We need to talk about Thomas Dolby

A successful blog, or so I am lead to believe, needs to be immediate. It needs to reflect the times and keep abreast of new developments. In short; it should function as news. That’s how you get them elusive views, you know. It’s all about the views these days; we all want to be seen and noticed, else why bother? Shh, you. Stop that silly talk. We do it for sheer thrill of adventure and the discovery of things we may not have known before. For example, I once worked in a trendy second-hand shop in Notting Hill. Didn’t see that one coming, did you? Many moons ago I spent a couple of days at Retro Clothing being all smiley as customers came in to buy clothes from the past. Giving currency to fashions that had long since fallen out of favour. Actually most of those clothes probably never got the chance to even fall into favour, such is the fickle nature of music… Fashion! I meant fashion… Actually, no. Music is fickle as anything. All these albums. These great, great albums you love take time and craft to make. These artists invest so much of themselves into the music that it seems harsh and unnecessary to ignore them just because they aren’t current. I’ve mentioned this before. I’ll be mentioning it a lot more. The past has equal validity; though I’ll save that kettle for another time. All you need to know now is that my time at Notting Hill was dreary and dank. Not a single redeeming feature. Well, maybe one; it was amongst the unsorted jumpers that I heard this freaky genius for the first time.

Up until then all I knew of Thomas Dolby was his cameo as Bowie’s band leader at Live Aid. I probably should’ve followed him up after such an endorsement; more fool me. I think I’d allowed the novelty of ‘She Blinded Me With Science‘ to blind me a little [N/B: I am aware of the accidental pun, sorry]. Don’t get me wrong; now I see that song for all the quotable boogie that it deserves, but at the time it was merely a confusing novelty. It shouldn’t have been. It’s parent album, ‘The Golden Age of Wireless‘ is utterly packed with innovation that you forget that this is an artist ostensibly working in the pop medium. The originality on show would put Radiohead to shame as they plough the same bland and expected furrow.

Take ‘Europa and the Pirate Twins’; it’s subtlety of depth could be dismissed as simple overproduced electronic-pop. But I don’t dismiss; I let the skittering drums hot-wire my legs and am weak for dancing. I let the non-functioning harmony and abrupt key shifts hook my brain. For once my focus is on the lyrics. I must point out at this juncture that lyrics to me are always secondary to the music so don’t often care for the personal angst in most songs. Yet with ‘Europa’ I readily embrace this tale of childhood nostalgia and loss neatly packaged amongst the handclaps. The creative arrangements and insane variety of sound within this album (a few seconds of flute in ‘Windpower‘, a subtle fanfare in ‘Airwaves‘, doo-wop amongst the synths in ‘Radio Silence‘ etc.) are mind boggling. The shivers are similar to those I felt for Hanne Kolstø; with the only response being to sit back and applaud the craft. There was no criticism I could level, I was now a fan.

Dolby-VIP-fan


                         A Huge Dolby Fan

Normal fan behaviour would be to suck up the whole gamut of previous recordings and rate them on a scale of ‘it’s his best work since Scary Monsters/Thriller/Sgt. Pepper etc.’. Believe me, that was my intention. Unfortunately this time I got stuck, badly, at the second album. The danger of fandom is to descend into hyperbole and neglect the opposing opinions of others; this can make you seem boring and pointless. Dolby’s follow-up, ‘The Flat Earth‘ makes me want to bore you; it makes me want to bore you hard. Whereas ‘Golden Age’ made me sit and applaud, ‘The Flat Earth’ stopped me dead; placed a scotch in my hand and showed me things unimaginable. I think differently having experienced it. Hyperbolic sentiment, for sure; but what else do you want me to say? It’s good? It’s great? It’s a sound example of how to build on something interesting in a succinct and refined manner? That stuff’s boring. True, but boring. I’ll tell you why. It’s because of songs like this.

Again we have the depth of production and variety of sound found before. Again the texture locks your focus so there is nothing left but the song. Again I am drawn to the text. ‘Hold me, baby; love me, darling; believe me, honey’ as Dolby pleas ‘The earth can be any shape you want it… but it’s home’. Looking at it now, they’re not the most gripping. The power comes from how they appear in song and it gets me every time. I’m left so uplifted. I feel part of something bigger than myself. This is why, to me, it’s so important to raise music of the past to the present because it still has the power and the currency. It can still change you emphatically. The whole album follows similarly; genre-mashing as per usual though this time with a clarity and focus missing from ‘The Golden Age’. Plus the whole selection is capped with ‘Hyperactive‘. Anything that ends with ‘Hyperactive’ should be prescribed listening.

By a very odd quirk of fate, I was to find ‘The Golden Age of the Wireless’ and ‘The Flat Earth’ on vinyl for a pound in the same shop that 4 years earlier had introduced me to Dolby. Funny how the world can can all circular. Now I just need to get on to that elusive third album. Believe me, honey.

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