REVIEW: Badly Drawn Boy: About a Boy
Badly Drawn Boy: About A Boy (Soundtrack) [Universal, 2002]
Two words? Incidental music.
For those of us who loved Badly Drawn Boy's (aka Damon Gough's) Mercury Prize-winning Hour of the Bewilderbeast, the news that Gough would be contributing the score to a film was warmly received. The film in question - About a Boy - is based on the novel by Nick "High Fidelity" Hornsby and stars the affable Hugh Grant. Nothing here that spells disaster, no sir, regardless of the fact that About a Boy has got the same directors as American Pie. Gough proudly declared that he was going to prepare, "like The Graduate", the "incidental", instrumental music of the film, along with several honest-to-god songs to be interspersed within the narrative.
Well, Badly Drawn Boy has succeeded. He has, it can honestly be said, composed some truly incidental music.
Even if you are a Badly Drawn Boy fan, there is no good reason to buy this album. It's simply not very good. Nothing blood-curdling about it, but conversely, nothing whatsoever exciting, either. It is pleasant - sometimes insipid, sometimes hummable, never significant. Opening track "Exit Stage Right" sets the scene appropriately: a few conventional-sounding bars of synthesized piano, with echoey tinkles, and then it's over. "Wow!" I think, "That was worthless!" This is followed by "A Peak You Reach", which is indeed an actual song, but it's an entirely uninteresting ripoff of the much more successful "Once Around the Block": as much as it attempts to build up some speed, it lacks an even vaguely appealing melody, and as guitar scales trundle over synthesized trumpet and strings, it's as artistically important as third-run video game music.
Most tragically, things don't really improve. "Silent Sigh", which has been released as a single, has a nice watermusic, piano sound that evokes some of Bewilderbeast's more pastoral moments, but Gough ruins the mood with orgasmic Madonna crooning and an over-earnest, breathy delivery. The song doesn't go anywhere, and the repeated "Silent silent sigh" of the chorus is totally without soul. I feel as if the producer and engineer walked out of the studio and let Gough wank around for a half-hour.
The short instrumental sections are often fairly nice, but they are artistically irrelevant: significant neither as classical music, nor as instrumental pop. On one of these, "Wet, Wet, Wet", we do see some of Gough's talent shining through. As in "River, Sea, Ocean", his acoustic strumming seems just on the edge of a wonderful, stand-alone song - sweet and simple - but Badly Drawn Boy doesn't get there. He circles around, never hitting the sweet spot. The disc's finest moment comes on the most stripped-down of its tracks, "A Minor Incident", where Gough sings over unadorned acoustic guitar before breaking into a few short blasts of harmonica. It's a beautiful little song, a less poetic "Blackbird" or "Mother Nature's Son" (speaking of Beatles connections, the tune opens with a direct lifting from "Julia"), and it contrasts greatly with the the insincerity of the rest of the album.
When Badly Drawn Boy performed in Montreal in the spring of last year, he put on one of the finest concerts I have ever seen. Playing his heart out for three hours, he took his silly little songs and mined them for worth, sharing heart and soul with the audience, giving and taking through improv, banter, and real eye contact. He was outstanding, and his performance was the extreme opposite of his disappointing outing here.