original, and, at any rate, even when he is so blatantly at his worst, the sentiments still feel real and honest next to any average mainstream pop record of 2006. But this is good news only for those who have to make the choice between Badly Drawn Boy and Taylor Swift; in choosing between B.D.B. and his childhood influences, I'll still take the childhood influences. Sorry for not talking a lot about individual songs — that would just raise the hatred bar, and I really would not like to talk in terms of hatred about this guy: for all I know, I could have been him had I, too, been born in the U.K. and learned to play a musical instrument at an early age. Just a quick thumbs down, then, before we move on.
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