Saturday, October 1, 2005

Records In Review: Badly Drawn Boy--One Plus One Is One

One Plus One Is One is the most recent (2004) album by almost-one-man-band Damon Gough. I (temporarily) rescued a copy from a friend's "to sell" pile. I've only heard bits and pieces by BDB previously. The most obvious influences are from the '70s. Nick Drake certainly comes to mind, and some other folky and arty-folk stuff, albeit filtered through Gough's slackerish musical persona. The sound of the record is fairly organic, as they say: a lot of piano and acoustic guitar, and an extraordinary amount of flute. Pacing is laid back and approaches almost uniformly gentle. The cd is dedicated to several members of the Dearly-Departed Society, so you know that this is supposed to be Serious Stuff.

This is one of those records that never really does enough to keep you interested. Gough's compositional style has a Brian Wilson-like deliberation about it (particularly the piano-based songs) that is energy-sapping, and there is neither enough melodic invention, interesting integration of influences or vibrancy of performance to make up the difference...although there are some pretty arrangements here and there. On the subject of performance, the singing is not a strong suit; Gough's voice has limited functional range and variation, and tends to sit on top of the music as narration. Perhaps others wouldn't find this the distraction that I do, but they're not maintaining this blog, are they?

The bulk of the music is inoffensive and forgettable, despite its overt seriousness, with a few things that stick in the memory longer, for better or for worse. The title track is ripely orchestrated and--I promise I won't ever use this word again--Beatlesque, pleasantly rolling along at "Hey Jude" pace. "Takes The Glory" and "Easy Love" are pretty good, with the latter's flute lines bringing to mind "Cuckoo Cocoon" from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. "Year Of The Rat" is one of the few examples of a sing-along chorus, and it's reinforced with a small choir, which should probably tell you something. I really don't care for "positivity" songs, and I care for them even less when they're coming from Englishmen. If you like imitations of Benefit-era Jethro Tull, albeit without any of the rhythmic intricacy or balls, then you'll love "Summertime In Wintertime." The cowbell tolls for thee, sir! "Another Devil Dies," "Four Leaf Clover" and the instrumental "Stockport" amble by, leaving barely a footprint in the mud.

One Plus One Is One might appeal to people who like their trippy served with a hearty side of earnest. Uncontroversial post-party music, or music to depress dinner-party guests.