Still smouldering a decade after by being branded by the Mercury Music Prize’s ill fated stamp of approval, Badly Drawn Boy returns to his roots and his best for his seventh record. It’s What I’m Thinking Part One: Photographing Snowflakes could well be a poignant analogy of his career to date: beautiful creations appreciated fleetingly before dissolving into the abyss, all in the click of a shutter. Because despite an acclaimed back-catalogue, Damon Gough never achieved the success everyone in 2000 expected, with his latterday records disappearing relatively quickly from view.
This isn’t something that has been lost on Gough, either. After the commercial failure of his last record, Born In The UK, which lead to a speedy exit from EMI, Gough - bruised by the industry and mystified by the record’s failure - retreated to the comforts of Chorlton for three years.
Bizarrely, it took Mrs Merton and a story about an overweight Rochdale man with an obsession with Jeremy Kyle to get Gough back in the studio. Caroline Aherne and Jeff Pope approached him to write the music to the TV film, ‘The Fattest Man In Britain’, which produced the soundtrack Is There Nothing We Could Do? and more importantly got Gough back in the studio.
It’s What I’m Thinking Part One is a self-confessed return to basics approach for Gough. The first in a trilogy of albums, he’s once again working with Andy Votel, co-founder of Twisted Nerve, and has released the album on his own One Last Fruit Label.
The ghosting vocals and gently picked chords of opener, ‘In Safe Hands’, couldn’t be any further farther removed from the brash vox and in your face instrumentation of Born In The UK. Its beautiful fragility carries on from Gough’s work on Is There Nothing We Could Do? and instantly takes you back to the laid bare melodies of his debut, somewhere he remains for the rest of the record.
It’s clear from the outset Gough wants to get back to where he started, back to what made him as an artist. It’s evidenced clearly in his reliance primarily on his guitar with occasional piano and string accompaniment; it’s a step back from the faux E-Street Band Americana that he wore like an ill fitting plaid shirt on his previous record.
The ‘Order Of Things’ and ‘You Lied’ continue in the same fractured vein as ‘In Safe Hands’ with Gough’s vocals barely rising over a whisper. A sole programmed beat gets taken gently by hand alongside a wandering picked acoustic guitar on ‘The Order Of Things’, as he sings "the birds in the sky steal my melodies… maybe it’s good once in a while to rearrange these things". ‘You Lied’, despite the accusatory title, has the same pleading harmonies that are briefly lacerated by a shot of reverb.
But, it’s not all acoustic ponderings and muted discontent. ‘Too Many Miracles’ pushes the record out of introversion, erupting with a rousing military beat and soaring strings and a depth of sound and soulful Spector tempo that could, in the right hands, turn it into the commercial track Gough’s been hankering for. The latter part of the record continues the momentum; ‘Electric’, the oldest track on the record (first written 20 years ago!) has Gough pushing his vocals against sweeping strings. The record also includes ‘I Saw You Walk Away’, a track Gough originally penned for Doves and kept back for himself. Rhythmically reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac circa-Rumours, Gough layers tension with fast paced vocal takes and sympathetic strings.
Although, Gough has always said that he finds music instantaneous and the lyrics the hardest part to write, It’s What I’m Thinking showcases Gough at his most insightful to the human condition and himself. On ‘What Tomorrow Brings’ he says, "just when you thought you could never find it, you realise the future is all in your hands"; It’s What I’m Thinking Part One: Photographing Snowflakes marks a new chapter in Badly Drawn Boy’s career that hopefully this time will see him finally weather out that Mercury storm.
8Marie Wood's Score