ALBUM REVIEW: Badly Drawn Boy – Banana Skin Shoes

6/10

Badly Drawn Boy

It’s been twenty years since Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy, exploded onto the “Indie” music scene with his debut album The Hour Of The Bewilderbeast. In the late ’90s, Gough released various EPs, steadily growing a fan base and developing his own “Indie Folk” sound, culminating in 1999 with the Once Around The Block EP. It’s the Mercury Music Prize-winning “Bewilderbeast” album that established the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, as a critically acclaimed artist.

In 2002 Gough scored the film adaptation of the Nick Hornby book “About A Boy.” The soundtrack, was again, critically acclaimed and gave Gough success in the Singles Charts with the whimsical “Silent Sigh,” and the delightful “Something To Talk About.” In 2002 Gough released his second album Have You Fed The Fish?  The album moved slightly away from the “Indie Folk” sound towards an alternative pop-rock sound. The album spawned three singles, the wickedly catchy “All Possibilities,” a playful song on the nature of Gough’s minor fame. ”Born Again” and “You Were Right” which, to date, have given Badly Drawn Boy his highest chart entry and, only top ten single. Two years later Gough returned with the decidedly mediocre album One Plus One.

In the Autumn of 2006 Born In The UK Badly Drawn Boy’s fifth album and first for the EMI label, was released. The album title is a reference to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA.” Damon Gough has stated the influence and love he has for “The Boss.” The concept behind Born In The UK was to try and capture something about being British. It’s debatable whether Gough achieved his goal. The delicate ballad “Promises” and the lead single “Nothings Going To Change Your Mind” are stand out tracks but much of the album missed the mark.

In 2009 the criminally overlooked soundtrack album Is There Nothing We Could Do? was released. The album includes music inspired by and composed for the film “The Fattest Man In Britain.” A wonderful layered score that gently commands your attention. Gough’s seventh album, Its What I’m Thinking, Part 1 – Photographing Snowflakes was released on the One Last Fruit label. An album full of witty, well-conceived lyrics with catchy hooks. A comfy return to the Gough “Indie Folk-Rock” sound. Finally, in 2012, Gough’s third film score, Being Flynn was released on the ever-reliable Lakeshore Records. Then nothing for 8 long years.

It’s 2020, ten years since a Badly Drawn Boy album and eight years since the last Damon Gough release. All the above music (with the exception of the “Being Flynn” score) were recorded in the late nineties and noughties. Ten years isn’t the longest hiatus, but for an artist who released so much in such a short period of time, it does feel like a world away.

Banana Skin Shoes is Badly Drawn Boy’s eagerly awaited return. It’s released on AWAL Records and contains 14 songs and was chiefly produced and mixed by Gethin Pearson. The album opens with the title track “Banana Skin Shoes.” Instantly it’s evident that Gough has moved his sound on. “Banana Skin Shoes” is a funky, groovy, radio-friendly pop song, glancing back to the ’80s and ’90s but sounding remarkably current and relevant. Lyrically the song is rammed full of popular throwaway references, like “Super Size Your Soul” and “Turn Life Up To Eleven.” The more cynical reviewer would argue it’s a comeback song with an eye on radio playlists. I would argue it’s a pop song that deserves to be on radio playlists.

We enter a more familiar-sounding territory with “Is This A Dream?” A political pop song, sung with Gough’s trademark style and phrasing with smart and witty lyrics. For example; “I’m Running Out Of Caviar. Had To Sell A Super Car!” Over the last ten years, there has been a lot of emotional water under Gough’s bridge. As an artist who has always worn his lyrical heart on his sleeve, Gough obviously doesn’t shy away from the emotional material. Sadly this includes the breakdown of his long term relationship. Unquestionably Gough is a very talented songwriter however on some of the relationship songs the emotions get the better of Gough. At times the lyrics drift dangerously towards sentiments found in “Forever Friends” greetings cards and frankly are a touch cheesy.

Elsewhere on Banana Skin Shoes, there’s a homage to the city of Manchester and one of its more colourful characters. The legendary TV presenter, club owner and Factory Records boss Tony Wilson. “Tony Wilson Said” is an upbeat, jaunty, stomping pop tune with Gough lovingly rounding up some of Tony’s story and catchphrases: “Shout Out To The City. Like Tony Wilson Said. Wrong Number Chicago and New York. Dial Manchester Instead.” The range of musical styles blended together on Banana Skin Shoes is to be applauded. For example on “Note To Self” we find gentle Latin rhythms over which Gough plays a hypnotic picked guitar loop and on “Never Change” Gough and Pearson create a piano ballad and wash it, in lush, warm strings.

There’s an awful lot to enjoy in Damon Gough’s return. Certainly, long term fan’s will be delighted with some new material. Hopefully, he is back for good and might consider making a few more film scores and soundtracks. A genre that Gough has really excelled in and that also doesn’t require quite so many lyrics.

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