Whilst Damon Gough (aka. Badly Drawn Boy)’s post-Mercury Prize career could by no means be described as following the trajectory of some of that gong’s more unfortunate recipients, it might be fair to say that releases since 2000’s winner The Hour Of The Bewilderbeast have suffered from a law of slightly diminishing returns. Now back on his own independent label for album number seven, this release forms the first part of a planned trilogy from Gough, such is the volume of new work that a fresh surge of creativity has, reportedly, produced.
And, at its best, the material here tries to bear out the claims. Always adept at the deceptively simple tune, Gough once more produces several corkers in The Order Of Things, Too Many Miracles and This Beautiful Idea. These three perfectly illustrate the way in which he manages to produce songs that get under the skin without the listener really noticing it happening: an impressive and undervalued skill, though not one to be appreciated by the impatient listener.
In a similar way the wordplay used is often cleverer than it seems. Slightly obscured by Gough’s everyman persona and the down-to-earth nature of his straightforward though tuneful delivery, What Tomorrow Brings sneaks in some oblique nods to both Bob Dylan (“wipe the blood off the tracks”) and The Beatles (“if this is your reality, let it be”), while A Pure Accident too boasts some smart and snappy lyric writing.
A sense of acceptance of the past and optimism for the future pervades. “Dream of what tomorrow brings… hope against hope,” he encourages on What Tomorrow Brings, while Too Many Miracles finds him “ready to love again”. A Pure Accident simultaneously looks backwards (“for a while it was amazing”) and forwards (“something tells me the future could be ours”). The strings and gentle piano that punctuate these tracks all add to the sense of someone taking a gentle, upbeat pleasure in life’s quiet victories and future prospects, though there’s nothing especially original or arresting about any of this.
Gentle and beguiling as these songs try to be, therein lies the difficulty. So unassuming and sometimes almost determinedly understated are they that there is a very real risk of much of this well crafted and realised songsmithery being overlooked. Unshowy, slowly revealing its pleasures, this is subtle, and clever, but rather too downplayed for its own good. What Gough is thinking on the forthcoming Parts Two and Three will need to leave some calling cards.