Badly Drawn Boy’s Damon Gough has often been compared with consummate Amer-indie singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, and for good reason. Both write interesting songs that range from witty to lovelorn; both have an ear for catchy pop melodies; and both owe a huge debt to British cult folkie Nick Drake. So just as a soundtrack gig on Good Will Hunting catapulted the reclusive Smith into semi-semi-stardom, Gough now finds himself in the big leagues, scoring a Nick Hornby film that stars Hugh Grant.
Fortunately, Gough’s folkie, down-home æsthetic holds up against the shiny counterweight of the middling film, and if you take the film out of the picture, About a Boy still works as a follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2000 debut, The Hour of Bewilderbeast. Highlights include the anthemic, seesawing folk of "Something To Talk About" and the strident, piano-driven "Silent Sigh." The coy, tiptoeing "File Me Away" benefits from the London Metropolitan Orchestra’s string section, and the splendid Christmas finale, "Donna and Blitzen," has a lush, Phil Spector–ish wallop. Gough takes it easy on the "future folk" drum-machine experiments that marked (and perhaps marred) The Hour of Bewilderbeast, opting instead for a series of short orchestral pop interludes that chime and shimmer somewhere in among Bacharach, Neil Hannon, and Belle and Sebastian.