CD Review of Born in the UK by Badly Drawn Boy

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Born in the UK
starstarstarstarno star Label: Astralwerks
Released: 2006
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Baroque popster Damon Gough, a.k.a. Badly Drawn Boy, is one of the more maddening songwriters you’ll find on the scene. It’s clear that he could piss genius if he just put his mind to it, but more often than not, he gets distracted, like a cat when it sees something shiny. Before you know it, he’s made yet another underwhelming record, and you’re back to listening to your Elliott Smith records again.

On paper, this trend looks to continue, which is why the whole rating system needs to be reevaluated. The press, so far, is not being particularly kind to Badly Drawn Boy’s new one, Born in the UK. “Entertainment Weekly” gave it a C+, and the almighty Allmusic gave it a mere three stars, which is a lesser rating than they gave Have You Fed the Fish, which bored this writer to tears. But to these ears, Born in the UK is easily the best thing Gough’s done since About a Boy in 2002. It appears that the music press is holding Gough to a standard that he can’t possibly meet. Had some unknown whippersnapper with no expectations made this record, well, the accolades would fill the Grand Canyon.

Okay sure, opening your title track with the first few notes of “Pomp and Circumstance,” is more than a little cloying, but the rest of the song carries a strong Springsteen vibe, naturally (the album’s title is not a coincidence), filled with references to Johns both Lennon and Lydon. But before you start to think this is BDB’s version of Parklife, with the Union Jack boldly flying, please witness “Welcome to the Overground” sounds like something from either “Rent” or “Godspell,” I’m not quite sure which (either way, it’s good). From there, we get a lot of love-gone-wrong songs, ranging from remorseful (“Nothing’s Gonna Change Your Mind”) to bittersweet (“The Last Dance,” which contains another Springsteen reference). The album’s a tad too maudlin, yes, but you could make that argument about any of his records.

Perhaps it’s time to ease up on Gough a little bit. Yes, he’s half-assed some records before this one, but for crying out loud, throw the guy a bone when he’s earned one. It’s as if Gough is Tantalus, and the press’ expectations of him are the grapes. Or worse, Gough is Charlie Brown, and the press is Lucy. Either way, Gough has earned both his wine and a shot at the game-winning field goal with Born in the UK.

~David Medsker