Best tunes of 2002: #13 Badly Drawn Boy “Something to talk about”

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In the early spring of 2000, I met up with my old roommate and university friend, Ryan, and we went to see a new John Cusack flick at the Bloor and Yonge cinemas in Toronto. We both came out of the theatre talking excitedly, both us having immensely enjoyed “High fidelity”. Over beers afterwards on some patio or other along Bloor street near the Annex, Ryan told me that he liked it just as much as the book by Nick Hornby, upon which it was based. I hadn’t known about the book and so shortly after that evening, I went out and bought it in trade paperback, promptly devoured it, and put it away on my shelf.

Fast forward about two and a half years, I was then living with my future wife Victoria in a basement apartment in the Vanier neighbourhood of Ottawa, something I never would have fathomed that evening over beers with Ryan. But there I was and given my meagre call centre salary and Victoria’s part-time hours while finishing up her Master’s degree, we were living a frugal existence to say the least. They say that necessity breeds ingenuity. I guess this is how I discovered that the Ottawa public library loaned out DVDs for free and how I managed to watch a lot of films I might not have otherwise seen (like “Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind”, for example).

On one of my many trips to the main branch downtown (where they had the best selection), I picked up a Hugh Grant rom-com called “About a boy”. I’ve always loved Hugh Grant in pretty much everything he’s done, despite the fact that there’s some truth to the critique that he’s always playing the same character with only slight variations. However, his role of Will in “About a boy” seemed to me then (and still does) the role Hugh Grant was born to play and the film was so much more than your normal rom-com fare. I remember sitting afterwards while the credits rolled and absently humming along with the music, not really knowing what hit me, and I noticed that it was based on a book by Nick Hornby. The name seemed vaguely familiar so I crossed the living room to my desktop computer, booted it up, and did a Google search. The connection was made, I ordered the Nick Hornby book from the library, finished it, and ordered another and another, until I had gotten through everything he had thus far written. Hornby has since become one of my favourite authors to read (though for some reason, I still can never remember his name).

The film “About a boy” (properly) introduced me to Nick Hornby but it also introduced me to English singer/songwriter, Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy). On the back of his wildly successful debut released two years beforehand*, the filmmakers asked Gough to score the film and his soundtrack is a mix soundbite-like jingles and fully-formed songs, all with the same laidback groove and hipster cool feel. “Something to talk about” is one of these latter and the second proper single released from the album. It’s got the strut and flow and attitude of the film’s main character. Indeed, you could easily imagine Gough walking down the street behind Will, performing this as his personal theme music, all decked out in knitted hat, shaggy hair, beard, and sunglasses. Subtle and hip and effortless. That is all.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

*I spoke a bit about that debut when “Once around the block”, one of its singles, appeared on my Best tunes of 2000 list.

Best tunes of 2000: #15 Badly Drawn Boy “Once around the block”

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We start this list off at the number fifteen position with “Once around the block”, the first single released off “The hour of the bewilderbeast”, Badly Drawn Boy’s debut long player.

I first caught on to Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy) in 2002, two years after the release of this debut, when I fell hard for the instrumentation that soundtracked the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s “About a boy”. If you’ve never read the book or seen the film, it is about a rich and single 30-something living off the royalties of a song his father wrote, who meets a young boy without a father. They become friends of a sort and in trying to help the boy learn to be cool, the man grows up. The man is portrayed by Hugh Grant, a role he was seemingly born to play, perhaps it wasn’t even much of a stretch, and the music Damon Gough provided for the soundtrack perfectly reflected his character. It was slick and cool (though perhaps not as hip as it thought itself) and meandered seemingly without aim and at its own pace, until it went on to the next thing, no song, or snippet of a song, lasting more than a few minutes.

After playing my way through the soundtrack many times, I went back to explore “The hour of bewilderbeast” and discovered it was very much of the same ilk. Laid back and slacker cool, teasing us knowingly with nods to his influences. It even plays like a soundtrack, cinematic in sound with interludes between the proper tracks. If it sounds accomplished for a debut, it’s likely because he cut his teeth releasing a string of EPs beforehand and with this album he continued the trend he started with those EPs by performing most of the instrumentation himself, though he did enlist the help of Doves members on some tracks. Incidentally, Doves was one of the bands he beat out in winning the prestigious Mercury prize for best album with “The hour of the bewilderbeast” in 2000.

But back to “Once around the block”, a song that was, truth be told, originally released in 1999 but I can get away with including here due to its re-release a year later. It’s a track that has for its backbone some wild wah-wah guitars and a wicked jazz shuffle and Gough throws in his vocals almost incidentally, as if the words he starts with could easily be replaced by the scooby-doo-wah-wah scat singing he moves into later in the song. The song ambles along cyclically, instruments dropping in and out, showcasing each, with no real climax or peak, it’s like a jazz piece in this way, and structured like a leisurely walk around the block. And then, it all just fades away with the vibes being the last voice to peek back as it turns the corner and out of earshot.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.