Album Reviews: Born in the U.K. by Badly Drawn BoyWoe to the hipsters who hoped that Badly Drawn Boy would be their British, knit-capped, still-living version of Elliott Smith. Damon Gough has instead pushed himself straight down Pop Avenue, and with mixed results. Despite some ambitious themes and singular flourishes, too many of the songs on Born In The U.K. qualify as lite-radio milquetoast, and have saddled him with some biting -- if not entirely warranted -- comparisons to James Blunt.
Born In The U.K. gets off to a schmaltzy start, with Gough having the following, piano-backed conversation with himself: "If the world was a better place, some of these bad things wouldn't happen," says Pessimistic Damon. "Yeah, but, there's good things all around -- you just have to look longer and harder to see them sometimes," retorts Optimistic Damon. Your theme for the album, ladies and gentlemen!
Glib opening aside, too many of these songs take too long to find their footing. "Promises" has a patient orchestral build that leads to an effective kick-in with percussion, but its impact is ultimately diluted by a kitchen-sink arrangement (weeping guitars! cinematic strings! sweeping piano!) and some uninspired lyrics. A number of other tracks, like "The Way Things Used to Be" and "Journey from A to B," float by prettily but unremarkably.
Some of the slower songs would be interesting to hear in a solo context; the heavy production generally works better with the more upbeat tracks. The boldest is "Welcome to the Overground," with its hyperactive mini-musical feel and multi-tracked, Sufjan-esque chorus. It's a million miles from -- and a million times better than -- Mr. Blunt.
To be fair, Gough seldom lets a song go past without finding a melodic lilt that burrows into the brain. The beginning of "Walk You Home," for instance, is wonderfully buoyant, but then finds neither an interesting verse nor chorus, so settles for recycling. "Degrees of Separation" suffers from a similar problem, with verses that seem to just be passing the time in between the main hook and the bridge.
The heart of a romantic beats strong on Born In The U.K., and Gough reliably succeeds in exploring the intersection between puppy love and permanent devotion. On "One Last Dance," he vows to be your Troy Donahue if you'll be his Sandra Dee. There's a razor blade in that sugary come-on; Donahue and Dee were teen idols, but off-screen both battled alcoholism, among other demons. Clearly, Gough still has a gift for bouncy pop with a bittersweet aftertaste. Hopefully his next collection will be a less uneven showcase. - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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