In a scene in Nick Hornby’s About a Boy, thirty-something bachelor Will suddenly becomes nervous at the sight of his young friend Marcus and his mother Fiona passionately singing "Killing Me Softly" with their eyes closed. Socially inept witnesses aside, Damon Gough — a.k.a. Badly Drawn Boy — sounds as though he writes and plays in the same manner. It’s not just that he possesses great passion, but he appears to sing with a level of care-free, head-in-the-clouds loftiness that comes through only when your eyes are closed and the world is tuned out.
It’s only convenient that Gough complement the film version of Hornby’s book with a criticized but nevertheless beautiful soundtrack. His follow-up to that soundtrack, 2002’s Have You Fed the Fish?, was likewise criticized for its inconsistency and experimentation in light rock. But with One Plus One Is One, Gough’s musical alter-ego not only returns to the more minimalist sound on About a Boy, but also has used such regression as an improvement from his last album. Whereas Fish? experimented with retro-’70s arrangements and electric guitars, One Plus One sees Gough returning to the sound that set him apart in the first place.
Elliott Smith and John Lennon-specific Beatles influences are apparent; not surprising, considering Smith was also heavily influenced by the Beatles. Smith, in fact, is one of four people Gough dedicates the album to, along with fellow Brit Joe Strummer, a friend who passed away during the making of this album, and his grandfather, who "This is That New Song" appears to be written to.
One Plus One lacks the potential to be as perfect as 2000’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast, which features a variety of indulgent acoustic hums and sweetly innocent ballads. But this album is very much in the style of a 1970s folk record that will undoubtedly hold up. Some tracks, however, recall songs that aren’t typically tossed in the "influential song" department; "The Blossoms" has a hook that recalls the organ riff in the Stranglers’s "Golden Brown," and Fiona Apple’s "Limp" is not unlike the tangential jamming of "Summertime in Wintertime."
The first single, "The Year of the Rat," attempts to be the "memorable anthem," but is actually the album’s weakest track. A more appropriate song to set the feel-good tone of the record would’ve been "Four Leaf Clover," which left me with a feeling of unfathomable optimism without leaving a guilty residue reeking of cheesiness: "The universe will help you now/ To find a place you can breathe … I’ll let you borrow my four-leaf clover/ Come on/ Take it with you, you can pass it on." It’s pure heaven.
One Plus One is a beautiful record in a classic sense. More polished but not overproduced, Damon Gough has proven that he is a consistent songwriter not afraid to display his many talents, be it in the variety of instruments he plays or the tempo at which he plays. He’s not quite the next John Lennon, but the Manchester native is certainly capable of consistent quality. If he can keep up the streak he has continued for more than four years, his career just might be as lasting as his hat is notorious.