Monday, November 10, 2008

"Something to Talk About" /
Badly Drawn Boy

No, this isn't a cover of the Bonnie Raitt song, although I like that too. (Believe me, Bonnie and I go way back.) It's the theme song from a quietly brilliant little film from 2002, called About a Boy, starring Hugh Grant and based on a novel by Nick Hornby -- combine those two and how could you miss? I'm crazy about the both of them, no use pretending otherwise, and although I'd never heard of Badly Drawn Boy before, I fell in love with the charming soundtrack immediately. Later I found out that it was written by Damon Gough, who is Badly Drawn boy, in one of those I'm-one-guy-but-I-pretend-to-be-a-whole-band deals, a la Dashboard Confessional or Iron and Wine. So be it, I'm willing to keep an open mind. I'm vaguely aware that he dresses like Mike Nesmith gone grunge, but so what? And he cites his favorite artists as Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Buckley, and the Pixies -- well, two out of three ain't bad, as Meat Loaf used to say. (Or still says, for all I know.)

Man, am I cutting this kid slack. But really, let's face it, if the songs are good who cares about the rest? And the songs are good.

Acoustic guitar, a little spatter of keyboards, simple drumbeats, syncopated melody -- this is clean classic pop, married to quirky lyrics that would make Nick Hornby proud. (Have I ever told you guys about my Nick Hornby fixation? How his book Songbook changed my life? Remind me sometime.) The gist of the story -- which like any good story shouldn't be simplified -- is about a slacker cad (my man Hugh Grant) getting gradually entangled with a gawky adolescent and his awkward mother (the brilliant Toni Collette) and discovering that life's all about human connections. I know I know, it sounds like you'd retch at the cliches, but trust me, it works on screen, thanks to brilliant direction by the Weitz brothers Paul and Chris, and also a snarky smart screenplay by Peter Hedges (though from now on they should let Nick write his own screenplays because he's a genius and should get all the money. And Nick, really, if you google yourself and read this, email me because we need to talk).

But back to Badly Drawn Boy. What I love about this song is not only it's stop-and-start rhythmic pattern, which is so engaging, but the great throw-off quality of the lyrics, which matches the slacker sweetness of this movie. It's pretty much all embodied in the middle verse, which is the one I tend to sing to myself at random moments: "Ipso / Facto / Using up your oxygen / You know I'm shallow / Calling out for extra help / You've got to let me in / Or let me out." Well, that 's the movie in a nutshell, and there's some serious genius about getting a soundtrack that really marries to the storyline like that.

Plus, I don't know, but I love Gough's earnest folky voice. Sure, this is laid over with back-up oooh's and a kinda glossy arrangement (it's like a wall of sound writ small), but I find this warm and appealing, the same way as all the songs from the movie Garden State. Which is a whole 'nother story.

Let's cut to the last verse, which sums it all up: "I've been / Dreaming / Of the things I learnt about a boy who's / Leaving / Nothing else to chance again /You've got to let me in / Or let me out." Which is really the quandary we all face, isn't it? How do we manage to still be cool (as you all are) and remain engaged -- which you have to be, face it, to be cool these days. There's no checking out any more. What I love about Badly Drawn Boy is how he plays the groove between emotion and cynicism, understanding how hard it is to commit to lyrical impulse these days. This is a very narrow sector of the listening audience, I appreciate that. But hell, I'm there, and I'm hoping you are too.

Something To Talk About sample


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Uncle E said...

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