Damon Gough’s alter ego, Badly Drawn Boy released his debut album in 2000, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, and was met with critical acclaim. Following-up with the release of the soundtrack for the film About A Boy, Badly Drawn Boy appeared to be shaping a career around optimistic pop songs with folk sensibilities. The new album, It’s What I’m Thinking: Photographing Snowflakes comes into being ten years after this path for Badly Drawn Boy was first carved, and it is only fair to say that it should be judged on its own merits, rather than on a decade-old legacy.
Photographing Snowflakes will be the first of an “It’s What I’m Thinking” trilogy. The albums’ premise, and the reasoning behind the title (according Badly Drawn Boy’s official website) is based around capturing fleeting thoughts and conversations in song. The first track on the album, “In Safe Hands” has a kind of airy, anti-gravity acoustic sound and sets the mood for the rest of the album. It is unfortunate that the album doesn’t really progress out of “dream” state. A few of the tracks, such as “What Tomorrow Brings” and “It’s What I’m Thinking” walk the fine line between atmospheric and droning. Gough’s vocals are typically pretty, yet are consistently and inexplicably spoiled due to the over-use of vocal effects. It is almost frustrating to imagine how good these songs would be without all the haunting echo and reverb.
It is hard to pick a truly stand-out track from the ten songs on offer that alternate between the violin-laden numbers and saccharine jazzy pop. The scattering of up-beat tracks, such as the “I Saw You Walk Away” and “This Electric,” are strikingly middle-of-the-road and unremarkable to say the least. Yet it is not all bad. After a few listens, songs such as “The Order of Things”, start to seep in and get stuck in your head, and first single off the album, “Too Many Miracles” employs beautiful strings with a sweet, sixties Beatles-esque melody.
Photographing Snowflakes is about forty-odd minutes of good background music, but this is not really enough. It is hard to judge the merits of an album when every track is rather samey, albeit atmospheric. The album didn’t succeed in shining out from beneath the shadow of earlier, better work from Badly Drawn Boy, and does not instill a great anticipation for the release of the planned follow-up albums. Perhaps Badly Drawn Boy is a little over-ripe, after a decade. The idea of producing an album of honest art is an honorable one, however an attempt at being honest can turn into lukewarm music when it is complicated by too many production effects and not enough variation.