Album: Badly Drawn Boy

Have You Fed The Fish?, XL

Friday 01 November 2002 01:00

Continuing the association with the producer Tom Rothrock that proved so successful in focusing Badly Drawn Boy's wayward talents on this year's About a Boy soundtrack, "Have You Fed the Fish?" seems just as much about a boy, illuminated from within by the birth of Damon Gough's second child Oscar, whose arrival interrupted the recording sessions. Besides the lullaby "Bedside Story", veiled references abound elsewhere to the rejuvenating effect the event has had on his spirit: "You gotta chill out, find a reason for your soul again, and judge the miracle by feel, not size," he advises in "Born Again", while "All Possibilities" contains the admonishment, "You're seeing the world through cynical eyes/ I'm seeing it through the eyes of someone new". Not that you'd notice it from his manner, however: as with Rothrock's other folk-rock charges Beck and Elliott Smith, there's little indication of a song's emotional topography from Gough's bland, uniform delivery, which smoothes out any extremities of joy or sadness to leave one guessing as to his mood. Perhaps that's the key to his appeal, the resulting sense of numbed understatement offering a much-needed counterbalance to the bogus passions so gracelessly wielded elsewhere in the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, a similar blandness also attends the backings, which for the most part feature BDB's mid-tempo acoustic strummings and modest piano parts swollen by strings and horns, with too little differentiation between tracks. Such, I suppose, are the homogenising procedures required in becoming an international brand.

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