BADLY DRAWN BOY – Hour Of The Bewilderbeast

It won a prize, don’t you know? But trust me, all you need to know about this years Mercury Prize winner is encapsulated in its title. The album is an hour long. Question is, what came first, the album title or the record? An hour is long for a debut release, for any album, but this is supposedly stocked with eighteen tracks, eighteen goodies. It does not quite count if a fair proportion of these tracks are actually separate recording of the other tracks string arrangements, or extended intro’s. I’m not saying you’re being cheated, I’m saying this is actually an album of ten tracks – some very long – plus some backing music.

That’s the kind of cheeky stuff you would expect of the bobble hatted British Beck (tm the deaf fool who thought it up). Gough is obviously nothing like Beck, the genre’s he is straddling here are pastoral British folk and pop, and he drops the ball more often than not on both counts. If this album sounds like anyone, its Elliot Smith; the string arrangements are lush and the vocals – if lyrically pretty bereft of meaning – are generally plaintive.

Unfortunately the derivation of the word plaintive is plain, and that is what the majority of the tracks on this album are. The arrangements may be like Smith, but the vocals are bog standard sensitive Brit-Rock. The vaunted experimentalism on the record is limited to the odd percussion loop, which is no more than you get on your average Paul McCartney record these days. Indeed the simple technique of phasing between left and right channels which occurs on ‘This Song’ is about the first production effect ever used – from the moment stereo was invented. Underused because it is less unsettling, than annoying. People think that BDB has a dance edge to him because he is on a dance label, XL. I suppose its an easier assumption than just listening to the damn record.

I’ll admit to liking ‘Once Around The Block’ last year. It was a good summery pop record, with a nice acoustic wah-wah guitar and a nice jaunty air. Production wise it stands out a mile from the rest of the album, as does its tune. Most of the other tracks here are dripping with pointless orchestration – none more so than the overblown opener ‘The Shining’: fluglehorn and all. This is followed by an attempt to get all lo-fi and dirty, for which read badly recorded and not well written – on the absurdly titled “Everybodys Stalking”. Indeed the title of that track, and the title of the album as I said, say it all. ‘The Hour Of The Bewilderbeast’ promises us a baffling cornucopia of musical ideas much like a ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here‘ sign tells you that its owner is terribly staid. Instead we get something which sits uncomfortably between Nick Drake and the ballads of Go West. Which merely provokes bewilderment when you wonder what the judges saw in it.