It’s a little surprising at first to hear that Damon Gough regards Bruce Springsteen as his personal hero. The Hour Of Bewilderbeast, the debut LP from Gough aka Badly Drawn Boy is – on a superficial level – an assorted set of lo-fi, quirky pop songs, without a trace of the anthemic power rock that The Boss is best known for. But upon closer inspection, the songs are bound together by pure emotionality, getting down to essence of what it is to be human. And if you look at Springsteen beyond “Born in the U.S.A.,” so does he.
The Manchester-based singer-songwriter emerged from a scene dominated by airy britpop and electronica, but he prides himself on holding true to his musical convictions as opposed to going along with the mainstream.
“I didn’t write [the album] to fit in with what’s going on,” he says. “I just wanted it to be considered a classic piece of work.”
After a few self-released EPs in the late ’90s, Gough first grabbed widespread attention via a vocal spot on DJ Shadow and James Lavelle’s UNKLE project in 1998 (the savage “Nursery Rhyme”). He was subsequently signed to Prodigy’s XL label, but when Bewilderbeast was released last summer, it proved to be about as far from UNKLE and Prodigy as one could get.
In truth, the album is a hodge-podge set. Like Elliot Smith, Beck, Moby or any other act where a lone wunderkind writes all the songs and plays most of the instruments, Badly Drawn Boy presents a rich, multiform gathering of sounds.
“Once Around The Block” is a whimsical doo-da-doo ditty, while the plaintive “This Song” could be a Byrds ballad. “The Shining” boasts an ethereal cornet-and-French-horn fugue, and “Disillusion” shuffles with a ripping funk guitar line. “Pissing in the Wind” is a toe-tapping burlesque number with slide-guitar twang. “Bewilderbeast” is a cheery instrumental cut with a xylophone, hip-hop beat and handclap breakdown.
The album is 18 tracks, and no two really sound alike. On top of that, each song evokes its own emotion via a distinctive sound and heartfelt lyrics, whether they touch on sadness, nostalgia, or outright joy. Though eccentric at times, Bewilderbeast is truly an album that makes you feel.
Gough in concert is even more of a sincere, connectable experience. Past sets have been worked into three-hour epics in which he spends half of his time performing and half of his time improvising ways to be at one with the audience.
“I like to present a show as though it is exclusively for that audience for that particular night,” Gough says. “I like the idea of interacting and involving people, and I’m prepared to show myself up in the process.”
But as much as he loves his crowd, if you plan on attending his upcoming show, it’s advisable not to get on his bad side. Reportedly, a fan jumped onstage during a recent show’s Springsteen medley, yelling “Bruce Sucks!” into the microphone. Gough didn’t hesitate to boot the foolish fella back onto the floor.
Badly Drawn Boy. Wednesday, May 3. 8 p.m. TLA, 334 South St. $13.50.