Review Summary: An instant classic, it embodies everything that a truly memorable album should have; passion, complexity, emotion and humor, it's like a new flame that you can't get enough of.
What can be said of an album that not only got the most lukewarm reception so far in Damon Gough’s career but which also saw the man at his most complex and dare I say it, mainstream? Here is a man who has the Mercury Prize winning album ‘Hour Of Bewilderbeast’ to trump but he also has quite a few critical endorsements to follow up on after his well received sophomore effort About A Boy. He delivers brilliantly with a record that introduces to us a much more mature artist, giving us revealing lyrics, touching melodies and more subtlety and layering than you can shake a stick at. Not surprisingly, he re-invented his sound to a degree that alienated many fans.
It starts off with a muffled voice, that of an airhostess, letting us know that we are 'Coming In To Land’. Thus opens the album as it segues startlingly into a marvelous piano led piece, the title track "Have You Fed The Fish?” And so our journey into BDBs most ambitious record begins. Damon Gough has taken a decidedly more electric turn on this album on songs such as the grungey 'Born Again'. As seen on the 'About A Boy' OST there is also much orchestration to boot. Whereas 'Hour Of Bewilderbeast'came laden with acoustic guitar and the odd horns this album pulls no punches with its swooping strings on songs such as All Possibilities. There are great zig-zagging viola sections as BDB sings with a glass-half-full attitude, “All the colours are changing in my eyes / Your hopes are all fading, that will never do”. Ironically the video for this song contains nothing but a busking Badly Drawn Boy and his acoustic guitar outside Waterloo Station yet the song is all cellos, the aforementioned violin and what else have you. There is something inherently old-fashioned about the album thanks to the strings.
Perhaps it’s the way songs like ‘Tickets To What You Need’ have you imagining ballrooms in Blackpool and afternoons at the matinee with their horns and BDB crooning in his soft, self conscious Manchester voice. At the same time we have revealing lines showing us something of the man’s insecurities and emotions while on the stage with lines such as “Now I'm ready to tell you what's wrong with me / I'm feeling the emptiness rise / And I'd trade the whole thing quite gladly / For something of similar size”.
It’s hard to pinpoint where the old BDB stops on this record and where the new Wall-Of-Sound genius emerges in all his Maestro-like grandeur. Of course credit needs to be given to Tom Rothrock , he who produced Elliott Smith at his musically most versatile (XO, Figure 8). His influence is seen greatly on The Further I slide as it coos to you in a manner reminiscent of Smith's 'Lost and Found'.
The high point of this album though comes in the form of ‘How?’ a brilliant piece which starts off lightly, Gough picking gently at his guitar as he almost whispers “What if there is nothing else for us after all this / I don't care, I don't mind, just as long as we find some time”, before swirling and soaring into a lilting yet melancholy middle eighth only to be brought back to the soft verse, picking up momentum and growing in volume with a crescendo of fuzz guitar that explodes into a wonderful chorus, the guitar chopping out a repetitive octave which takes shape around the note changes in the background. All the while Badly Drawn Boy asks his love “How can I give you the answers you need / When all I possess is a melody?”
Of course nothing is perfect and songs like ‘Imaginary Lines’ and ‘Using Our Feet’, although great songs, don’t seem to stand up to the other songs on the album. The latter suffers from a weak verse coupled with an overpowering chorus, leaving the two parts sounding stitched together. These tunes seem like half formed ideas, abandoned in favour of more complete tracks like 'You Were Right', a humorous ode to fame and keeping your feet firmly on the ground. Nonetheless, with a closer like ‘Bedside Story’ you will forgive Badly Drawn Boy for these lesser songs and remember the abundance of gems on the record.