If you buy only one “comeback” album during lockdown, make it…

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.

Badly Drawn Boy: “A fistful of tunes that are at once familiar but cleverly good”

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 


Badly Drawn Boy to mark turning 50 with first studio album in a decade on May 22

The artwork for Badly Drawn Boy’s new album, Banana Skin Shoes

BADLY Drawn Boy, alias woolly-hatted Damon Gough, will release his first studio album in a decade, Banana Skin Shoes, on May 22 on the AWAL label.

Trailered as a “truly personal and heartfelt collection that skips between musical idioms and emotional extremes”, the 14 tracks were completed last year by Gough at Eve Studios, Stockport, with producer Gethin Pearson, who also mixed the recordings.

Earlier, Gough had worked on tracks for the album with legendary producer Youth at his London studio; Keir Stewart (ex-Durutti Column) at Inch Studios and Seadna McPhail at Airtight Studios.

Badly Drawn Boy last released a studio set, It’s What I’m Thinking Pt 1, Photographing Snowflakes, in October 2010, since when he has composed the soundtrack for Being Flynn, Paul Weitz’s 2012 American film starring Robert DeNiro and Julianne Moore.

This month’s album spans the opening blast of forthcoming single Banana Skin Shoes, with its riotous Beck-meets-Beastie Boys “cartoony” hip hop throw-down, to the immaculately tailored closer I’ll Do My Best, a nod to Gough’s failings, a prayer to his partner and a lyrical tip of the hat to his hero Bruce Springsteen. Take a look at the animated video for the single by award-winning film directors Broken Antler at https://badlydrawnboy.lnk.to/bss-vid

Badly Drawn Boy, alias Damon Gough

In between the two bookends are the retro-futurist pop of Fly On The Wall, evoking the Eighties’ pop-soul of Hall & Oates; the lush piano-and-strings ballad Never Change and the Motown-echoing soul stomper Tony Wilson Said, a celebration of the late, great fixer of the Manchester music scene.

I Need Someone To Trust begins with a nod to Chicago’s soft-rock 1976 chart topper If You Leave Me Now, branching into a spiritual song of salvation-seeking, while the beautiful, loving I Just Wanna Wish You Happiness sees 50-year-old Gough “dig deep to alchemise the trauma of a break-up into a song of salutation to his ex”.

The track listing on Badly Drawn Boy’s eighth studio album will be: Banana Skin Shoes; first single Is This A Dream?; I Just Wanna Wish You Happiness; I’m Not Sure What It is; Tony Wilson Said; You And Me Against The World; I Need Someone To Trust; Note To Self; Colours; Funny Time Of Year; Fly On The Wall; Never Change; Appletree Boulevard and I’ll Do My Best.

After his sold-out London show at The Roundhouse in January, the 2000 Mercury Music Prize winner will announce more live dates over the coming months. He played Yorfest at York Racecourse in September 2017.