Hugh Grant movie brings out best in Damon Gough...
Beauty lurks in the strangest places. All stereotypes being equal, a film
that’s based on a book by Nick Hornby and stars Hugh Grant shouldn’t
really generate anything more than the strange desire to stencil your
kitchen walls and make a goats-cheese salad. Hornby’s tale of mid-life
crises, teen misery and relationship trauma is, in it’s own way, a
design classic: the perfect bookshelf compliment to Tony Parsons’ burst
of mawkishness and the omnipresent ‘White Teeth’. Yet instead of
evoking a world of stripped pine and scattered wooden toys – middle-aged,
middle-class and middle-brow – this combination has inspired Badly Drawn Boy
to generate something truly lovely.
Specially commissioned soundtracks are curious things at the
best of times – if they’re done carelessly, the built-in narrative
squashes any possibility, any spontaneity out of the music. Let’s
face it, if this record’s primary effect was to conjure up the face
of Hugh Grant every time you played it, Badly Drawn Boy‘s career
would be in grave trouble.
Though the 16 pieces of music gathered here might not represent
an official follow-up to ‘The Hour Of Bewilderbeast’ – that’s promised
later in the year – the core songs that rise out of the necessary
instrumentals, themes and reiterations easily match ‘Pissing In the Wind’
or ‘Camping Next To Water’.
If these songs have a life of their own, however, it’s not a
particularly cheery life: Gough, with the telling assistance of
Elliott Smith producer Tom Rothrock, has taken the adjectives ‘melancholy’
and ‘bittersweet’ and ruined them for any other band. At its best, it wears
its misery with a casual wryness, breezy instrumentation blowing away the
sad cobwebs. With the silvered ‘River Sea Ocean’ and ‘File Me Away’,
Gough approximates the pristine ’60s flightiness of Francis Lai’s
soundtrack to Un Homme Et Une Femme, a Francophile sophistication
redolent of Citroens and raincoats and effortlessly cool smoking.
The opening ‘A Peak You Reach’ is atypically jaunty, pitching into itchy
scatting; ‘Above You, Below Me’ hits an orchestral drama;
‘Something To Talk About’ shares a hat with Elliott Smith,
while luminous single ‘Silent Sigh’ reaches for ‘The Whole Of The Moon’,
breathy, Lennon-like vocals and a superbly subtle orchestration.
It’s eminently listenable yet deceptively gentle: underneath it all,
Gough leaves you in no doubt that the middle ground is not his friend.
Ambition, imagination, charm and grace – by any measure, ‘About A Boy’
hits the heights.