By Badly Drawn Boy
Badly Drawn Boy's "Have You Fed the Fish" (AKA All Possibilities) is a recording project devoted to two questions: "who is Damon Gough?", and "how can he survive as an aspiring artist in 2002?". The source material is drawn from golden era Beatles, and the rest has been artfully scavenged from the musical debris that has piled up ever since.
The album is a deliberate sequence of songs and snatches. Like a Beatles album, lots of time seems to have been spent on putting things in a satisfactory order, with bridging and linking themes throughout. Let's take it one track at a time, and see what we have.
Coming in to Land is a surreal passenger service announcement thing. Bing! It plays out to a theme park riff with strings and a fairground organ that reappears in track 2. Damon Gough makes an early appearance as a cloud on the way to Hollywood. It's the elusive artist as uncertain, shy misfit who doesn't want to take responsibility for being responsible. After the two false starts of track 1 we get an Elton John kind of piano song called Home. It has waywardly interesting lyrics and an asthmatic vocal delivery. There's the first of two references to the word "eiderdown" and a very telling line that claims "I want something innocuous. I don't want to be obvious" A very big tune sings out on the chorus.
Born Again starts with a hesitant, interesting guitar intro and then goes sludgy in the "fill all available aural holes" mode. It's a weaker song that ends up with standard guitar bass drums piano wallpaper. There's no tune to speak of and no obvious direction to the lyric. The artist seems to be pausing to pick his teeth while he thinks of something better to do. Born Again as a phrase is sung over and over to no obvious purpose. It's something to do with his soul.
40 Days and 40 Nights has another great intro with naturally recorded guitars, thrown casually away to reintroduce the rhythmically jerky feel of the fairground for the main theme. The lyrics spike around in clever poses "I can't even remember your name. There's something beautiful about it though" They end up as TV sit com one liners that don't commit or add up to a coherent picture. They draw attention to some anxious truths, but fail to deal with them. Like poking a sore. "look at all the possibles" he sings "throw answers out to the world . it's hard, it's, hard, it's hard ... when you don't know how." Come on Damon, get to the point.
It's Florida Disco time in All Possibilities with a grindingly repetitive brass section and violin schmooze. "All possibilities are landing at my feet" is one step on from 40 Days but the artist has to do something definitive. So he shows us he can write a Burt Bacharach tribute. It really isn't bad at all. The shape wobbles at the middle eight, but luckily Paul McCartney seems to be on hand to provide bass lines.
I Was Wrong brings the acoustic guitar and fresh air back into the mix. It is promising. But it turns disappointingly into a one minute song with a childlike tune that gets abandoned in a flush of embarrassment as the Big Song crashes in over the lead out.
Evidence that Damon Gough is a major artist arrives at last. Track 7. You Were Right, is a glorious song about the tension between ordinariness and precocity. It's a decent attempt at reconciling personal and public lives, fitting one sane individual into an insane cultural milieu. The contrast between the important and the trivial that first surfaced in "Have You Fed the Fish?" is back under the microscope. Sadly it refers to Kurt Cobain in the same sentence as John Lennon. But "I'm ready to make my move" is not a vain boast, and the quality of the music follows the claim right through the punch.
Center Peace starts beautifully with damped guitar and nicely subdued strings. It sets up a fine wistful mood and then chickens out of becoming the great song it gave us good reason us to expect. Damn it. How? Is a loose tempo'd love song. Scratchy acoustic guitar sets teeth on edge and Gough's tentative singing sounds like the guide track that never got replaced. And then it all picks up into a fat pop song with trumpets and synths for the verse. Uncertain of how to get out of the crescendo it reverts back to folky fiddling. "I don't care. I don't mind" he equivocates. And then he throws everything into a Judy Garland ending before sinking back again. The he has another run at it. It builds up again .here come the trumpets. And down again. Woo, this is messy.
The Further could be (real) 60s ska influenced with echoes of the Police. There's a nice flute tune and a lazy voice. The casually dislocated lyrics show genius and indiscipline in equal measure. "The further I slide, I can't get back to your side because you're a summer child and I'm winter mild" Hmm. Syd Barrett take a bow at this point. There's also a great little organ tune on the 5 black notes a dull middle 8 and the cute arrival of girly chorus.
Imaginary Lines, in my imaginary ears, has Ringo Starr singing a song written by Billy Preston. Bass is played by John Lennon to torment Paul McCartney and drums are played by George Harrison. It's a bit wayward. Using Our Feet has an 80s guitar sample shaking a memory from the record collection top shelf - but it won't fall down. There's a funky R&B feel to an otherwise inconsequential song. "working on my American accent" he confesses.
Tickets to What You Need is another important song. "I'm turning the lights down low, ready to make my move" Exactly "Ruining people's lives by giving them what they need". Then he charges off into musical hall snare drums and "I'm turning Madonna down" (an idea reprised from You Were Right that mocks and embraces the minor celebrity status that preys on the whole album). What is it Now has a luscious lo-fi intro that gives way to his horrible acoustic guitar playing. There's John Lennon style voice some tambourine and uplift. It's a good close-knit tune, again in Lennon style. "The modern innocents have changed the place" is a grand line for a song about nostalgia and aging. There's a subtly ironic, beautifully played soft rock guitar solo.
Bedside Story has another enticement in the intro with possibly the worst singing of the album. It's a moody sort of lullaby. "Good night be careful with yourself. Don't worry about the money forget abut the wealth". Hmm. Daddy is self absorbed and fretting: the children have dozed off. End.
Still with me? Thought not. So how far have we got with those two questions? Firstly, "Damon Gough is an aspiring to be an important artist" and secondly, "he can survive by being as evasive as he can for as long as it takes". One day he will make a commitment and it will be great in its success or failure. Maybe both. This album is well worth buying in the meantime.