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Badly Drawn Boy - Banana Skin Shoes (Album Review)

Tuesday, 26 May 2020 Written by Graeme Marsh

The return of any successful artist following a lengthy hiatus is likely to cause a spike in interest. But when it’s a previous Mercury Prize winner, then it’s guaranteed. It’s been eight years since Badly Drawn Boy’s ‘Being Flynn’ soundtrack was released and a full decade since Damon Gough’s last studio album proper, ‘It’s What I’m Thinking Pt 1 – Photographing Snowflakes’. So where’s he been, exactly?

Well, it’s been a topsy-turvy few years. Gough, who lives with Crohn’s disease and diabetes, quit drinking, ended a long term relationship, found new love, and spent time enjoying fatherhood. It’s perhaps not unusual to have been out of the limelight for so long under such circumstances.

What is unusual, though, is capturing both ends of that spectrum in one place. Rather than solely pouring his heart out at the demise of one relationship or waxing lyrical about more recent fortunes, he’s managed to tackle these emotional states side by side on ‘Banana Skin Shoes’, which is a reference to Gough “falling down and getting back up again” over the past decade or so.

As unlikely as it may seem, it really works. Veering from upbeat numbers like the funky, brass-infused title track, where he’s telling himself it’s “time you kicked the habit”, to soppy tales like the string-laden Never Change, we begin to experience the full extent of what’s happened to Gough. And it makes for compelling listening.

I Just Wanna Wish You Happiness looks back at his former relationship through melancholic glasses as he warns “be careful what you wish for”. Conversely, we’re then hit with the calypso beat of You And Me Against The World, where the optimism of a new relationship comes in.

Having whittled 14 tracks from a much bigger collection of new tunes, Gough’s biggest strength remains the way he hits on addictive melodies almost at will. The excellent Is This A Dream? has echoes of New Order’s Shellshock (“heart stops beating”) and another loose connection to Manchester also pops up through the Electronic-style Fly On The Wall. Going the whole Manc hog is Tony Wilson Said–a play on Van Morrison/Dexys Midnight Runners’ Jackie Wilson Said–that pays bouncy homage to the late Factory Records guru.

‘Banana Skin Shoes’ is a great record. From the piano-led Funny Time Of The Year to the Lightning Seeds-esque country-tinged closer I’ll Do My Best, which captures Gough’s melodic abilities nicely, there’s a lot to love. If it is as successful as it deserves to be, maybe there’s a chance we’ll get to hear the other 15 or so tracks that didn’t make the cut. Not in 10 years’ time though, hopefully.

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