Soundtrack Review: BEING FLYNN – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by BADLY DRAWN BOY
In my mind Badly Drawn Boy, the stage name of British artist Damon Gough, conjures up an instant association with the hit single Once Around the Block from his acclaimed debut album The Hour of Bewilderbeast, released in 2000. As I ritually re-listened to Badly Drawn Boy’s older work, I found myself singing this particular tune in the shower (poorly), probably much to the annoyance of my neighbors. The song exemplifies Damon Gough’s signature style: thoughtful use of percussion, in this case vibraharp stands out; jazzy arrangements; background vocals reminiscent of by-gone eras; clever optimistic lyrics that at once inform of someone who has wised up to world, yet refuses to lose their cheer and hopefulness.
These qualities apparently struck a chord with Paul Weitz, who asked Gough to score his 2002 film About a Boy, starring Hugh Grant. This collaboration was not to be their last: Weitz’s new film Being Flynn was also scored by Badly Drawn Boy. I very much looked forward to enjoying the results.
It’s a pity that the introductory song to the album is its weakest spot. I’ll Keep The Things You Throw Away is purposely repetitive, but repetitiveness is a tricky device: it can lead to boredom very quickly, unless the repetition enhances drama. This is very much true of any art form. Asleep At The Wheel (theme variation repeated in Jonathan Goes To Work) has a much richer texture than the opening piece. Despite of being instrumental (leaning heavily on a brisk piano), which is not necessarily something kids connect to readily, it has a merriness and playfulness reminiscent of the earlier work we’ve come to love and recognize as Badly Drawn Boy’s signature brand of cheer tinged with nostalgia. Similarly Harbor Street has an atmosphere that makes one curious about what comes next, both metaphorically and literally. It is a joyous, energetic piece. Who doesn’t love a nice saxophone? I also found Coming To Your Senses, which musically echoes Harbor Street, rather enjoyable – despite the lyrics, which are a collection of cliché phrases. (But I shall address that later. And I swear, I do like a nice idiom.) Last Day (another fun instrumental composition) is flooded with great tenderness. I also enjoyed the dramatic use of cello in Priest.
Overall I found the instrumental pieces much stronger than songs with vocals. It is probably due to the lyrics, which at times were rather trite – or directly at odds with the melody. Say It’s Too Late, is balmy, especially the wonderful background vocals by Angie Pollock provide it with a rather pleasant, relaxing vibe – but the lyrics seem to contradict what is happening musically, which is then rather distracting for a listener. The use of synthesizers in The Space Between My Ears reminds me all to painfully of 80s feel-good, harmless tunes that were endorsed by the communist establishment in my homeland – or of aerobic exercise music. But that just might be my personal trauma talking.
When it comes to movie soundtracks, their purpose is extremely specific. One could almost say these are utilitarian compositions, served as a side dish. That being said, there are artists who manage to transcend the standard expectations – the Tron: Legacy soundtrack is a good recent example. I don’t ever intend to see Tron. I am not a die-hard Daft Punk fan. But, the music stands alone as a solid work of art. Despite of instrumental music’s underrepresentation in pop charts, it struck a chord with mass audiences.
Damon Gough’s Being Flynn score is well crafted, thoughtful but unfortunately a bit flat. It’s a job well done, but within self-imposed constraints. I think the limitations we place on ourselves are the most difficult to overcome. It seems Gough approached the project with a very specific idea of what a music score is, and what its attributes should be. Badly Drawn Boy does a great job of reviving retro influences that are worth exploring. He appropriates with skill, and spits out extremely pleasant arrangements. His musicianship is uncontested. But, there is little incentive to seek out the compositions from the Being Flynn score outside the theatre. The music’s role in this case is restricted to being complementary to the film.