Damon Gough's career thus far suggests he struggles for compatibility with producers: after his early Twisted Nerve liaison with Andy Votel, he acquired a sleeker sound working with folk-rock specialist Tom Rothrock, before rejoining Votel for 2004's stodgy One Plus One is One. Having left XL Records for EMI, Gough worked with indie-pop production king Stephen Street, before abandoning an album's worth of material that wasn't igniting.
Salvation appeared last December in the shape of Nick Franglen, one half of Lemon Jelly. Working with a compact band, and employingjust piano and guitar with occasional synth-strings or Bacharachian horns, the result is the best Badly Drawn Boy album since the last century, open and honest reflections on identity and family that hang together in a casually conceptual manner that avoids the pretensions of concept albums. Gough's own immediate situation is confronted in "Welcome to the Overground", surely a commentary on his major-label status, which he justifies by his determination to "think of what's in front of you now, not of what's been left behind". Easy enough in principle, but not in practice, as the rest of the album demonstrates.
Following the brief "Intro", in which Gough frets about how unsure he is of who he is, the album is effectively bookended by a pair of Springsteen references: "Born in the UK" confronts the singer's worries through childhood reminiscences, happy recollections of the Silver Jubilee celebrationssoon tempered by the disillusion of the benighted, Thatcherite Eighties. "Then you see the Union Jack and it means nothing," he notes sadly, "but somehow you know that you will find your own way." A dozen or so tracks later, during which he has ruminated upon love, ambition, and his place in the world, he finds solace in the simple verities that sustain him: "You're my woman, I'm your man/And if we still don't have a plan/We'll listen to 'Thunder Road'."
It's ironic that such an iconic American influence should be the primary touchstone for such an avowedly English artist. The difference lies in the self-reflective nature of Gough's work, which finds him both fascinated and repelled by the past, in songs such as "Degrees of Separation" and "The Way Things Used to Be", respectively. In the former, photos taken by his parents when he was young prompt reflections on the generation gap and the chains of family, while the latter dispenses with the burden of expectations furnished by memories. As he observes in "Long Way Round", "life's carousel keeps turning" whether you want it to or not.
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