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Badly Drawn Boy

The effortlessness of Damon Gough's romantic pop music gave his first album, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, a special grace that's lacking on his latest effort. With Have You Fed the Fish?, Gough (known and loved as Badly Drawn Boy) continues to flirt with different musical styles, but Bewilderbeast's charm and panache have given way to a series of professional songs that is always tuneful but not always inspiring.

On his About a Boy soundtrack from earlier this year, Gough erased any doubts that he was a one-album wonder. But whereas Bewilderbeast delivered a personal, enigmatic statement from an ordinary bloke with Beatles and Bruce fixations, Fish is the story of that guy all grown up, enjoying a bit of notoriety, dealing with marriage and fatherhood, squaring off with contentment. In the process, Gough is up against one of our most stringent music maxims: First albums benefit from the cumulative experience of your entire life up to that point, while your follow-up is limited by the short amount of time you've lived since the initial success.

Blame it on that problem if you must, but it's another inescapable truth that, tune for tune, the new record substitutes pure melodic simplicity for a slick, full-band sound. Producer Tom Rothrock opens up these songs, but it's not always for the benefit of Gough's confessional spirit. With all the extra strings, background vocalists, and horn sections, Fish feels labored -- the album is all about the amount of effort that was invested into it.

This new approach gives these songs a deceptive big-heartedness. "Have You Fed the Fish?" and "You Were Right" are meant to enclose you in their rapturous lushness, but, on repeated listenings, the tracks prove to be too cluttered. Gough's talent for compact songwriting remains, but Fish's ersatz film-score scope overwhelms his delicate approach. Is he trying to outdo Bewilderbeast by overdoing it?

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Tim Grierson
Contact: Tim Grierson

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