Radiohead, Starsailor, Muse, Oasis, Charlatans, Coldplay, Gomez, Travis, David Gray, Stereophonics, Belle & Sebastian, Ballboy, Stone Roses and Badly Drawn Boy are proof that despite declaring independence, Americans still find a place in their hearts for their relatives across the Atlantic. More than 30 years have passed since the original British invasion led by the Beatles in all their frenzied glory. The current invasion, while less-touted, less heart-throbbing, less encompassing and less-influential, still has some novelties only Britons could offer.
Dodging the pressures of coming up with a sophomore album to his prestigious Mercury Music Prize-winning debut album Hour of the Bewilderbeast, Badly Drawn Boy (Damon Gough to his friends) has opted to craft the entire soundtrack for About a Boy, a new film based on the novel written by High Fidelity author Nick Hornby. Excusing the fact that Hugh Grant stars, Gough has chosen his latest project wisely.
Although often furthering his image as somewhat lazy, self-indulgent and perverse with his signature dirty wool hat and propensity to simultaneously eat bananas, smoke, drink mid-song and hit on audience members, Badly Drawn Boy, with the help of producer Tom Rothrock (of Beck and Elliot Smith), has fashioned a beautiful, heartfelt, graceful album covering the musings of adulthood. Criticisms of his earlier album for his tendency to ramble have been addressed by the more disciplined structure a soundtrack provides. The pastoral, enchanting and playful nature of the spiraling chamber pieces makes you wish you had not given up orchestra in high school.
Staying true to form, Gough adds 30-second instrumental fragments throughout, which can only be fully appreciated as necessary mood-setting additions when the album is listened to in sequence. It seems meticulously woven as the minor-key melancholy of “Some-thing To Talk About” is reiterated in the full-instrumental “I Love NYE” and in the fragment, “Wet, Wet, Wet.” The 30-second blips serve as teasers to the potential of unfinished songs, while those finished turn out to be masterpieces with guitar, pizzicato strings, horns, piano and percussion combinations.
His simple lyrics, like “you and me, we could never hide / Too busy walking out of stride,” highlight the breezy instrumentals, and the effortless vocals add to the air of innocence. The triumph of innocence and imagination, strikes a chord in the final song, “Donna and Blitzen,” a Christmas song complete with jingle bells, proclaiming “We’re going to see things, we’d never believe / the only two reindeer, oh what a sight, as they take their first flight.” Gough asserts a somewhat trite idiom that human expressions are not fully captured in words or in music, but in a combination of both.
Despite the fact that the album is hardly thought-provoking or experimental or a giant leap for mankind (it might even be incorrectly categorized as easy-listening), it succeeds as a small step for one man reaching the conclusion that childhood is indeed cooler than adulthood. It is life-affirming, and not everything life-affirming is bad. Though you do not need an album to come to this conclusion, About A Boy is helpful. It is similar to how people find a child irresistible?no one really needs one, yet everyone seems to want one. And after giving this a few spins, you probably will want one, if only for the childlike optimism innate to us all.