Is the Fish Tank Half Full?

Have You Fed the Fish? (Twisted Nerve)
Badly Drawn Boy

By Kory Wilcoxson

Damon Gough (a.k.a. Badly Drawn Boy) starts his new album with the kind of self-deprecating skit that makes you hope against hope you've found an artist that won't take himself too seriously. By the end of Have You Fed the Fish? you might not be sure what to think.

After taking a break from recording to score the About a Boy soundtrack, Gough brings his smart pop senses to his second full-length album. It's an uneven creation, but you sense that's how Gough wants it to be. He matches sour melancholy ("I Was Wrong") with lightweight pop ("40 Days and 40 Fights") without blinking. His songwriting can be completely kitschy (not one but two Madonna references) or so emotionally charged it's touching.

Despite Gough's obvious talent and enthusiasm, Fish lacks any continuity. Gough may thrive in keeping listeners off-balance, but the frustration level rises with each switchback in the road. He wants us to swallow the pop novelty of "You Were Right" and the carnival atmosphere of "Tickets to What You Need" with the deep introspection of "How" ("How can I give you the answers you need/ When all I possess is a melody?"). That's a big jump for anyone to make and Gough doesn't earn our trust enough to help us make it.

As it is, Fish has some superb moments of songwriting and silly fun, which easily overshadow the lows of the album. You get the sense that Gough is just fine with that. He's not looking to provide answers, only to provoke questions. Fish, then, is an enjoyable, yet unfulfilling, album.