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Three-Ring Circus (Manchester-Style)

Badly Drawn Boy

Badly Drawn Boy - Have You Fed The Fish?
(XL Recordings / ARTISTdirect Records)
2 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 4, 2002

Review by Tony Bonyata

Despite having one of the best band names in rock today, Badly Drawn Boy's (aka Damon Gough) third full-length release Have You Fed The Fish? just tries too hard for it's own good.
With a decidely less folksy spin on his music than previously before, Manchester, England native Gough has now brought together his quirky English sensibiliies and knack for crafting cute, catchy little ditties, and smothered them in a package that's slickly bloated in its production, while the wooly-capped, patchy-bearded bandleader stands in the middle of the eccentric orchestration choreographing Brit-pop, thespian tendencies, bow-legged melodies, torch sonnets and even a touch of vaudeville into his three-ring circus.
Have You Fed The Fish? opens with the swelling Zappa-meets-Bob Fosse instrumental "Coming Into Land" before segueing into the heavy-handed pop pretensions of the title track. While Gough dips his toes into many different musical pools, such as soul ("Using Our Feet" and "All Possibities," which evens opens with a '70s blaxploitation string section), punchy pop ("Born Again") and wind-up McCartney-esque minstrel show tunes ("Tickets To What You Need"), the album seems to click when Gough does what he knows best on songs such as "What Is It Now?," "40 Days. 40 Fights." and "You Were Right" with bouncy melodies, dorky, yet fun-loving rhythms and a dry tongue-in-cheek wit.
They say that everything is cyclical. But instead of drawing from recent Swedish and Detroit rock revivalists, Badly Drawn Boy instead sticks to his English guns with a brand of music that seems to best fit into the second wave of British popsters, such as Blur, Pulp and Oasis from some ten years ago.
Maybe he just wants to be first in line when it hits again.

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