Damon Albarn - Dr. Dee Reviewed

Damon Albarn's latest record is a pastoral English folk opera based on the life of the scientific advisor to Elizabeth I...so, we're going for the niche market on this one, eh Damon?
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Damon Albarn's latest record is a pastoral English folk opera based on the life of the scientific advisor to Elizabeth I...so, we're going for the niche market on this one, eh Damon?

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The tweet said “The Cribs, Damon Albarn & Richard Hawley have new albums out this week. Fancy reviewing them?” Why not I thought, I'd been meaning to get the new Hawley album anyway, might as well review it too. “cribs and hawley being done” Arse! Talk about the short straw, Damon Albarn's operatic soundtrack album it is then, I don't even like soundtracks from artists I like!

I'd stuck my size 10 in thus far so might as well push on through, find Dr Dee on rdio.com, first track “The Golden Dawn”... hmm, same as the Greek neo-Nazi party, ominous start. Atmospheric sounds, running water, the twitter of birds, a bell giving way to a wind section and a church organ, I can see the curtains opening on 15th century Florence already. Then the organ progresses into what sounds like an amateur having a crack at the wedding march. I'd better check what the hell this Dr Dee thing is supposed to be about...ah, it was an opera created for the 2011 Manchester International Festival about John Dee. Oh him, of course! Elizabeth 1's scientific advisor, I think Stephen Fry played him in Blackadder but I could be making that up, I'm still none the wiser.

“Apple Carts” starts, Damon's voice wafts in over the gentle guitar, one of the only “songs” on the album, this gives way to “O Spirit, Animate Us” which has a minute of intro before more church organ and what sounds like Damon doing his first confession before seguing into operatic wailing. Only on the 3rd track and my problem with soundtracks is rearing its head, just what is the point? Snippets of music lasting 2 minutes that make no sense without the visuals they were written to enhance, this is just a collection of ear candy to allow scenery and costumes to be changed. Strip it away from the stage performance and it is just a confusion of meaningless nice bits of music.

“The Moon Exalted” starts with classical guitar and female vocal, I can imagine a wistful female lead on stage wandering around, this is interrupted by Damon for about a minute before changing tack and becoming what would be a nice introduction to a Crowded House song before back to Damon. People are expected to pay good money for this; currently £8.99 on Amazon, quite why anyone would do so is beyond me even if they went to the performance itself.

People are expected to pay good money for this; currently £8.99 on Amazon, quite why anyone would do so is beyond me even

We're deep into soundtrack territory now, 2 minutes of unconnected music here, 3 minutes there and the odd 1:10, 1:32 yay! Oh great, there’s 0:28 of “Moon (Interlude)” still to come, can't wait for that one.

I've made it to the 11th track “Preparation”, 3 minutes of off kilter percussion that sounds exactly like what happens after you download one of those apps when your dull office job is holding you back from your true career as the world's best drummer only to be un-installed when you remember you have no musical talent.

“9 Point Star” reminds me of Barney Gumble's “Number 8” - http://is.gd/9AK4kW although I think Barney's track speaks more to me about my life. We're back to chanting with “Temptations Comes in the Afternoon” and 4 songs in 1 again, I've no doubt that it fitted well with a stage full stage of scenery and actors but here on an album of unconnected music it is just disposable nothingness.

“Moon (Interlude)” comes as a great surprise, sweeping soundscapes and a heavenly choir create what is the clear highlight of the album. Only joking, it is 28 seconds of harp in the style of a cat rubbing itself against your leg. After this “Cathedrals” and more Damon singing very earnestly for 3 minutes. “Tree of Beauty” next, I like trees as much as the next man but couldn't stretch the 2 seconds it takes to say “That's a beautiful tree” to 2 minutes and neither should have this choir.

“Moon (Interlude)” comes as a great surprise, sweeping soundscapes and a heavenly choir create what is the clear highlight of the album

Big finish expected from “The Dancing King” what we get is about a minute of Damon then we're back to birds tweeting and the sound of a river winding its merry way down into the sea. Why couldn't I have got Hawley to review? I thought I'd struggle reviewing that song by song, can't believe I've managed to not only get through listening to Dr Dee but review nearly all 18 tracks. I just don't see the point in releasing albums like this, who buys them? Even if someone did they would only listen to it once before it became landfill, if you must buy it do it digitally, save the “Tree of Beauty”.

Clint Mansell knows how to do a good soundtrack album, Moon is excellent, buy that instead. Or Hawley, that’s great!

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