Craig David, Badly Drawn Boy et al 2002 David Bennun
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Craig David/
Badly Drawn Boy/
Tom Petty/
Johnny Cash

[The Mail On Sunday, 2002]




Warner Bros

American Recordings

BARBERED, MANICURED and tonsured to NASA standards of precision, Southampton-born warbler Craig David is not merely Slicker Than Your Average. He is slicker than buttered greens. Slicker than an oil-coated gull. So slick is David that when the lay-deez make a grab for him (and according to David, the lay-deez frequently do), he might be expected to pop out of their clutches like a wet bar of soap, and ricochet off the bathroom tiles.
 There is something of The Fast Show's Swiss Toni about Craig David: “Producing a high-end urban CD to slip into the black, middle-class American market, Paul, is very much like making love to a beautiful woman.” But David's story is not one of insecurity lacquered with transparent bravado. His second album shimmers with almost supernatural self-assurance, effortlessly trouncing the clotted R&B balladeering it is intended to compete with. By way of illustration, it includes just such a ballad, the risible and glutinous Personal, as its only mis-step. Unless you count duetting with Sting, for which there's really no excuse.
 Just as David's first album filed the bumps off the UK garage sound which fostered him, so this one sandpapers the current vogue for old school electro to an immaculate sheen. It is bland, expert, utterly frictionless and destined to be huge. Coming soon, very loudly, to a Ford Focus near you.
 “Songs are never quite the answer, just a soundtrack to a life/That is over all too soon, helps to turn the days to night ”. A bold admission for Damon Gough, better known as Badly Drawn Boy, whose thus far brief but acclaimed career is founded on his songwriting. Gough's talent is real, if wayward; on Have Your Fed The Fish?, his second LP proper, each bobby-dazzler is offset by a plodder.
 Gough's debt to The Beatles is evident in his determined and creditable but not always helpful eclecticism. Early Eighties dancefloor rhythms, for instance, or barrelhouse piano, do not serve him well. He's at his best when at his most straightforward, allowing sprightly rock performances to carry such marvellous tunes as 40 Days, 40 Fights and You Were Right. These charming songs raise domesticated musing to a fine art, and justify every compliment that's been flung his way.
 Back in the Nineties, I would have dismissed Tom Petty's The Last DJ as the griping of an old crank hankering after a mythical golden age of rock'n'roll. It is a measure of the benighted state the music industry has got itself into since then that Petty's bitter, simplistic attack on it should have both relevance and resonance.
 Petty can speak with a certain authority; he made his own fortune without gouging his public or treating it with contempt. He may evoke an overly hazy glow around the past, but his premise is passionately stated and essentially correct. A business which once prized both its artists and its audience now views both the way ants do aphids. Petty's nasal whine, often so redolent of Bob Dylan as to border on pastiche, has seldom been put to more forceful use than here.
 If Johnny Cash had died nineteen years ago, as then seemed likely, he would have left behind an astonishing body of work. He lived on, and in recent times has if anything bettered that oeuvre with a masterful series of austere country music recordings for the American label. The latest of these is not quite the album its predecessor, Solitary Man, was - but only because Solitary Man is perhaps the best album of the last decade.
 American IV: The Man Comes Around is nonetheless a record of staggering greatness. It may be Cash's last, although I truly hope not; he is once again terribly ill, and it is a miracle it was made at all. Stark and profound, it addresses his favoured themes, love, God and death, from a ringside seat. Most of the songs are covers; Cash is one of those rare interpreters who can render the original version redundant. He takes the bones and leaves you puzzled as to why you ever needed the rest. The haunted beauty, the wonder and the value of this album and its companion pieces cannot be overstated.

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