Top 100 Albums of the Decade: #97 Badly Drawn Boy - The Hour of Bewilderbeast
Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.
#97 Badly Drawn Boy - The Hour of Bewilderbeast
Warning: This review contains hyperbole.
Back in 2000, Damon Gough, a.ka. Badly Drawn Boy, snuck out of British coffee shops and landed at the podium to accept the Mercury Prize. The album that catapulted him to the main stage is our 97th best album of the decade.
The Hour of Bewilderbeast is a folk-rock-pop record and Gough is, at heart, just a singer-songwriter – merely a troubadour outside your local Tube stop, a show-stopper at open mic night. But, Gough manages to mold the flaccid accessibility of this genre into something not so much unique, but very, very appealing. Bewilderbeast is an album that tramples through pop, gallops through jazz, tip-toes through rock, and wanders through folk. It begins with the bright hope of "The Shining" and ends with the naively hopeless "Epitaph." And, in between, like the heart of any singer-songwriter, you'll hear a motley crew of emotions. It weeps and it smiles. It bleeds and it forgives. It crumbles and it soars. And, in the blending of these simple dualities, something quite complex emerges, which makes it so unforgettable. (Hyperbole) That and the fact that "Once Around the Block" is one of the greatest songs ever written.
There are bits of the Beta Band and Elliott Smith scattered throughout Bewilderbeast, but the secret to its success is not the incorporation of these influences, but, rather, in Gough's gift of penning the catchiest of melodies. "Camping Next to Water" is breezily Californian with its twinkling acoustic guitar, light cymbal taps and rimshots, and surf ballad guitar solos. Lyrically, it is just as debonair as Gough coos, "There's no use in feeling all the things I'm feeling. There's no one hear to feel with me," – sad, but carefree. "Stone on the Water" sounds more like Nick Drake than certain Nick Drake songs and has a beautifully orchestrated string arrangement carrying the weight of Gough's hopeless romanticism. "Once Around the Block" is staggeringly perfect and nothing more can be said about it.
There are numerous tracks on Bewilderbeast that stand out and, in between them, interludes such as "Fall in a River" and "Body Rap" seamlessly tie it together. From the opening cello and trombone solo to the closing bird chirps, Bewilderbeast captivates, never demanding your attention, but simply holding it in its arms. It is a timeless record and, although Gough never managed to come close to its caliber with his subsequent releases, it remains one of the best records of the decade.