Before even listening to Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast, it possesses three key qualities that a debut album should have. First, the sleeve artwork is outstanding, consisting of a series of atmospheric close-ups, mostly involving candles, which come together to make the composition seen on the front cover. Secondly, the album consists of eighteen tracks and thirdly, there is intrigue into the concept behind Badly Drawn Boy. Initially some people were mistaken, thinking that it was the name of a band, until it was revealed that it was actually an individual going by the name of Damon Gough. The Hour of Bewilderbeast has the enigmatic appeal, artwork, and a track listing as long as your arm, but what does it sound like?
As far as introductions go, the opening song on The Hour of Bewilderbeast is fairly impressive. The shining opens grandly with a French horn and a cello, followed by an acoustic guitar and the vocals, which fuse together to create a perfect chemistry of sound to relax and reassure even the most tense of listeners. It acts as the catalyst to successfully set the scene for the rest of the album.
To claim that the album has 18 songs may have been slightly misleading, it is fairer to say that the album has 18 compositions. There are the standard format songs which contain the verse/chorus/verse/chorus format, such as the upbeat “Everybody’s Stalking” and the magical blend of vibraphone and guitar in the flamboyant “Once Around the Block” and the acoustic charm of “Pissing In the Wind.”
The more unconventional tracks are the hidden gems of the album, such as “Fall In a River” where the keyboard and the guitar work in perfect harmony to create a placid track. However, midway through (are you sitting down for this?) the keyboard is unexpectedly thrown into a pool of deep water. The song understandably comes to a premature halt; the guitar and vocals merely a distant memory and all that can be heard is the sound of a keyboard sinking, yet miraculously begins to play the tune again which can barely be heard throughout the bubbles and water pouring through the keys. If the album did not have the listener’s full attention before, then it most certainly demands it now.
Badly Drawn Boy seems to look for any excuse to break the conventional song set-up, and no way more so than to throw instruments into water midway though a song. The disappointment is immense when the listener browses the credits page and discovers that the water was merely just a special effect and did not actually happen. Either way, it is still a classic and highly original feature of the album.
“Bewilderbeast” acts as a instrumental interlude to the album. It has no lyrics and is purely a musical release of energy. However, on an album where tracks blend into the next barely being noticed and where the tempo and style of a song change so rapidly, along with such an accomplished blend of musical instruments, “Bewilderbeast” becomes slightly tedious. Repeating itself for just over three and a half minutes, the listener may be forgiven for feeling fidgety and restless during this track.
The Hour of Bewilderbeast is a musically diverse album. The foundations are built upon an acoustic guitar, then strengthened by a varied blend of vibraphone, organ, French horn, xylophone, cello, clarinet, harp, and wurlitzer to give the all important flavour to the mix. After several listens, it becomes increasingly hard to place the album within a specific category. It is pitched somewhere between a “switch the lights down late at night” and a “drive along an open road with the roof down” album. All songs do not seem to have been written within the same framework, yet the album has a watertight consistency from start to finish. This is an immensely powerful debut and poses the all-important question “What will Badly Drawn Boy do next?”
Written by Paul Newbold.