Back in 2002, I saw Badly Drawn Boy perform a free acoustic show at Amoeba in Hollywood, where he previewed tracks from Have You Fed the Fish? in addition to throwing in a few silly covers, one of them being “Born in the U.S.A.”, a track that he joked about having written. His admiration for Springsteen has always been worn visibly on his sleeve, so it only makes perfect sense that he title his latest record in homage to the Boss. That said, those who have listened to enough Badly Drawn Boy know that he doesn’t actually sound much like Bruce and the E Street Band. Rather he sounds like Badly Drawn Boy, the scruffy Englishman with humble pop songs executed through rather grand gestures, and Born in the U.K. is no exception.
The funny thing about Badly Drawn Boy is that the album that won him so much acclaim in the first place, the fuzzy Hour of Bewilderbeast, is the one that’s become the least characteristic overall. Since then, Have You Fed the Fish? and One Plus One Is One have shown Damon Gough to be a songwriter with bigger aspirations, with lots of piano balladry, string accompaniment and sincere, emotional deliveries that, while bigger in budget, still go for the nice guy charm. This isn’t a problem, so much, as Gough still can bang out a fantastic track when he feels like it, and Born in the U.K. displays that quite well.
Now, it must be said, Born in the U.K. is far from a perfect album. Occasionally the schmaltz gets to be too much, as on “Nothing’s Gonna Change Your Mind,” and while the emotional ballads can be nice enough, uptempo songs are few and far between on this set, yet they seem to be the most enjoyable ones here. All negativity aside, Born in the U.K. is still pretty good, and BDB fans should have no problem sinking their teeth into this one. The title track is a fun, albeit brief rocker that at first recalls Blur’s “Charmless Man.” “Degrees of Separation” packs on just enough big production sounds to beef up his songwriting, yet manage not to overshadow his quirky charms. And “Journey from A to B” is delightful blue-eyed soul with a lot of heart, something that Gough has plenty of to spare.
It may be a lost cause to hope for a song like “Once Around the Block” or “The Shining” again, and maybe that’s okay. Damon Gough still has a knack for writing a snappy song, as evident on Born in the U.K. Still, it’s hard not to long for those days of yore, when he was still a bright eyed, wool capped youngster writing bedroom symphonies and searching for another pearl.
Sondre Lerche – Two Way Monologue
Mull Historical Society – Loss
The Sleepy Jackson – Lovers
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.