Friday, 6 July 2012

Album review: DAMON ALBARN - Dr. Dee

Highlights: Apple Carts, The Marvelous Dream, Cathedrals

Maybe that’s what the world really needed after all: an opera about the famed Elizabethan scientist Dr. Dee, recorded by Damon Albarn. Having said that, Albarn has actually done more weird, edgy things than a Brit-pop artist should. Gorillaz alone (whatever you might think of them) would be enough to prove that it’s not your typical talent we’re dealing with here. Alan McGee may have gone too far with that ‘genius’ tag, Albarn may have kicked Graham Coxon out of Blur (which resulted in the lifeless, uninspired Think Tank), he may have been partly responsible for lots of bad hip-hop with all those post-Blur collaborations, but you just can’t take it away from him: the man is a major talent.

And for all its operatic embellishments (which are actually quite masterful), Dr. Dee has songs. Good songs, some of Albarn’s best since Blur’s 13 from 1999.   

You just find it so hard to criticize this album. That bit is boring? That is not much of a song? That’s too short? Well, okay, but that’s an opera. Grand, sweeping arrangements, choral singing, parts that make little sense outside the actual stage… Still, like I said – it’s effective and really well-done. And crucially, Dr. Dee is also filled with those charming, languid Blur-ish ballads that Albarn and Coxon could do so well. Tunes of “Apple Carts” and “The Marvelous Dream” greatly emulate that classy, lazy vibe of “Miss America” and “He Thought Of Cars”...

It’s not much, really, but even if you hate opera, there’s no reason why you should hate any of it. The tracks are all short, and Albarn has enough good musical ideas to sustain your interest. And then once in a while you stumble upon something as brilliant and bizarre as “Watching The Fire That Waltzed Away”… Oddly, the best thing about Dr. Dee is that it’s an opera made by a pop artist. With pop being the key word. You just sort of wish pop was the only word here…


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