A Review of Ryan Dombal’s Review of Badly Drawn Boy’s Born in the U.K. 6.8
Is it me, or does the word “penultimate” get misused a lot? I always hear it used to reference the paramount instead of the nearly-best of something. For example, if you were to say that London Calling was the penultimate achievement in the Clash’s catalogue, you’d be lying and I’d have no choice but to shove you ass first down a flight of stairs. Dombal says the following of Born in the U.K.:
”The Time of Times", the penultimate song on Damon Gough's fifth album in six years, recycles the chord progression and guitar melody from "The Shining", the first song on his first album, 2000's justly loved The Hour of Bewilderbeast. The obvious bit of self-reference is a disheartening representation of how much this once-promising Brit has squandered his potential.”
He goes on to lament the lack of progress for Badly Drawn Boy five albums later, lamenting overwrought orchestration and “bumptious piano” (note to self: insert “bumptious” in every conversation). One might wonder how many would complain about the lack innovation if this were the third Badly Drawn Boy album in six years instead of the fifth. Dombal doesn’t seem to hold such productivity suspect, instead fingering a move to a major label and commercial ambition as the culprit responsible for sentimentally retarded songwriting.
If Badly Drawn Boy hasn’t shown much artistic development over six years, I find it hard to believe a label upgrade would spur a radical change in approach. Nah, more likely the canned themes and sentimentality have always lingered in the foreground, only now they’ve become the target of critical backlash. So more to the point, how does an artist create a bulwark (good scrabble word) of past accolades to protect them from an onslaught of changing winds and critical digs? I’m glad I asked.
1) Don’t ever (EVER!) allude to Springsteen. This year, every record sounds like Springsteen (according to Pitchfork). Certainly there are more respectable ways to embark upon a personal quest to become entirely lame.
2) When you’ve reached the apex of your critical trajectory, do a covers record or a release under a different name entirely. Scoff all you want, but while you were scoffing Spencer Krug just started three new bands and Joanna Newsom’s brushing up on her covers of “Bicycle Race” and “Venus as a Boy”.
3) Fake insanity or instability. Critics give artists all kinds of creative license that they would otherwise deny to fully capable and deserving musicians.
4) Attribute ambitious conceptual conceit to your work (but don’t collaborate with your grandmother)
Dombal gets a mouthful of bile from some atrocious lyrics, but the enjoyment I get from listening to shitty love songs is learning what statements of love are considered universal. Isn’t the real reason some of us find a line like “I’ll be by your side, believe me” or “But how will we carry on when all of these things have gone” is that they’re vacuous and devoid of specifics? How is that more romantic than brushing your teeth while your lover takes a shit?
Rather than imply some grandiose interpretation of Born in the U.K., Dombal safely chooses to point to Badly Drawn Boy’s lack of direction. While the bland compositions warrant mention but little illustration, the reference to underwhelming lyrics and exhuasted themes paints the portrait of an artist either a little lost, a little bored or both.