All Possibilities: Badly Drawn Boy’s One Plus One Is One, HP, 2004.

Pic from 2022 NME.

Badly Drawn Boy: “One Plus One Is One” (XL).

WITH HIS faux-bumbling nom de plume and head-scratching demeanour, not to mention the welded-on woolly hat, Damon Gough has perfected the act of the accidental auteur, stumbling haplessly into the spotlight. But you don’t win the Mercury Prize (The Hour Of Bewilderbeast) or soundtrack multiplex movies (About A Boy) by mistake, or without wanting to. You certainly don’t make records as focussed and assured as One Plus One Is One.

The opening title track presents the manifesto, one influenced by Gough’s parenthood: that all biological reductionism aside, it is a beautiful mystery when people come together and alchemically create things greater than themselves, like love and art, ideas and new life.

‘Year Of The Rat’, the fecund first single, develops the argument. Leading off with graceful piano and the distant thundery crash of a gong, Gough weaves in echoing chimes and a children’s choir, urging: “Every day we’ve got to hold on / ‘Cos if we hold on we could find some new energy”. It is starry-eyed, grandiose as fuck and fantastically moving.

‘Year Of The Rat’ is one of a quartet of songs that makes the latter half of the album feel like a series of set-piece finales. ‘Logic Of A Friend’, ‘Takes The Glory’ and album closer ‘Holy Grail’ evoke The Big Music, their imagery preoccupied with the cycles of life and eternal questions: “Summer feels like it’s over / Winter is on the way / To live in the hearts of those that you loved is not to die”.

There’s a clear-eyed, sometimes sombre intensity you might not have expected from one so crusty-hatted, and indeed Gough knows when earnestness is oppressive. So halfway through the last track the kids come in again, a bounding piano joins up and One Plus One Is One ends—“Don’t you know that I hope you find your holy grail”—on the note of optimism and tenderness on which it began. As you move, as you must, to start the CD again, the unabashed hope and lyricism reminds you of the sentiments of another Damon Gough song: all possibilities.

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