Album Review: Badly Drawn Boy – “Banana Skin Shoes”

The one-man show of Damon Gough known as Badly Drawn Boy has been absent from our ears for over 8 years, that is until now. “Banana Skin Shoes” marked a sonic transition for the musician towards a more layered electro-funk sound which masked the heavier content of the songs. With the production and mixing by Gethin Pearson, the new album carries distant familiarity camouflaging Badly Drawn Boy among the ecstasy of sounds.

The emotionally complex release hits with the upbeat title track where the spoken-like lyrics are accompanied by the groovy horns. Being a highly unusual sound for the musician, the song is there to set the tone for the brighter future as he sings “press stop, it’s time to hit the habit”. The 14-track album puts all cards on the table making the digestion of the release a rather lengthy process. “I Just Wanna Wish You Happiness” goes through a vocal change, as it begins to sound heavier along with the more pop-like sound. While the message is delivered in the form of a lovely monologue that you can’t help but appreciate and empathize with, the song itself seems like that track out of the hit rom-com you keep rewatching. There is a general trend for an optimistic outlook on the internal battle and uncertainty one goes through, almost as if trying to hide the honesty of it all with a layer of the complex arrangements.

The musician that won the Mercury Prize for his 2000 release of “The Hour of Bewilderbeast” shapeshift through the genres with the new album, as the sound often feels positively kitsch as done in “I’m Not Sure What It Is”. The high level of activity in the song makes it challenging to take it in as a whole, with attention being diverted either to the lyrics or the melody, but never perceiving the two together. This is something Gough once again makes up for with the personal yet comforting lyrics: “true test is how you feel when you’re alone, the best part is that the future is unknown”. The calmness makes an appearance in “You and Me Against The World”, the song that gets lost among more drum-hitting compositions. This album is nothing like the of Badly Drawn Boy everyone has known, with each song sounding experimental in comparison to his previous releases but “I Need Someone To Trust” sets the record straight. The simplistic nature makes it an attention grabber, as the dreamy high notes deliver a very personal conversation with oneself. Turns out “it’s a simple life, if we surround ourselves with the things we love”, the elementary solution together with the tranquil melody is incredibly refreshing when heard among the funkier songs.

After the calm cruise of self-motivation, the attempt at the creation of tension is pursued in “Colours”. Somewhere on the journey from electro-funk to pop, the lyrics behind the lovely idea defuse any tension created with the listener getting a lesson on colour theory as “purple is the only child of blue and red”. With this curveball Badly Drawn Boy does nothing but leave you guessing as what’s to come. The confusion is quickly turned off with the soothing voice of the musician in “Funny Time Of Year”. It’s one of the rare songs that makes complete sense as the lyrics speak together with the drums, bass, and piano. “Never Change” is just as comforting and even accepting as “there’s no escaping that shadow of a doubt”. Here Badly Drawn Boy allows the listener to fully take in the song before departing in a hop-along manner. It’s funny how his music works, with the calmness leaving a more of an after-feel than the songs that are loud in a literal sense.

“Banana Skin Shoes” is an interesting album, to say the least, there is such a wide range of sounds that somehow still feels repetitive. The songs have a very rambunctious connotation that often gets silenced by the melodies, with a frequent demand for a pause to achieve full auditory absorption. There are tracks on the album with a responsive impression, but a lot of it is Badly Drawn Boy and his own thoughts. Finally, the puzzle is fully assembled in “I’ll Do My Best”, the song, even if shared with the public, is very much about a particular individual. The holistic feel of the release makes it hard to comprehend, but that’s just it, it’s not something that everyone needs to understand.


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