Coming off his Mercury Music Prize-winning debut album, The Hour of Bewilderbeast and the soundtrack to the movie About a Boy, Badly Drawn Boy has switched gears for his latest effort, Have You Fed The Fish? Departing from his acoustical and melancholious accomplishment of The Hour…, his newest album seems to be an effort to avoid being typecast. Possibly because of the recent birth of his second child, Damon Gough, the man behind the Boy, injects Have You…? with an appreciation of life, an apparently out-of-character attitude based on the feel of his previous releases. Three records deep, this 32-year-old from Manchester, England continues to impress through the evolution and execution of his sound.
Gough is adept at many elements of music. He plays both piano and guitar and displays one of the most deliberate, soothingly raw voices. Combined with the symphonic sounds of the strings and the awakening accompaniment of the horns, Have You Fed the Fish?, is a very interesting listen. His mood of appreciation and optimism starts with opening track, which greets you with a carnival-like mood, bizarre cartoon sounds and beats. He sets up for the title track by establishing a light vibe and heightening the mood. The piano ballad with a pop feel, "Have You Fed the Fish?" works with only the essentials. Gough’s added nothing fancy to this track and it reflects the album’s overall theme, which is, as BDB disclosed to Virgin Radio, "a reflection of real life versus the incongruous stupidity of the life I now lead as a minor celebrity. So the statement that meant the most to me was, Have you fed the fish?"
Like a trip to the buffet, the album explores BDB’s a small cache of music styles. Though his creative vision remains intact, his exploration of styles, as opposed to sounds, makes him appear as though he is searching for a style and identity. And his transitions, both internally and between tracks, seem forced at times. His strongest transition appears in "You Were Right." It glues to the tracks surrounding it, creating one strong track with no visible seams. The song is pivotal to the album in that it celebrates life and expresses loyalty and devotion to his love, but also reflects on the deaths of Sinatra, Cobain, Buckley and Lennon, whom Gough cites as influences.
Never content with a single genre or decade, BDB adds a few vintage tracks. "All Possibilities" carries on the theme of deliberate optimism and celebration in a voice from the ’70s. Sounding like it could find a home in an episode of Charlie’s Angels or Mannix, this track adds strings and horns to a funky baseline. It makes you laugh at the surprise and then smile at his choice. "The Further I Slide" takes advantage of a soulful baseline and timely horns to express his love and attraction to his woman’s gaze. One track that reaches further than any other is the strutting "Using Our Feet," which combines ’70s funk with Bowie arrangements to form one of my favorite songs on the album.
On "How?" though, BDB’s new positive outlook seems to falter a bit. This song has a stripped-down acoustic base with string backups and builds to a frenzy with his questions of worth. "How can I give you the answers you need/ When all I possess is a melody?"
Even with the self-doubt, Damon Gough has put together an album with no wasted tracks and a core of creativity. And, even with the shifting styles in the album, BDB is evolving into a force in music. Let it be said: The man in the wool hat may soon become an icon in music.