Friday, January 02, 2009

Week 32: "I Was Wrong / You Were Right" by Badly Drawn Boy

Badly Drawn Boy is the stage name of British singer/song-writer Damon Gough. Gough is known for writing and recording the soundtrack to the film version of the Nick Hornby novel About a Boy as well as for his trademark stocking cap.

In 2002, Badly Drawn Boy released the album Have You Fed the Fish? HYFtF represents an evolution from Gough’s trademark sound. Instead of focusing on his gorgeous voice and piano and acoustic guitar playing, HYFtF introduces a broad spectrum of instrumentation including electric guitar, orchestral flourishes, and varied percussion.

Of all the songs by Badly Drawn Boy, I am most drawn to the song entitled “You Were Right.” The track that immediately precedes “You Were Right” is a short track entitled “I Was Wrong” that serves as an intro to “You Were Right.” On “I Was Wrong,” Gough gently strums an acoustic guitar and sings one verse softly. As the acoustic guitar fades out, the album launches right into “You Were Right” which begins with a declarative fanfare.

“You Were Right” has an interesting form. The song is a series of verses without a chorus. The verses are varied in length and the song takes on the following form: Fanfare intro, long verse, long verse, half verse, long verse, short verse, solo, long verse, short verse, long verse, long verse, short verse, solo, short verse.

The lyrics to this song are a fascinating mixture of personal confessions and stream of consciousness fantasies. The dominant motif of the song seems to hinge on his confession that his impulsive song-writing blocks his own personal relationships. The first verse of song begins, “And you, you were right to bide your time and not buy into my misery. Well the good things are never free. Do the colors of the rainbow look the same to everyone?” These sentiments are made more explicit in a later verse where Gough sings, “And I, I was busy finding answers while you just got on with real life. [I] always hoped you’d be my wife. But I never found the time for the question to arrive. I just disguised it in a song.”

These personal confessions are juxtaposed with fantasies. In one verse he sings of dreaming that he was married to the Queen, that Madonna lived next door, and that he had to turn down Madonna’s amorous advances. In other verse he sings about remembering what he did on the days that Frank Sinatra, Jeff Buckley, Kurt Cobain, and John Lennon died. These digressions serve to add a wonderful texture at the same time that they demonstrate the conflict about which Damon Gough sings: the question of whether to live in the world of song or in the world itself. To paraphrase lyrics that appear in a later verse, a life and a soundtrack to a life are two different things.

As/If you listen to “You Were Right” you can hear these elements and also so many tiny details that flesh out this song. Listen for the burst of electric guitar as the song transitions into one of the main verses. Listen for the descending string line during the short verses. Listen for the whistling during the second solo. Listen for the beautiful sound of Gough’s voice especially when he sings the words, “Soundtrack to a Life.”

You can see the psychedelic video to the single-length version of “You Were Right” here. You can listen to a scaled down live performance of the song here.