Like the proverbial bus, you wait ages for a new Badly Drawn Boy album, and then two come along at once. Just six months after the About A Boy soundtrack proved that not all Hugh Grant films have to feature a Wet Wet Wet soundtrack, Damon Gough produces his ‘proper’ follow up to The Hour Of Bewilderbeast, entitled Have You Fed The Fish?
For those who have followed Damon’s journey from the lo-fi amatuerness of his early recordings, the polished sound of Have You Fed The Fish will come as something of a shock. Elliot Smith producer Tom Rothrock stays on board from About A Boy and the result is Gough’s most commercial release yet. Those expecting a backlash can put it on hold however – these are some of the finest songs you’ll hear all year.
From the knockabout instrumental of Coming Into Land through to the lullaby-like melody of Bedside Story, Gough displays his usual tendency to explore all musical landscapes possible and master each and every one. Although it lacks the ‘epic’ feel of The Hour Of Bewilderbeast, the songs here are more satisfying and consistent, and only the end of the record brings the slightest hint of filler.
It’s clear listening to the title track where Gough’s much vaunted worship of Bruce Springsteen came from. The opening chords recall Thunder Road and throughout there’s an air of wistful romanticism that could have come straight from The Boss himself. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the single You Were Right (preceded, quite brilliantly by I Was Wrong). Although the lyrics of turning Madonna down may come across as being self-consciously ‘wacky’ the underlying theme is one of poignancy. He even manages to get away with name checking Frank Sinatra, Kurt Cobain, Jeff Buckley, and John Lennon and then whistles as the song plays out.
Not all of the tracks work perfectly – Tickets To What You Need is essentially a reprise of You Were Right with some music-hall type sounds thrown in for good measure and sounds worryingly like a Wings out-take. However, Gough follows this with What Is It Now? which with it’s air of philosophical regret (“now that life will never be the same, we’ve got to face the thought of loneliness again”) is possibly the best thing he’s ever written.
People with a terminal sense of humour failure may find Have You Fed The Fish a bit grating – from the title through to punning songs such as 40 Days, 40 Fights but this is more evidence that Damon Gough is turning into the finest English songwriter of his generation. “How can I give you the answers you need/when all that I have is a melody” he muses on the oddly Strokes-like How?. Yes Damon, but what heartbreaking melodies they are.