Badly Drawn Boy

One Plus One Is One

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After the concise About a Boy soundtrack and the overdone Have You Fed the Fish?, Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy) still seems to be searching for balance on his fourth album, One Plus One Is One. Even the album's name contains conflicting wishes for simplicity and multiplicity, along with suggesting a relationship's theory of mathematics. Most of the songs here revolve around love's simplicities and complexities in settings that range from unadorned to elaborate. One Plus One Is One starts out simple and strong, with the title track, "Easy Love," and the Jethro Tull-esque (but in a good way) "Summertime in Wintertime" cataloging some of the additions and subtractions in Gough's life while sounding like late summer in the English countryside. Songs like these and the lovely "This Is That New Song" may get Badly Drawn Boy fans' hopes up that this is the album they've been waiting for since The Hour of Bewilderbeast. One Plus One Is One does have some of the seemingly effortless grace of Gough's will o' the wisp tour de force, but unlike that album, this set of songs feels more grounded and, like most of his work after About a Boy, the heavy lifting in his music is more apparent. As the album unfolds, it gets increasingly baroque, meandering, and logy; not only are there overly lavish Have You Fed the Fish? flashbacks like "Take the Glory" and "Holy Grail," songs that are otherwise successfully simple, such as "Logic of a Friend," are tricked out with unnecessarily busy arrangements. Certainly, choices like the kids choir on "Year of the Rat" -- not to mention lyrics like "If we hold on, we can find some new energy" -- are easy targets, but in this case, Gough manages to pull off the kind of vulnerable, wide-eyed optimism that usually gets short shrift in the too-cool-for-school indie world. Still, it's arguable whether or not these more grandiose songs have more impact than beautifully succinct ones like "Fewer Words" and "Four Leaf Clover." The U.S. version of One Plus One Is One further gilds the lily with two bonus tracks, the well-intended but undernourished "Don't Ask Me I'm Only the President" and the musically hyperactive "Plan B," both of which pad the album out to over an hour. Gough's music seems to be undergoing the usual growing pains of moving beyond a landmark work, and a landmark debut in particular; it's possible that he's moving into the craftsman phase of his career, refining the territory he's already staked out instead of claiming more. There are times when One Plus One Is One is simply too much, and the fresh spin that Gough brought to the British singer/songwriter tradition in his earlier work is missed, but he's still a fine addition to it.

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