It’s been a full decade since English indie rock/folk songsmith Damon Michael Gough—i.e. Badly Drawn Boy—released his last album, It’s What I’m Thinking Pt.1 – Photographing Snowflakes. (Well, he did the soundtrack to Paul Weitz’s 2012 film, Being Flynn, if you want to count that.) Typically, the longer an artist waits to put out their latest collection, the more eagerness fans feel until they finally receive it. Thus, his official studio follow-up, Banana Skin Shoes, arrives with hefty expectations, and fortunately—although not surprisingly—it exceeds every one of them. In contrast to his relatively low-key and contemplative last record, Banana Skin Shoes is significantly luscious and commemorative, infusing plenty of adventurous genre-shifts and quirky instrumentation into his refreshingly unique songwriting. It’s as gracefully pensive as it is joyously festive, proving that Gough has only grown as an artist during his ten-year absence.
Part of the reason for the LP’s eclectic nature is that different people produced the songs, so the idiosyncratic inputs of Gethin Pearson, Seadna McPhail, Keir Stewart, and Youth help make for a surprisingly varied collection. As for its inspirations and meditations, Banana Skin Shoes finds Gough paying homage to Bruce Springsteen and Chicago (the band), reflecting on his shortcomings, and tackling the number one most common topic in all creative endeavors: ill-fated love. Even at its most maudlin, though, the record pleases with its vibrant textures and blissfully earnest humility.
Before taking us into the depths of his soul, Gough delights with the explosively sleek, colorful, and fun opening title track. In a way, it’s like mixing the pop-rock flamboyance of Beck, Gorillaz, and Super Furry Animals with the jazzy hip-hop vibe of P.M. Dawn, Digital Planets, and, well, Gorillaz again. Childlike voices, cartoonish sound effects, and jovial horns bounce around hip beats and bass lines, all the while supporting very catchy vocals. It’s immaculately constructed and endearingly DIY, yielding the euphoric relief we all need these days.
Later, “Tony Wilson Said” offers a similar approach, but with far more subtly and serenity. Meanwhile, “I Need Someone to Trust” is a glittery and orchestral ballad that instantly captures your heart. Afterward, “Colours” presents a wonderful slice of lively synthpop that contrasts well with the quasi 1970s disco lounge singer vibe of “Fly on the Wall”. The penultimate “Appletree Boulevard” is absolutely dreamy and soothing, too.
Elsewhere, the album dives into more introspective and sobering waters. “Is This a Dream?” is urgent, sparkling, and instantly touching. Likewise, “I’m Not Sure What It Is”—which uses jazz trademarks to confront existential quandaries—is rhythmically hypnotic and quite compelling, with enormous contrast between the reflective verses and vivaciously encouraging chorus. The soft-spoken “I Just Wanna Wish You Happiness” shimmers with hope and catharsis, whereas “Note to Self” is heavenly, faint, and arrestingly confessional. Despite its marginally on-the-nose and amateurish lyrics, “Never Change” is a gorgeous piano ballad with wisely scarce symphonic touches. Then, closer “I’ll Do My Best” is a slightly tropical outro that leaves you feeling elevated and consoled.
Banana Skin Shoes is a lovely return from one of the most charismatic and reliable singer/songwriters of his generation. Its foundational sentiments and structures are as memorable and smooth as they are relatable and frank, bouncing between uplifting excess and striking candidness without ever losing its playfully multifaceted and imaginative connective tissue. There’s as much personal hardship here as there is outgoing celebration, so it winds up an all-inclusive showpiece for what makes Badly Drawn Boy so good.