Until 2000's The Hour of the Bewilderbeast, Damon Gough could seep into the scenery, make his music without anyone making a fuss. Which is clearly the way he likes it: Since the beginning, he's cultivated a sort of look-at-me anonymity, like a superhero who prefers his secret identity yet craves the headlines, conspicuously hiding behind his trademark knit cap and beard. But after Bewilderbeast's lush lullabies and wide-screen melodies won him, among other things, England's coveted Mercury Music Prize, people know who he is now. Mainly British people, but still. Have You Fed the Fish?, then, is an after-the-gold-rush record, where Gough reacts to his sudden (and minor) celebrity and tries to find himself again amid myriad versions that exist on MTV Europe and XFM. "Sometimes you've got to rewind to go forward," he sings, and he sounds as though he's looking in the mirror.
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It doesn't take much convincing; by song three, he's already "Born Again." Halfway through Have You Fed the Fish?--Badly Drawn Boy's second soundtrack of the year; call this one About a Badly Drawn Boy--Gough puts it all in perspective: "I remember doing nothing on the night Sinatra died/And the night Jeff Buckley died/And the night Kurt Cobain died/And the night John Lennon died," he explains on "You Were Right." "I remember I stayed up to watch the news with everyone." And though he considers himself a fan of those singers and songwriters, not someone who should be included in their company, the songs on Have You Fed the Fish? beg to differ. The five-minute "How?" is a pocket symphony by itself, jumping from feel-bad folk to hip-shaking horns to here's-where-the-strings-come-in grandeur and back again, and "Have You Fed the Fish?" is an unlikely anthem, with a chorus that gives your heart a hug. "Don't want to be obvious," he sings later in the song. Still not a problem.