May 2, 2002

Let's Hear It For The Boy

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The best soundtracks have us rushing to the music store after the movie. Or, if we hear the music first, we go into the theater already with vivid mental pictures of what we’re about to see, and if the composer was spectacular, these images may even be accurate. Simon & Garfunkle pulled this off with The Graduate and Elliot Smith touched on it when he lent “Miss Misery” to Good Will Hunting’s haunting score. And now we can add Badly Drawn Boy’s musical interpretation of Nick Hornby’s novel About A Boy to the list. It’s only fitting that the High Fidelity author and the Mercury Prize winning, Gap ad darling should team up. Fidelity did, after all, take place in an indie record shop, and Hornby inadvertently gave The Beta Band a huge boost with a well-placed tune of theirs.

The film’s score was composed and performed by Damon Gough, the man behind the Boy. And writing for a movie seems to have its benefits. About A Boy is far more focused than Gough’s exceptional debut, The Hour of Bewilderbeast. Taking cues from Simon and Smith, he somehow created the perfect auditory counterpart to the film’s visual world. Gough has succeeded in writing music that sounds as though Hornby’s words were notes. Even the interspersed instrumental snippets evoke entire scenes. The songwriter heard on the stunning, but at times aimless Bewilderbeast has impressively honed his craft on what is only his sophomore album.

The first real tune, “A Peak You Reach,” with its Rhodes organ and horn melodies, is more Sanford and Sons than Simon & Garfunkle and the instrumental “S.P.A.T.” is more N.Y.P.D. Blue than Elliot Smith. The catchy “Something to Talk About” is the sort of song that could play through the closing credits and then on the radio for the drive home from the cinema.

The instrumental “I Love NYE” showcases Gough’s orchestral skills and contains some sweeping echoes of Nick Drake. The track segues into “Silent Sigh” (appropriately the first single from the disc), on which Gough lays some calm upper register vocal lines over a rollicking piano groove. But it is often the simple little touches that make an album monumental, and Gough appears to be aware of this, adding subtle embellishments like the consistent tinkling triangle on “Silent Sigh,” the vibes on the Beatles-esque “River, Sea, Ocean,” or the French horn and celeste on “Walking Out of Stride.”

The latter tune could easily be an outtake from the Bewilderbeast sessions, sharing the same mellow melodicism that made “The Shining” the hit that it became (thanks to those purveyors of great music at The Gap).

“Fly Me Away” would offer me the opportunity to make the gazillionth comparison between a relatively new artist and that little band from Oxford, England (starts with an “R,” ends with a “d”), but I refuse. The London Metropolitan Orchestra lend some majestic strings, and a chorus of “doo’s” and “la’s” make this song as playful as the best of Hornby’s prose.

The disc closes with the unusually elegant Christmas song, “Donna and Blitzen,” complete with sleigh bells and all. Perhaps anticipating the release of the film, he sings, “We’re gonna see/ things we never believe.”

If for no other reason, this album succeeds because it leaves the listener envisioning just how these tunes will be used in the film. I’ll be in line at the theater.

Archived article by Ben Kupstas