Album Review

Badly Drawn Boy "It's What I'mThinking: Photographing Snowflakes

Marty Connors
Badly Drawn Boy's first album, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, won him the Mercury Prize, and for good reason. The album bursts with spontaneity, jumping from one musical influence to another, each song containing either a quiet beauty or scrappy energy. Badly Drawn Boy (a.k.a. Damon Gough) had crafted a brilliant debut, and followed it with the soundtrack album About A Boy. While more thematically and melodically consistent than The Hour of Bewilderbeast, but lacking that album's variety, About A Boy is enjoyable it it's own right. However, Gough's subsequent albums, including Have You Fed the Fish and One Plus One Is One, have been overproduced, glutenous disappointments. So much so, in fact, that each new Badly Drawn Boy release eventually let to my overall indifference to any new output from him (there's at least two more Badly Drawn Boy albums that I've never bothered to listen to). So it was with some trepidation that I pressed play and began listening to Badly Drawn Boy's new album It's What I'm Thinking: Photographing Snowflakes.

And it's good news, sort of. It's What I'm Thinking... is a far better album than anything Gough has done since About A Boy. However, based on how I feel about everything that came after that album, that's not really saying much either. It's What I'm Thinking... is the first in a proposed trilogy of albums. While it never comes anywhere near the brilliance of The Hour of Bewilderbeast, there's at least a hope that Badly Drawn Boy has room to build on what he's done here and make the next two albums better, perhaps reaching a little closer to his debut album's output. The songs here are more subdued and less bloated than on previous albums, and it serves well. Album opener “In Safe Hands” is a quiet acoustic strummed plea, Gough's vocals filtered and echoing through deep bass drum beats and subtle electronic touches. It's a strong opener, and one of the best songs on the album.

However, after “In Safe Hands,” it soon becomes clear what this album's biggest flaw is. The tone of this album is oppressively despairing. And while Badly Drawn Boy was not necessarily peppy in the past, at least the music could be. Where Bewilderbeast had it's “Body Rap,” “Once Around the Block,” and “Disillusion,” It's What I'm Thinking... is severely lacking in any kind of similar energy. “Too Many Miracles” and “This Electric” try, but can't shake the general lethargy. Without that ability to hop genres and styles, this album mostly just sounds like one big extended mope-fest.

But, at least it's a foundation. If Badly Drawn Boy does finish his trilogy, and can build on the relatively stripped down style he has on display here and not give in to the overstuffed production of past releases, there may be some good things down the road. There may be a little hope in all this despair after all.