On ‘I’ll do my Best’, the last song of Damon Gough aka Badly Drawn Boy’s new album ‘Banana Skin Shoes’, he sings “It’s hard for me to say it but I’m ready to confess/I’ve known for a while now that I haven’t been my best.” Whether that’s just within the confines of a song, or Gough commenting on his life – one that’s been beset recently with alcohol problems and a split with the mother of his two children, or his artistic output – 2000’s album The Hour of the Bewilderbeast was a blueprint for wonky, lo-fi indie pop, an absolute masterpiece from start to finish, but with the exception of follow up – the soundtrack to About a Boy, the critical reaction has waned somewhat, and since 2010’s It’s what I’m Thinking…. there has been nothing.
That’s not to say he’d become a bad songwriter. Maybe the brilliance of those early albums weighed heavy, or maybe demons hampered him. More likely, critics moved onto something else, and his sharply observed, inventively arranged sojourns through pop music just never demanded the attention of the press, and maybe the public. All of his albums are littered with moments that most songwriters would kill for.
The good news is that Banana Skin Shoes feels like a new beginning. Like an artist reborn, and moreover, full of optimism. Through the fourteen songs, there are moments of melancholy, of regret and even heartbreak. But mostly, this sounds (and the lyrics back it up) like a man who accepts his mistakes, but is looking forward with a positive attitude.
The result is a return to form. There’s still those instantly lovable melodies – Fly on the Wall is delicious, wrapped in strings and organ, and with a good dose of soul added for good measure, while Tony Wilson Said (not the only mention of Manchester in the record) is like a modern fable of the Factory Records supremo, wrapped up in this bubbling pop sheen that he could well have been very taken with.
There’s moments to savour throughout the record – the reflective, piano led Funny Time of Year harks back to the indie folk of Bewilderbeast, while Never Change shows his can still pull a ballad out of the bag when needed. You and me against the world isn’t the only shuffling almost Beck like track on the album, but it certainly sticks in the mind.
Best of all are the perfect pop of recent single Is this a dream? and the funk filled I’m not sure what it is, which both demonstrate Badly Drawn Boys greatest assets. That is Damon Gough can write the sort of tunes that haVe you whistling it for days after, and are both full of the kind of wordplay you wish you could draw on in those critical social situations, but never can.
A rejuvenated Badly Drawn Boy is something many hoped for. Thankfully despite ten years away, he’s produced an affecting and often delightful record that makes you move and think and smile and, at the drop of the hat, well up. That is the power Damon Gough has when he’s in this mood. Just don’t leave it ten years next time.
Banana Skin Shoes is out now on One Last Fruit Records.