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The Hour of Bewilderbeast

music reviewmusic reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: The Hour of Bewilderbeast

Artist: Badly Drawn Boy
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: October 2000

Review by LarryG
4 stars out of 4

Badly Drawn Boy's The Hour Of Bewilderbeast was one of the best releases of 2000. Bewilderbeast is ambitious and quirky but also consistently enjoyable and melodic for its entire hour. Badly Drawn Boy is often categorized with Travis and Coldplay, bands who have replaced Oasis and Blur at the top of British charts, showing a familiarity with edgier new wave but making tasteful, almost easy listening music. Damon Gough, the man behing Badly Drawn Boy, shares a polite facade and unassuming, self doubting persona with the post-Britpop stars but he makes far more challenging music than his smoother, more popular contemporaries. It's appropriate to compare Gough's work with the best more complicated, slower late era Beatle songs. Another natural comparison is with Elliott Smith. But while both often present themselves as pessimistic and make fairly lo-fi music, Gough's music is more enjoyable and less guarded.

Hour of Bewilderbeast's sound is simple and quiet. It's often little more than Gough's guitar and/or piano. Yet Gough creates interesting and varied sounds. The CD foreshadows its ambition with an elegant cello/french horn introduction. Then on The Shining, Gough modestly sings about "dying to put a little sunshine" in the life of someone who had previously shined for him. Everybody's Stalking, with its edgy mood, psychedelic guitar and heavy bass, could almost be an Alice In Chains unplugged number if not for Gough's unassuming vocals and lines like "I don't want to alienate you, you've got as long as it might take you." As stalkers go, Gough seems polite and respectful. Bewilderbeast has a number of pop gems like Camping Next To Water, which reminds me of great introspective pop rock like the Replacements' Sixteen Blue and Swinging Party. Delicate guitar from Gough and drums from Ian Smith create a poignant mood and also keep the song moving forward as Gough feels sorry for himself: "there's no use in feeling all the things I'm feeling, there's no one here to feel with me." Stone On The Water is an Elliott Smith type thoughtful song that's quiet but gets a good edgy feel from a mix of guitar, keyboards and string effects. Another Pearl, with a solid beat and cocky guitar and keyboard lines, is a tight rocker. Gough does well with fairly basic folk pop. On Pissing In The Wind, one of the songs with help from the good British pop band The Doves, he sounds like Roddy Frame, Aztec Camera's sincere singer/songwriter. The song starts basically with Gough's voice but builds with a joyful piano as Gough's dares to hope of "a love which dangles free, let's watch it swim against the water's flow." Hour of Bewilderbeast has a positive, natural feel. Gough comes across as a nice, innocent young man. He's very sweet, singing along with his piano on Magic In The Air. He celebrates a night of laughs and tears, proclaims that nothing in this life ever seemed so bright and concludes love is alright.

Gough's seems to be a fan of Cat Stevens/Al Stewart/Van Morrison type mellow 70's pop. But one of the pleasures of Hour Of Wilderbeast is that Gough makes each song distinctive, mixing in a range of sounds and pop music styles and working well in each style. Disillusion, with strings, a fuzzy guitar and fun wurlitzer piano, has the breezy feel of 70's disco inflected pop. This Song, with just Gough's voice and acoustic, filtered and reverbed, has the good, low budget feel of a Guided By Voices song. Like Beck, Gough likes to muss up his sound and throws aural collages between some of his songs. But Bewilderbeast isn't about showing off Gough's musical genius. It's mostly just a bunch of good pop songs. The instrumentals only make up a few minutes of the CD. But they fit with the general feel of trying different things and work with the rest of the songs. The CD's title track, with strings, xylophone and handclaps has a beauty and a nice, relaxed flow. The short beat experiment Body Rap easily flows into the sunny Once Around The Block which gets a loose, goofy charm from an undulating guitar effect and doobie-doo-wah backing vocals. With his pleasant, unshowy voice and his searching, spiritual songs, Badly Drawn Boy sounds a little like early George Harrison on Once Around The Block and a few other songs.

Bewilderbeast is filled with very listenable and inventive music. Gough's ability to maintain a high level of quality is very impressive. The Hour of Bewilderbeast's depth and consistency reminds me of Magnetic Fields' acclaimed 69 Love Songs CD but I find the quality of the songs even higher on Bewilderbeast. The Hour Of Bewilderbeast deservedly won the Mercury Prize as Britain's best CD of the year. It's a great record. Throughout the CD, Gough keeps the music interesting and keeps it good.



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