Badly Drawn Boy, Banana Ski Shoes (AWAL) ****
THERE is something deeply satisfying when an artist long missing in action re-appears with great songs.
Badly Drawn Boy, Damon Gough to his mum and bank manager, was always an interesting character. His anti-rock star demeanour contrasted with his early success.
Like Elliot Smith, here was a songwriter that didn’t fit the commercial juggernaut. There were always flashes, like Space Between Your Ears from his 2012 soundtrack to Being Flynn.
After a decade-long hiatus, Gough re-emerges at 50 with a fistful of tunes that are at once familiar but cleverly good. He has always had a flair with melody; it rarely goes where you think it is heading.
The life knocks he’s endured – it transpires he hasn’t been sitting in a pool lapping up adoration all these years – have given him a rich vein of material to write about, and there’s a more direct edge to the lyrics. Looking over his shoulder at the exit, I Just Want To Wish You Happiness is affecting, while I’ll Do My Best ushers Gough into a new relationship.
Fortunate, too, that Gough has not sunk into tuneless gloom. On the contrary, I’m Not Sure What It Is features a glorious Technicolor production, full of sunlight and hard-won wisdom. Rightly, Like Tony Wilson Says has been singled out for praise and may yet be a hit. Taking a Manchester cultural icon, Tony Wilson, and his Hacienda nightclub, it’s an uplifting tribute that even seems to have left space for the crowd’s roar.
You can never tell whether Gough is being ironic, but it does seem that he is now foot-sure about which musical path to pursue. As he told the Guardian, this record presents “a more focused version of what I’ve tried to achieve in the past”.
Fly On The Wall captures Gough’s worldview to perfection, married to another joyous melody that both harks back and looks more hopefully ahead to what tomorrow brings.
Compared with these heights, the quality does ebb in the middle. For example, Colours feels dated and the Eighties touches are overdone, but these slips are few and the overall upbeat mood makes for the pleasing contrast to the pallor of our economic sky. Definitely Gough’s best record since his debut, the Mercury Prize-winning The Hour Of Bewilderbeast, 20 years ago.
Review by Paul Rhodes