While compiling this top 50, I noticed that there were quite a few debut albums on the list which the respective artist or band was never able to top. This album is a prime example; while Badly Drawn Boy (a.k.a. Manchester singer-songwriter Damon Gough) has released some respectable music since his debut, nothing has even been in the same league as this experimental and multi-faceted masterpiece.
I first read about this album in the UK music magazine Q. They had one of those full-page advertorials about this album, with a picture of the cover and several quotes from rave reviews. I remember initially being really impressed with the album cover, an eye-catching homage to Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian man.
Since I had never heard any of his music before, I listened to a sample from Amazon -- Once around the block -- which I thought was pretty catchy and oddly reminded me of Jamiroquai (I guess there's a vague resemblance in its white-boy funk melody).
I decided to pick the album up, and while I don't remember it blowing me away immediately, I knew that there was a lot of promise beneath its restless diversity that it wore so proudly. Some songs were immediate (Once around the block, Disillusion, Pissing in the wind), but most of the songs revealed their charms slowly over repeated listens. Eventually, hidden gems like the subtle jazzy melody of Stone on the water got underneath my skin. Further listens revealed other favourites.
As great as most of the songs are on an individual level, it probably wouldn't be the masterpiece that it is without the conceptual unity that ties all of the songs together into an oddly cohesive long-player. There's the "water trilogy" of Fall in a river, Camping next to water and Stone on the water. There's the gorgeous instrumental interludes (Bewilder, Bewilderbeast, Blistered heart) which act as a form of delectable musical glue that binds the album together.
Then there's those little surprises in the deep crevices of the album: the hidden song at the end of Cause a rockslide, the splash at the end of Fall in a river (boom tish) and the trippy stereophonic panning of This song (which I love despite the subtle feeling of nausea it gives me). Not all of the experiments work (I could have lived without the 45 second interlude that is Body rap), but you have to take your hat off to the sheer audacity on display here.
There's also a conceptual lyrical arc that runs over the course of the hour-long album, beginning with the infatuation of The shining ("I'm dying...to put a bit of sunshine in your life") and concluding with the regretful melancholy of Epitaph ("Please...don't leave me"). A lot of the other songs hint at feelings which are felt during an intense love affair, from the lust of Everybody's stalking, the romanticism of Magic in the air and the giddy confusion of Disillusion.
A diverse mosaic of sounds, textures and moods, The hour of bewilderbeast is an anarchic labour of love from the incredibly fertile and imaginative mind of Damon Gough. Like a Jackson Pollock painting, he threw all of his musical ideas at a blank canvas and ended up with a work of art. A decade on, one can look at it as a creative master-stroke from a very talented musician who probably reached his creative peak way too soon.